How Do I Feed a Newborn Kitten?
Kittens under 4 weeks of age cannot eat solid food. It doesn't matter whether the food is canned or dry. They rely completely on their mother for milk to survive and get the nutrients they need. If the mother isn’t around, the kitten will rely on you.
If the kitten’s mother is absent, you can feed your newborn kitten a nutritional substitute called kitten milk replacer. It’s important that you avoid feeding a kitten the same milk that humans consume. Cow’s milk can make cats very sick. If you’re unsure of which kitten milk replacer to choose, a veterinarian can help you select the right one.
Most dry milk replacers can be made as needed and refrigeration is not always required. If extra milk is prepared, it should be stored in the fridge. To feed your kitten, follow these simple steps:
Prepare the formula. Warm your kitten formula to slightly above room temperature. Always test the temperature of the formula before you feed your kitten. You can do this by placing a few drops on your wrist to ensure it’s not too hot.
Keep things clean. Before and after each feeding, wash your hands and the bottle that you used to feed your kitten. It’s also recommended to have a “kitten gown.” This could be a shirt or a robe that you only wear when you’re feeding or handling your kitten. Using a kitten gown helps reduce the possibility of spreading germs.
Feed them gently. When it’s time to feed your kitten, handle them with care. The kitten should be on their stomach lying next to you the same way they would nurse from their mom. Try holding your kitten in a warm towel while they sit on your lap. The key is to find a position that feels comfortable for the both of you.
Let them take the lead. Hold the bottle of formula to your kitten's mouth and 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. It encourages the kitten to eat.
Feed them frequently. 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 and severe dehydration.
Burp them. After feeding, kittens need to be burped the same that way babies do. You can do this by laying your kitten down on their stomach and gently patting 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.
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.
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.