Kittens are born blind, deaf, unable to regulate their body temperatures, and unable to eliminate on their own. The mother cat takes care of all of these things for the first month or so of life. Plus by nursing, she is passing on maternal antibodies through her milk to the kittens. Hand-raising any animal is second best to being raised by the natural mother. Only the natural mother can properly care for the babies and teach them what they need to know to survive as a species. However, sometimes humans must step in and raise kittens when the mother is ill, dies, or for some reason abandons her kittens.
Formula: Kittens needing bottle fed should only be fed a kitten milk replacer formula. The powder form is recommended as you can make up just what you need for each feeding. Use warm water to mix formula according to label directions for age. If you are reheating formula, it should only be reheated once. Throw out any unused formula after 24 hours. Kittens may not accept formula if it is too hot or too cold.
Elimination: Kittens up to 4-5 weeks old need to be stimulated to urinate & defecate. Use a warm, damp cotton ball or tissue and gently stroke the genital area for up to two minutes. This should be done after every feeding. The need to eliminate is one reason why a kitten may cry or refuse to eat.
Temperature: Kittens should be kept in a small box or carrier in a warm (80-90F), draft-free area. Tube socks filled with dry, uncooked rice & warmed in the microwave make excellent warmers. Make sure whatever heat source you use, the kittens are able to move away from it if they become too warm. If you use a heating pad, monitor the temperature closely and place the heating pad in only one half of the box or carrier. Kittens need additional warmth until they’re weaned.
Birth: Eyes & Ears closed, cannot regulate body temperature, cannot eliminate. Kittens rely solely on Mama for food (every 2-3 hours), to keep them warm, and to stimulate them to eliminate.
Hand-raised kittens should be fed with a bottle or eye dropper every 2-3 hours. Depending on the formula, they will probably eat 2-3mL’s per feeding to start. If the kitten is eating more, that is fine, as long as the kitten is also eliminating. Be sure to stimulate elimination after each feeding.
10-14 Days: Ears and eyes are opening. May be erupting deciduous (baby) incisors. Nurse every 4-6 hours.
Hand-raised kittens should be eating every 4-6 hours, and will still need to be stimulated to eliminate. By this age, they should be eating 10-15mL’s of formula. Again, if they want more, that is fine, as long as they are eliminating.
4 Weeks: Eyes & Ears are open, but slow to respond to stimulus. Deciduous canine (fang) teeth should be coming in. Still nursing (every 6-8 hours) but can be started on soft, solid food. Provide water and a litter box.
Hand-raised kittens can be provided with a litter box (disposable pie pans work well!) as they may begin going on their own at any time. Still be sure they are eliminating after each feeding. If they haven’t gone on their own, you can stimulate them over the box, leaving a small amount of excrement in the box so they know that is where they go to eliminate.
Begin providing soft kitten food, either canned or moistened dry. Mix a small amount of formula with the food and encourage the kittens to try it. You may have to put a small amount of food on your finger and put it in their mouths. Try this every feeding or every other feeding before you offer the bottle. It may be harder for hand raised kittens to accept solid food since they don’t have a mother to mimic.
6 Weeks: Should be ready to wean from Mama. Kittens this age can eat solid food on their own and regulate their own body temperature. Kittens can eliminate on their own and typically will urinate 3-5 times daily and defecate twice a day. By this time they should be erupting deciduous premolars. Food should be available at all times and kittens should be eating 4-5 times a day.
Healthy kittens should weigh, on average:
2 weeks: 8 ounces 6 weeks: 1.5 pounds 12 weeks: 3 pounds
4 weeks: 1 pound 8 weeks: 2 pounds 16 weeks: 4 pounds
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