How To Care For A Newborn Kitten
This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Michelle Wong, BVSc
Taking care of newborn kittens is a lot of work but can be extremely rewarding! There are a number of things to consider such as how frequently you will need to feed them, what to feed them, how to set up their bed, and when they are ready to be weaned. Read on for a complete guide on how to give your newborn kittens the best start in life.
1. Looking after newborn kittens (2-4 weeks)
- Keep them warm
- Bottle feeding for orphans
2. Vaccination (> 6-8 weeks)
3. When to bring kittens to see a vet
5. Further Reading
Looking after newborn kittens (2-4 weeks)
1. Keep them warm
It is essential that young kittens are kept warm as they cannot regulate their own body temperatures. The mother would normally keep the environment warm and cosy at around 38-39oC for her babies. For orphaned kittens, a heat source such as microwavable heat pads should be provided up until 4-6 weeks of age. Make sure to tuck this under or wrap soft blankets or towels around it to ensure there is no direct contact with the heat pad. Check the temperature often to make sure that it is not too hot or too cold.
Provide a cosy nest in which the kittens can snuggle into. Use plenty of towels, and fleece or plush blankets, inside a cardboard box or pet carrier that is secure. Newspaper is a great liner to use, it is cheap and can retain warmth. Keep their environment clean by washing the bedding and blankets regularly. Young kittens are susceptible to disease and proper sanitation should be maintained.
Soft blankets for kittens
The best food for pregnant and lactating mums is a well balanced premium kitten food. These are nutritionally balanced for both baby cats AND their mothers. While a queen is feeding her kittens, her energy requirements may jump up to 2-3 times than normal in the first 4 weeks! This will gradually return to normal by about 6 weeks after birth and when the kittens are weaned. Read our full guide on looking after a pregnant cat.
Bottle feeding for orphaned kittens
- Appropriate milk replacement kitten formula
- Bottle and cat teat
- Scales for weight checking
- Can you commit to feeding every few hours?
In the unfortunate case where the mother is not available to feed her kittens, the orphaned kittens will need to be hand reared. Kittens in their first 2 weeks of life should be fed every 2-3 hours. From then to weaning, they may be fed every 4-6 hours.
Choose a milk replacement formula that has been specially designed for kittens and hand rearing. Make sure to follow the manufacturer's guidelines on how to make up the milk replacement solution, feeding amounts and storage recommendations. Adding warm water to the powder is preferred as microwaving the solution may cause overheating or uneven heating. Check that the heat is right by placing a few drops of milk on the back of your hand before feeding.
Weigh kittens regularly to make sure they are healthy
Weigh the kittens often, every 2-3 days, to make sure they are growing well. Kittens should be gaining around 10-15g per day at a consistent rate. Kitchen scales can be used to help check their weight. This can also help to ensure that the correct amount of milk is given as underfeeding milk can affect healthy growth. On the other hand, overfeeding can cause diarrhoea.
To feed the kittens, we recommend using a nursery bottle and teat that has been designed for cats. Make sure the teat opening is not too big or too small. You can check this by turning the bottle upside down. If milk leaks out easily through the teat, then the opening is too big. On the other hand, if it takes a good amount of squeezing on the bottle to produce drops of milk then the hole may be too small. The correct size will allow milk to drip out with light pressure on the bottle.
How do you position the kitten for bottle feeding?
Place the kitten on their belly, on a towel which they can cling to and knead. Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle and allow the kitten to suck at their own pace. By keeping the bottle inverted, we can prevent air from being ingested. Do not force milk out of the bottle as this can lead to aspiration of fluid into their lungs.
If the kitten is not suckling, try stroking its back or rubbing its forehead like mum would do to encourage them to nurse. A toothbrush may help to imitate the feeling of a cat's tongue.
Suitable milk replacement for kittens
Wombaroo Cat Milk is a nutritionally complete and balanced powdered milk formula food for orphaned and early weaned kittens. It may also be used to supplement the nutrition of pregnant, lactating, debilitated, or convalescing cats. Wombaroo is high in whey proteins for improved growth rate, and contains all the minerals, fats, and vitamins your cat needs. With an elevated taurine content, Wombaroo is perfect for cats.
Di-Vetelact is a tasty "milk replacer" for infant mammals, offering a premium nutritionally complete supplement. Fulfils the nutritional requirements of newborn animals that have been rejected, orphaned or early weaned May be fed to a litter in addition to their mother's milk if supply is lacking.
Kittens younger than 3-4 weeks old will need help going to the toilet. If the mother is not around, you will need to encourage the kittens to eliminate. Use a soft, damp cloth to gently wipe their bottoms to stimulate urination and defecation. Normal faeces will appear soft and yellow.
Kittens should ideally be wormed every 2 weeks until 12 weeks old, and then monthly until 6 months. As they get older, spot on treatments like Revolution are commonly used for ongoing parasite prevention as they are convenient and easy to apply. These are usually given monthly. If fleas are also present, Frontline Spray may be used from 2 days of age.
Worming for kittens
ParaGard Allwormer treats for all major species of gastrointestinal worms, including roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworm. Safe for kittens from 2 weeks of age, and lactating queens. Tablets may be administered directly orally or crushed.
Easy-to-use paste that treats cats and kittens for roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm. Treat kittens from 4 weeks old, can also be used for pregnant and lactating queens.
Topical spot-on product. Revolution Pink provides protection for kittens against fleas, mites, heartworm and roundworm and hookworm. It does not provide protection against ticks or tapeworm. Use separate worming tablet for tapeworm.
5. Weaning and when to start solids
We can start introducing solids when the kittens are 3-4 weeks old. Offer them a high quality kitten wet food mixed in with some warm water, or milk, on a plate for them to access easily. Gradually increase the amount of solid food and reduce the amount of milk until they are fully weaned, usually about 8 weeks old. Continue with the same kitten food throughout weaning.
Premium kitten wet food
Precisely balanced nutrition to support your kitten during growth and development. Suitable for all kittens from weaning up to 1 year of age, pregnant and nursing cats
Premium canned kitten food, 100% complete and balanced to support growing kittens. Included nutrients to help support strong immunity, optimal protein and fat levels to help support rapid growth.
Black Hawk Grain Free wet cat foods are Australian made meals packed with healthy, holistic nutrition. Complete and balanced, this chicken with peas recipe is suitable for kittens up to 12 months of age.
This food has an ultra-soft mousse consistency to aid your kittens transition from milk to solid food. It is formulated to meet the nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating queens and their kittens.
Vaccination (> 6-8 weeks)
In Australia, kittens are routinely vaccinated with an F3 vaccine against Feline Calicivirus, Feline Herpesvirus and Feline Parvovirus. Depending on your cat's level of risk, such as if your cat will be outdoors, your veterinarian may recommend additional vaccination against Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and Feline Leukaemia Virus.
The typical kitten vaccination schedule includes 3 injections given 4 weeks apart and can be started at 6-8 weeks of age. Booster vaccinations are then given every 12 months for ongoing protection.
When to bring kittens to see a vet
It is important to monitor your kittens for consistent growth and weight gain, normal activity levels and any signs of illness such as runny nose, weepy eyes, constipation or diarrhoea. If they are not feeding, losing weight or they appear cold and not moving, they will need veterinary attention as soon as possible.