Raising Orphaned Kittens

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A cat can’t raise a brood of kittens if there are post-natal complications: womb or chest inflammation, toxic milk, lack of milk or psycho-emotional problems. In these cases kittens need bottle-feeding or feeding up.

You decide whether to feed the kitten up looking at him, taking into account his behavior, his weight and size as compared with the other kittens of the some brood. As a rule, feeding up is started very early and in extreme case one can use bottle-feeding. Depending on general condition of kitten and his reaction to feeding up you may feed him 2 or 3 times a day leaving him with his mother. The other kittens are taken away and raise separately. They need special care.

If you think that your kitten needs feeding up, then count daily need and divide it into 4 times a day. Small and weak kittens are fed 6 times a day. Put down everything you do, it’s very important while bottle-feeding. The first 4 days (from birth) weigh the kittens every 8 hours till the 14th day - every day and till the 4th week - 1 time every 3 days.

Three aspects are very important: to create necessary temperature conditions, to prepare and count feed correctly and to ensure proper care. The plates for feeding should be clean and boiled. You should clean your hands before taking a kitten especially if you have contacted with the other cats before. Many diseases included respiratory virus infection of cats can be passed to the kittens by a man who communicated with infected cat.

If the kittens cannot get the mother’s first milk, they therefore don’t have passive immunity and they are susceptible to various diseases. In a 3-week age they are vaccinated.

You need an incubator, of course, becoming too cold is the greatest dangerous thing that could be happen to a baby-kitten.


The primitive incubator can be made in some minutes by dividing a cardboard box into sections for every kitten. These sections are necessary when the kittens are alone, because without mother, they suck each other’s tails, ears and genitals. Beginning with 3rd week kittens have to be together for their socialization.

You should pay attention to temperature conditions. Who can warm the kittens if the mother is away? The temperature in incubator should be the usual room temperature, if there are no draughts. You may put a thick rug under the bottom of incubator. If necessary, you may put infrared lamps with thermostat above the incubator. But remember: there should be cool in one of the corners for the kittens to crawl there when they are hot.

Hot-water electro-bottles are less safe, than lamps. From permanent contiguity with a hot-water bottle the kittens can get burns or dehydratation. Hot-water bottles must be well covered and occupy the half of bottom of incubator only.

In every section of incubator put a piece of cloth. You can easily change it, if it is dirty. Check the excrement of each kitten, it will help you to avoid the first symptoms of disease and to control feeding up.

According to the thermometer in incubator, regulate the temperature. During the 1st week keep it up about 27 - 32° С; during 2nd week lower it till 27 - 29 °С; make the temperature low and by the end of the 4th week it should be 24 °С.

Keep the constant temperature and air humidity (about 55%). Avoid draughts. It will help to avoid drying of skin and dehydratation.

General care

Keep the kittens clean on a clean and dry piece of cloth. Check the anus and belly skin. Use the child’s oil for it not to become dry. Change the piece of cloth regularly to avoid skin irritation. If your kittens have it , powder the areas of skin with child’s powder. If an irritation appears, treat the areas with Neosporin ointment.

During the first three weeks rub the belly and anal area after each feeding to stimulate defecation and urination. You'd better do it with the help of tampon wetting in water.

Artificial feeding

During the first two days from their birth kittens should get mother’s milk. In that way they get all the necessary antibodies and immunoglobulini of the mother-cat which provide them the immunity. Nowadays this problem is easily solved - there is a special artificial milk for kittens, for example, KMR, Kitty lac, Nurturall, Just Born and others. It substituted child’s feed, goat’s milk and foster mother-cat.

Different composition of milk can be seen in the following table.

Average analysis of milk in percentage content of dry substance

  Cat Cow Dog Milk substitute
Dry substance 18 12 24 18
Protein 42 25 33 42
Fat 25 309 33 25
Carbohydrates 26 38 16 26
cal/100 ml 90 70 150 100

Cow’s milk according to its composition don’t suit to kittens. You'd better use commercial feed. In extreme situations you may feed the kittens with home-made mixture, but temporary. Before giving you have to mix it and warm it up. Keep the rest in the refrigerator.

