Newborn Kitten Care

How Do I Feed a Newborn Kitten?

Kittens under 4 weeks of age cannot eat solid food, whether it’s dry or canned. They can drink their mother’s milk to get the nutrients they need. The kitten will rely on you to survive if their mother isn’t around.

You can feed your newborn kitten a nutritional substitute that’s called kitten milk replacer. It’s essential that you avoid feeding a kitten the same milk that humans consume. Typical cow’s milk can make cats very sick. If you’re unsure of which kitten milk replacer to choose, talk to a veterinarian. They can help you select the right one.

For many dry milk replacers, refrigeration is not always required. But if extra milk is prepared, it should be stored in the fridge. To feed your kitten, follow these steps:

Prepare the formula. Warm the kitten formula to slightly above room temperature. Test the temperature of the formula right before you feed your kitten. Do this by placing a few drops of the formula on your wrist to ensure it’s not too hot.

Keep things clean. Before and after each feeding, you should wash your hands and the bottle that you used to feed your kitten. It’s also recommended that you use a “kitten gown.” This could be a robe or a shirt that you only wear when you’re handling or feeding your kitten. Using a kitten gown helps reduce the possibility of spreading germs.

Feed them gently. Handle your kitten with care. The kitten should be on their stomach lying next to you. This would be the same way they would nurse from their mom. Try holding your kitten in a warm towel while they sit on your lap. Find a position that feels comfortable for both of you.

Let them take the lead. Hold the bottle of formula to your kitten's mouth. Let the kitten suckle at their own pace. If the kitten doesn’t eat right away, gently stroke their forehead. The stroking stimulates how their mother would clean them and it encourages the kitten to eat.

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Kittens need to eat every 3 hours, no matter what time it is. Many people set an alarm so that they don’t miss a feeding. This is especially helpful overnight. It’s important that you feed your kitten regularly. Skipping feedings or overfeeding can cause your kitten to have diarrhea or develop severe dehydration.

Burp them. Kittens need to be burped the same that way babies do after feeding. Lay your kitten down on their stomach and gently pat their back until you hear a little burp. You may need to do this a few times throughout each feeding.

If for any reason you can’t get your kitten to eat, contact your veterinarian immediately. 

What Do Kittens Eat Besides Milk?

Once your kitten is about 3.5 to 4 weeks old, you can start weaning them off of the bottle. This is a gradual process that takes time and practice. The process usually looks something like this:

  • Begin by offering your kitten formula on a spoon.
  • Later, start offering your kitten formula in a saucer.
  • Gradually add canned food to the kitten formula in the saucer.
  • Increase the canned food in the saucer, adding less and less kitten formula.

If your kitten doesn’t take to the spoon or the saucer right away, you can continue to offer the bottle.

As you progress through the weaning process, monitor your kitten and their stool to ensure that they digest everything well. If your kitten is doing well and isn’t experiencing digestive issues (like loose stool or diarrhea), then you can gradually introduce more and more food.

At this stage, it’s also important to offer your kitten a bowl of fresh water to make sure that they’re staying hydrated.

How Often Should a Kitten Eat?

The frequency that your kitten eats normally depends on how old they are:

  • Up to 1 week old: every 2-3 hours
  • 2 weeks old: every 3-4 hours
  • 3 weeks old: every 4-6 hours.
  • 6 weeks old: three or more feedings of canned food spaced out evenly throughout the day
  • 12 weeks old: three feedings of canned food spaced out evenly throughout the day

If you have questions or need additional guidance about how often or what kind of food to give to your kitten, contact your veterinarian for help. 

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How Do I Keep a Newborn Kitten Warm?

Kittens should be kept in a cat carrier wrapped in a few layers of towels. Using a heating pad or heat disc (often the safer option) for pets alongside a soft fleece blanket can also help keep them warm. Ensure that the carrier is large enough for your kitten to move away from the heater when they want to.

It is very important to keep your cat carrier in a safe, warm room away from other pets. It’s helpful to go and check on your kitten throughout the day. If your kitten feels cold, you need to warm them up as soon as possible.

How Much Should a Newborn Kitten Weigh?

Newborn kittens usually weigh about 3.5 ounces, depending on their breed and the litter’s size. A healthy kitten should gain at least 10 grams per day. If you don’t see growth in their body size, this is often a sign of illness.

It’s essential to track and write down your kitten’s weight and how much they're eating every day. You can use a gram scale for accuracy in weighing animals this small. If your kitten isn’t eating or growing as expected, contact your veterinarian right away.

Can I Hold the Kitten?

Vets recommend not touching kittens unless you have to while their eyes are still closed. You can check on them to make sure they’re healthy and gaining weight, but try to limit direct physical contact. 

The kitten’s mother will also let you know how comfortable she is with you handling her babies. It’s important to take it slow, especially at first. If the mother cat seems anxious or stressed, give her and her babies some space.

How to Teach Your Kitten to Go to the Bathroom

Young kittens can't go to the bathroom by themselves. Usually, a mother cat will clean her kittens to stimulate urination and a bowel movement. If the mother isn't present, the kitten will rely on you.

To help your kitten go to the bathroom, use a clean, warm, wet cotton ball and gently rub your kitten's belly and genital and anal area. Your kitten should go to the bathroom in less than a minute. After your kitten is done, clean them carefully with a soft wet cloth.

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Once your kitten is 3 to 4 weeks old, you can introduce them to their litter box. Add a cotton ball to the process in a similar way that you used one on them when they were younger. This will help them to understand what to do.

Gently place your kitten in their litter box and let them get used to it. Keep practicing with them. Ensure that their bathroom is in a safe area away from other people and pets so that they feel comfortable.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on February 16, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Animal Alliance NYC: “What to Do (and NOT Do) If You Find a Newborn Kitten.”
Best Friends: “Bottle Feeding Kittens.”

RSPCA: “How Do I Care For My New Kitten?”

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