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How to Feed and Care for Orphaned Kittens
Over the past 15 years, I have raised nine orphaned kittens. Four of them were two weeks old when their mother was killed; three others were only hours old when their mother died; two other kittens fell out of the nest in our barn when they were only a day old.
Raising motherless kittens is not a difficult process, but it does require patience, time and plenty of TLC.
Here are some tips to help you raise your orphaned kittens:
1. Make a nest.
Usually, a mother cat spends many hours each day in the nest with her kittens, which helps her babies stay warm. It is important to keep the kittens warm because if they are not warm enough, they will not want to eat, and in fact, all their body functions will be slower.
To keep your orphaned kittens warm, make a nest in a small box and fill it with towels or old t-shirts or t-shirts to help the babies conserve body heat. Place a towel over the box to keep out the light. Female cats choose nests that are dark. If you don’t have a heat lamp, use a small 40-watt desk lamp and place it several feet above the box to keep the kittens warm.
If the box is large enough, you can also use a jug or other large container filled with hot water to keep the babies warm. Place the jug in the box and then make a nest with towels next to it. Fill the jug when it cools. You can also use a quart jar as a “hot water bottle” except that a quart jar cools off very quickly.
2. Use an eyedropper or syringe to feed the kittens.
The first time I adopted orphaned kittens, I found that the small nursing bottles available at vet clinics were too big. The kittens could not get their mouths around the nipples. So, first, for newborn kittens, I used an eyedropper. As the kittens got bigger, a syringe worked really well, the type of syringe for giving injections (without the needle of course!). I started out with the 3 cc size and used larger syringes as the kittens got bigger. The tip of the syringe is about the size of a cat’s nipple, and eventually my kittens were sucked hard enough at the end of the syringe to pull the tumor down on their own. Check with your veterinary clinic to see if used syringes are available or to see if you can buy new syringes from the clinic.
A word of caution: Whether you are feeding with an eyedropper or a syringe, be careful that you only give a few drops at a time. My vet told me that if the kittens were given too much formula at one time (more than they could swallow), they could suffocate. Inhaling formula will make your kittens much less susceptible to pneumonia.
By the way, I have also found that it is better to feed the kittens as much as they want to eat. They will sit down and sleep until the next feeding if they are getting enough to eat. Small kittens will start taking 1 CC at a time. As they grow larger, they will eat about 12 CC at a time (usually in several helpings).
Kittens learn very quickly that food comes from the syringe in your hand. If you have trouble getting them to take the formula from the syringe, let the shoe rest in the palm of your hand for a few seconds or let them touch your fingers. Then insert the syringe and let them soak while you push the plunger down slowly.
3. Feed the kittens KMR or kitty formula that you have mixed yourself.
KMR, the canned cat’s milk substitute, is available at most veterinary clinics in premixed or dry form. It is specially formulated for kittens to provide the nutrients they need. Follow the directions on the label. The amount of feed is determined by body weight. My newborn kittens weighed three ounces each, and for the first several days, they only needed half an eyeful of KMR at a time.
My vet clinic also gave me a recipe for “kitten formula”. After the first can of KMR, this is what all my kits were built for.
Here is the recipe for Kitten Formula
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon of white corn syrup
1 egg yolk
a pinch of salt
Mix in a blender and mix long enough in advance so that the bubbles have time to disappear.
Heat over medium heat. Heat the formula until it is slightly warm to the touch. All my kitties have refused to swallow the formula if it was too cold or too warm. The same was true for KMR.
4. Feed your kittens three times a day.
Mother cats nurse their kittens every couple of hours. The vet I spoke to warned me not to feed them so often. “They don’t eat well and you get frustrated and they get frustrated and it’s harder on everyone,” he said. He was right. Feeding the kittens three times a week worked really well. day.
5. Dress your kittens in a warm, wet washcloth and help them empty their bladder and bowels.
Young kittens can’t empty their balls or move their bowels, so you have to help them. Use a warm, wet washcloth and wipe under their tails until they have emptied their balls and/or moved their bowels. Be prepared to use up to four washcloths per kitten. If they just want to empty the balls, you won’t need much. If they have to empty their anus, watch out — it could be cheating! A smaller washcloth that you can throw out with one hand while holding on to a purring kitty with the other works best. I put the laundry in a bag of warm water and put the bag where I can easily reach it.
Young kittens also don’t know how to groom themselves, and after a day or two of eating kitten formula, they become sticky from the formula that inevitably dribbles down their chin. From time to time, use a warm, wet washcloth to wipe off the formula, but be careful not to get the kittens too wet or they will struggle to stay warm.
6. Provide a litter pan when they are four weeks old.
Cats have a strong instinct to use material they can scratch around when they need to empty their hands and move their bowels. By the time the kittens are four weeks old, they will already be thinking in this direction and a litter pan will help them get the idea. You may still have to help them with the washing machine for a while, but they will soon be using the litter pan.
Kitty litter in an aluminum pie plate works well for starters. As the kittens grow larger, use a larger container for a litter box.
7. Start feeding solid food when the kittens are about six weeks old.
Kittens raised by their mothers may start eating sooner than six weeks, but you will be able to provide more milk than their mothers would have.
When your kittens are teething, you can start giving them solid food. If you want to feed dry food, a good quality kitten chow will work well. Kitten chow has all the nutrients and protein they need to keep growing. Kitten chow is also made into tiny pieces of kitten. To tempt their food and give them a “treat”, you can also try a small kitten food. Make sure you give your kittens clean water to drink too. And so that the kittens eat solid food regularly, supplement their caloric intake with kitten formula. By now, you won’t have to feed them with a syringe. You can put the formula in a small cup, and once they find out where it is and what it is, they will drink it on their own.
8. Be prepared for surprise and surprise.
Kittens grow very fast, and some days, you think they are growing right before your eyes.
Kittens open their eyes when they are about 10 days old.
They start cleaning when they are as young as 6 days old.
Kittens will begin other “kitten behavior” such as shaking their heads, trying to groom and picking up scraps of food to scratch behind their ears when they are two to three weeks old.
Sometimes young kittens get the bumps (!) while you feed them.
Young kittens are like young people, in a way. Their days include eating, sleeping and emptying their bowels and bladder. After the kittens have had enough to eat and their bodily functions have been taken care of, when you put them back in the “nest,” they will sleep or rest quietly until you ready to feed them again. If they are restless and crying and fussing, they may need to eat a little more, or they may need to empty their bladder or move their bowels, or they may be ‘ feel cold.
As the kittens get older, they stay awake for longer and eventually start playing with each other.
By the time the kittens are four weeks old, it is very likely that you will have to move them into a bigger box, if not sooner, because the first one will be too small and they will know how they go out on their own!
If you have any questions about raising orphaned kittens, you can email me at [email protected]
© 2004 LeAnn R. Ralph
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