Mixture № 1: 240 ml of homogenized milk, 2 yolks, 1 teaspoonful of salad oil, 1 drop of liquid child’s vitamins - 1,2 Ccal/ml.

Mixture № 2: 20% of condensed milk sugar free (1 part of warm water and 5 parts of milk condensed), bone powder (1 teaspoonful of powder and 1 liter of milk) - 1 Ccal/ml.

Milk substitutes are sold of two types: liquid and powders. Powders are diluted with water according to instructions on the box. Unused part is kept in the fridge. Don’t freeze the mixture.

Calculation of daily need in milk mixture

To know how much feed you need to each kitten you should weigh each and use the below table (need in calories).

Necessary quantity of milk mixture

Age in weeks Average weight (grams) Ccal per day Milk mixture per day* (ml) Maximum quantity of mixture per day (ml) Number of feedings per day
1 120 24 32 48 6
2 210 44 56 77 4
3 300 77 80 90 3
4 390 107 104 104 3

* Different milk mixtures have practically one and the same composition but the need in feed may be different.

Divide the general daily need by number of feedings per day to get to know the quantity of one feeding.

Example: a kitten (weight 120 gr) during the first week needs 24 Ccal per day, i.e. 32 ml of milk mixture per 24 hours. Divide by number of feeding - 6 times and you have 5-6 ml of mixture - the necessary quantity.

Kittens born weak and small suffer most of all from overcooling and dehydratation. Before giving milk mixture to such kitten it’s necessary to restore the volume of lost liquid. You have to give him warm 5 - 10% glucose solution or pedialyte solution 4 ml each hour or two hours until the kitten become warm and the sighs of dehydratation disappear. After this you may give him milk mixture and feed him every 4 hours. Older and bigger kittens are fed 3 times a day. If the kitten does not eat all the portion, you have to give a smaller portion and more frequent.

The belly of a full kitten will be plump while palpating but not thick. If you feed your kitten using a bottle, there may be a milk foam in his mouth. Avoid overfeeding - it may lead to diarrhea!

Kitten’s ration is up to his needs if he does not cry after feeding, puts on weight, defecates 4-5 times a day and his excrements of light brown color. Step by step increase the portion of feed according to the table.

At the age of 3 weeks the majority of kittens begin to lap milk mixture from a saucer. You may add dry feed to the milk when the kitten is 4 weeks. At that age you may feed your pet by dry feed only.

How to give children nutrition

You may use either a bottle or a stomach probe. While feeding you have to hold the kitten vertically, his head up, to avoid lungs aspiration. Milk mixture should be of room temperature.

Children bottle is more preferable, of course, it means sucking reflex for the kittens but it also demands some power from your pet. Using a small bottle or a feeding-bottle with a smooth nipple, you'd better make the hole in the nipple in such a way that the milk runs slower, otherwise the kitten will soon get tired and won’t be able to get the necessary portion of milk. But the hole shouldn’t be very big, otherwise the milk will run quickly and your pet may suffocate.

The appropriate position for the kitten is on his chest and belly, his back up. Do not hold him like a child on your arms, otherwise milk mixture may go to the windpipe.

Carefully open kitten’s mouth, put a nipple inside and keep the bottle at an angle of 45° - in such position of a bottle the air does not get into kitten’s stomach. Slightly stretch and loosen the nipple, it stimulates the act of sucking. After the feeding there appears a milk foam from kitten’s mouth. Usually it takes five or more minutes if the kitten drinks slowly. After the feeding you have to massage your pet’s belly for him to puke.

One should better use probe (catheter) for sick or insufficiently developed kitten Rose Floyd scheme

A probe for artificial feeding has some advantages: 1) the feeding takes about two minutes; 2) air do not get inside (there is no puking. Besides, the kitten get enough milk. This is the only way to feed weak, sick kittens or kittens with physical retardation.

If one gives too much mixture or it comes very quickly then there will be belching which may lead to aspiration of mixture and pneumonia. You may avoid complication if you calculate the quantity of mixture per day and the weight of the kitten is restored little by little. Kittens who are fed through the probe should be closed in a special room (or incubator) to avoid injures, because they suck everything including each other.

