How to Take Care of Newborn Kittens: Week by Week
If you're wondering how to take care of kittens, firstly, I want to congratulate you! You are in for an exciting experience . . . After providing my own personal experience raising kittens, I will provide the necessary instructions to raise your own!
Part of kitten care involves getting the right supplies.
Your first stop should be your veterinarian. I knew very little about newborn kitten care (but a lot about cat care), so a visit to my local veterinarian was the first thing on my list. Don't be afraid to ask plenty of questions or for recommendations.
Your primary concern in caring for your newborn kitten is temperature regulation. Newborn kittens get cold very easily. A kitten with a low body temperature is in danger, feeding that kitten can actually be dangerous. You will want to make sure he or she is stable first and given a once over by a doctor.
- Warm Bed, Water Bottle, and Towel: If you are unable to get into the vet that day, you must make a comfortable and warm bed for the kitten(s). Take care that it's not in a drafty location. Preferably, it will be a bit secluded. Gather towels and place the kittens in a box, a cat bed, or anything that's an open-top container. Putting a hot water bottle in will help keep the kittens warm and provide a sense of security (like the heat they'd get from their mother). Don't EVER microwave the water bottle, as this poses the threat of a scald! Place it in a pan of hot water to warm it up. Then put towels over the hot water bottle in the bed. Make sure the bed is large enough for a kitten who's overheating to move away from this heat source.
- Milk Replacement: My vet explained to me I'd have to feed them milk replacement, a formula called KMR by Pet-Ag. Do not use cow's or goat's milk, kittens need milk that approximates what they'd receive from their mothers in terms of protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals.
- A Bottle or Syringe: You will obviously need some sort of bottle or syringe. I used a syringe, found this to be the easiest method, the one my kittens seemed to get the hang of most readily. The tip is roughly the same size as a mother's nipple. Don't use an eyedropper—they can't suckle them and are not a very efficient method of feeding. Plus, liquid can quickly be expelled from the dropper resulting in too much fluid in the kitten's mouth. This can cause choking.
How to Take Care of a Kitten
One of the most important bits of knowledge you'll need in learning how to take care of a kitten is feeding him or her.
Frequency of Feeding
Like a human baby, a newborn kitten will need to be fed frequently, approximately every two to three hours. As a rule of thumb, for every ounce of kitten body weight, he or she needs 8 ccs of formula. So, a kitten weighing 3 ounces will need about 24 ounces of milk replacement every 24 hours. To assist you in your kitten care, you can picture the correct amount if you know one teaspoon is just about 5 cc. You will also want to check the feeding guidelines on your particular brand of milk replacement as the guides can vary from brand to brand. Again, it's imperative you speak to your veterinarian for assistance. A newborn kitten is less able to give you clues when he or she is full. But, a little later in kitten development, she will be capable of turning her head away from the “nipple," even pushing it away.
Gather towels (it can be messy) and find a comfortable spot where you will be relaxed. Warm up the fresh formula (only as much as you need for this feeding) in a pan of warm water. Again, DO NOT microwave the formula since it can scald the kitten. Test the temperature on your wrist before you attempt to feed.
Don't try to feed the kitten while she's lying down. Not only is it easier for her to swallow when she's upright, but she will be more awake and ready to feed this way. Hold her in the palm of your hand and gently begin to insert the syringe (or bottle) into her mouth. Many kittens will immediately begin suckling. The runt of the litter I had didn't readily feed, so I had to squeeze out a couple of small drops onto her lips to get her going. If you find your kitten has a poor suckling response and isn't eating, she may need tube-feeding. You need to take this kitten to the vet as soon as possible.
Even though I took my three kittens to the vet and thought I had all the information needed for kitten care, I noticed pretty quickly that they weren't urinating or having bowel movements. I was somewhat perplexed and worried, so I gave him a call. Turns out he'd miscalculated their age, thought they were three weeks old, and that they would be able to urinate and defecate on their own. Apparently, they were a bit younger. He told me cats under three weeks can't eliminate on their own and need their mothers to stimulate this reflex for them. I had to get a warm wet washcloth or cotton ball and gently rub under the cat's tails. Voila! All three cats did their business immediately. I did this after every feeding.
Can lift head
Can maintain upright posture
at 2-3 weeks after birth
Eyes begin to open
5-14 days after birth
Eyes will remain blue
approx. 2 weeks; true color within 3 months
Ears begin to function
6-17 days after birth
Startle reflex to noise
as early as day 3
by 4 weeks of age
by 4 weeks of age
at 1-10 days after birth
at 14 days after birth
Start to play/interact
at 2 weeks after birth
Can voluntarily eliminate
at 3 weeks after birth
Weaning Kittens and Kitten Feeding
Weaning kittens is a natural process the kittens and mother alike will begin around four weeks. So, around the four-week mark is a good time to begin the gradual introduction of food into her diet. Weaning kittens is a process to be accomplished slowly over a period of about four to six weeks (from week 4, to week 8 or 10).
Teaching the Kitten to Eat From a Bowl
Your kitten will need to learn how to eat from a dish, so you will first put the warm milk replacement into a flat and shallow bowl. Dip the tip of the bottle or syringe (choose whatever you've been delivering the milk with) into the milk and let her lick it off. Guide her with the syringe (or your finger dipped into the milk) to the bowl. Eventually (and usually very quickly) she will learn to lap out of the bowl. NEVER force the kitten by pushing down or holding her head in the milk bowl. She can easily inhale the liquid and choke.
Mixing in the Kitten Food
After she's readily drinking the milk replacement from the bowl, you will be mixing the milk replacement with some high-quality kitten food. Innova kitten food is excellent, palatable kitten food. After it's properly mixed, it should have the consistency of oatmeal. Over the next few weeks, you will gradually reduce the amount of liquid to the mixture. You will be adding more and more cat food. Around the 5 to 6-week mark, the kitten will be eating food only very slightly moistened and you will be able to leave it out for her to free feed. By week 8 to 10, the kitten will be completely done with the addition of milk replacement.
Warning: Kittens love to play in their food bowls! All three of my kittens would walk in it, rub in it, roll in it. It's just part of the process for them. You'll be cleaning them up quite a lot.
When I was working at a VA hospital in the mid-'90s, I heard some commotion out in the hall and overheard a co-worker saying, “We'll call Animal Aid and have them euthanized.” Naturally, my interest peaked, since the words “euthanasia” and “animals” in the same sentence compel me to take action. I discovered a feral cat had given birth to six kittens in the scorching Midwestern heat and that she'd abandoned them. All six of them had been placed in a box. They were the cutest, tiniest kittens I'd ever seen. Mama had fled the scene, and they were starving. The gentleman who finally brought them inside was furiously trying to get the number of Animal Aid, seemingly disinterested in attempting to discover if anyone would be willing to care for these poor felines. I came racing down the hall, yelling: “Wait, wait . . . What are you doing with the cats?” Granted, it was a hospital and they couldn't hang out there for long, but I found it disappointing that no effort was put in to find a few willing caretakers. Fortunately, a couple of doctors had already claimed three, so only three were left. Minutes later, I was the proud new mother for these three little lives. I don't use the word “mother” lightly here, either. This was a big job, with multiple feedings daily and through the night.
You Too Can Enjoy the Experience of Raising Kittens
Overall, it was a very rewarding experience, but I suggest that you don't enter into it lightly. It's a whole different ballgame in comparison to adult cat care! That being said, enjoy the process! It's a lot of work, but raising kittens has a huge payoff in the end.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.