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Newborn Kitten Care

ASPCA logoDuring the first few weeks of life, a kitten’s primary concerns are feeding, keeping warm, developing social skills and learning how to excrete on his own. In most cases, humans will simply watch the mother cat perform her duties. However, if the kitten in your care has been separated from his mother or if the mother cat has rejected her young or cannot produce enough milk, caring for him is up to you.

How Do I Feed a Newborn Kitten?

A mother cat’s milk provides everything a kitten needs during the first four weeks of life. If you have newborn kittens who’ve been separated from their mother, consult with a veterinarian, shelter or experienced foster care giver who can help you find a new mother cat with a small litter-she may be able to nurse the orphaned babies. If you cannot find a foster mother, please consult with your veterinarian about the proper way to bottle-feed with a commercial milk replacer. Please do not offer regular cow’s milk to cats of any age. It is not easily digestible and can cause diarrhea.

What Do Kittens Eat Besides Milk?

When the orphaned kittens are three to four weeks old, begin to offer milk replacer in a shallow bowl, then introduce a moist, easily chewable diet. You can make gruel from warmed milk replacer and a high-quality dry or canned kitten food. Serve it in a shallow bowl and feed the kittens several times each day. By five weeks old, they should be getting used to their new diet. By six to seven weeks old, they should be able to chew dry food and you’ll no longer need to moisten it. Kittens are typically fully weaned by around eight weeks of age.

Kittens need large amounts of energy--about two to three times that of an adult cat. Food for your kitten should contain at least 30% protein. Make sure the food you offer is specifically formulated for kittens.

How Often Should a Kitten Eat?

The following is a general eating schedule for newborns and young cats:

  • Newborn kittens may nurse about every 1-2 hours.
  • At about three to four weeks old, they can be offered milk replacer from a bowl and then small amounts of moistened kitten food four to six times a day.
  • Kittens from six to 12 weeks old should be fed four times a day as you gradually decrease their access to milk replacer.
  • Kittens from three to six months old should be fed three times a day.

How Do I Keep a Newborn Kitten Warm?

If the kitten in your care has been orphaned, it is essential that you keep the young one warm. A heating pad or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel works well. The heat source should be positioned so that the kitten can move away from it at will. Please consult your veterinarian about ideal temperatures, and do take care to monitor the heating pad, if you are using one, to ensure it is functioning properly.

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