Feeding through the probe is not difficult, one may master it during some minutes. You need: soft rubber catheter (5 size - for small kittens, 8 - 10 French size - for bigger kittens; it is sold at the drugstore), glass or plastic syringe (10 or 20 ml) and children’s scales to weight the kitten and calculate how he puts or weight. Kitten’s stomach is situated on the level of the last rib. Measure the probe from the mouth to the last rib and make a mark. Take mixture with the syringe (avoid air bubbles) and warm it putting the syringe into the hot water.

Wake the kitten up and put him on his stomach and breast (horizontally). Put the end of the probe into milk mixture and let the kitten lick it. Open his mouth and slowly put the probe along the back of the tongue into the throat. The probe it too big to get into trachea that’s why don’t worry. If you bring the probe in slowly and gently the kitten swallow it. Bring it in till the mark or when your kitten begins to resist. Join the probe and the syringe and slowly bring mixture into the kitten’s stomach.

Take the probe away and take the kitten vertically for him to belch. Wipe his anus and genitals with wet wad of cotton to stimulate urination and defecation.

At the age of 14 days the trachea of the kittens grows and the probe may get into it. If the probe gets wrong the kitten starts to cough and suffocate. Take the probe with large diameter (8 - 10 French) and if your kittens got stronger and may suck themselves feed them using the bottle.

Basic feeding mistakes

The main mistakes are overfeeding and underfeeding they lead to diarrhea and disbalance in weight. If your kitten puts on 10 grams every day and looks happy, his defecation is normal (firm and light-brown) that means that you feed him correctly.

Experience shows that owners usually overfeed or underfeed their kittens that may be checked by kittens' defecations.

If  you feed your kitten 4 times a day, he has to defecate 4-5 times a day too or after each feeding.

The first sign of overfeeding - watery defecation. Watery yellow defecation means not serious overfeeding. Put 1/3 water into milk mixture. If defecation is normal again, you may give usual mixture.

Under moderate overfeeding food goes along bowels quicker that leads to appearance of green defecation. Green color depends on non absorbed gall. In this case you may dilute milk mixture with water in two (instead of water one may take pedialyte). You may also add 2-3 drops of kaopectat. One should feed the kitten every 4 hours. If defecation is normal, grow the concentration of mixture to initial condition.

Permanent overfeeding leads to emaciation of digestive ferments and to appearance of diarrhea of grey color. If food is assimilated bad or isn’t assimilated at all, there is clotted diarrhea (like curd milk). In this case there is threat of dehidratation. Do not feed the kitten with milk mixture till his condition is normal.

Under dehidratation one puts in solution of electrolytes, for example, balanced pediatrician solution - pedialyte. You may buy them at the drugstore and at vet’s. Dosage: 1,0 ml per 50 gr of weight every hour, you may use the bottle or the probe. Every 3 hours add kaopectat to the solution of electrolytes: one drop per 10 gr of kittens' weight. Call your vet immediately! You may also do some other things: warm the cooled kitten, very effective is giving a hypodermic injection of electrolytes.

Veterinary should check all the kittens who have grey or white defecation, of course it may be connected with new-borns' infections.

Kittens, who do not get enough food, are weak and inert, they meow all the time, they don’t put on weight (between feedings) or do it very slowly. Very often they try to suck each other and begin to shiver. Keep the proper temperature inside the incubator. Underfeeding leads to dehydratation.

Constipation is observed very seldom. Some kittens defecate not so often and regular but one shouldn’t worry if only defecation is not thick and the kitten defecates with difficultly. Kitten’s belly may grow and become hard to the touch. If it is constipation one should give an enema with soap solution using eye dropper: 2-3 full droppers after each feeding. You may also use Vaseline oil as a solution: not more than 5 ml. One may give hydroxide of magnesium: 3 drops per 30 gr of kittens' weight.

Under artificial feeding do not forget to wipe anal hole and genitals with wet wad of cotton after each feeding to stimulate natural defecation and urination of the animal.

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