Is your cat about to give birth? Are you clueless on how to care for newborn kittens? The truth is, taking care of newborn kittens can be a double-edged sword. It can be very rewarding when things go well. But if a kitten doesn’t survive, it can be very heartbreaking for any cat lover. Some cat owners mistakenly think that caring for newborn kittens is the same as caring for an older kitten. But it’s a lot more challenging because newborns are more susceptible to diseases.
Studies have shown that one in four kittens die within the first week of life. Most of the time, this is because the mother cat is either unable to care for her kittens properly, or she doesn’t want to. While that is a sad fact, it doesn’t mean that you can do nothing but let your cat’s newborns be a part of the statistics. You can step in and help. It’ll make a huge difference, especially when the mother cat is absent.
Continue reading to learn how to care for newborn kittens. We have categorized this article based on how old the newborns are. It’s important to know the stages of development of newborn kittens so that you will have an idea of what exactly it is that they need and how to properly be of assistance to them.
The First Week
Newborn kittens are deaf and blind during their first week. They are also unable to produce their own body heat. Yes, they’re delicate and vulnerable at birth.
During their first week, kittens will do two things—eat and sleep. Thus, make sure that the mother cat is kept together with her kittens at all times. Put her basic supplies—her food bowl, water bowl, and litter box—close by so she wouldn’t leave her kittens unattended for too long.
As mentioned earlier, newborn kittens will do nothing but sleep and eat during the first week of their lives. Obviously, the mother cat will take care of not only feeding the kittens but also keeping them clean. In fact, she will eat any urine and feces her little ones produce! This goes to show the extent mothers are willing to go to keep their little ones safe and sound.
But what if the mother cat, for one reason or another, could not feed her kittens? Or what if circumstances lead to the mother rejecting one of her kittens? What can you do to feed orphaned newborn kittens?
First of all, you should never give the kitten cow’s milk because kittens are lactose intolerant and it can cause bad side effects such as diarrhea and dehydration. On the long run, feeding the kittens with the wrong kind of milk can have serious repercussions like poor growth and nutritional deficiencies.
The best option is to find a nursing mother cat who may be willing to provide milk for the orphaned kittens. But in case you can’t find one, you can buy kitten milk replacement formula which is widely available online. You can also buy some at pet stores or from your vet.
Kitten milk replacement formula is used the same way as infant formula. It typically has directions that you can refer to in determining the number of scoops for a certain amount of water. As a general rule, kittens should be fed 8 milliliters of formula milk for every ounce of body weight in a day. For instance, a kitten weighing 4 ounces should not consume more than 32 milliliters of formula in a day.
On the first week of the newborn kittens’ life, they should be fed every two to three hours. A two-week-old kitten can be fed every four to six hours.
If you are using a brand new bottle, cut a small hole in the nipple using small and sharp scissors. An alternative would be to poke a hole through the nipple using a large needle which has been pre-heated. The milk should drop gradually out of the hole.
Before feeding the kitten, it is recommended that you wear a robe or a sweatshirt. This ‘kitten gown’ can lower the risks of spreading viruses between the newborn kittens. You may also wear gloves. Moreover, remember to wash your hands before and after feeding the kittens.
While feeding the kitten, sit comfortably in a chair with a towel placed in your lap. Place the kitten the way she would be positioned when nursing from her mother—with the head straight, her stomach resting, and her feet down. Never feed her on her back.
Position the nipple near her mouth and gently move it back and forth. Once she latches on, hold the bottle at an angle of 45 degrees to prevent air from getting into her stomach. Let her suckle at her own pace. If she still refuses to do so after some time, you can stimulate her to nurse by stroking her back or rubbing her forehead.
Now that the kitten is full, you’ll have to start thinking about what to do when all that food comes out as pee and poop. Mother cats encourage their young to defecate and urinate by licking the anus and genital areas. With the mother cat out, you’ll also have to do this job. Using damp cotton wool, wipe the area around her anus. Once she relieves herself, wipe the area, then clean up her bottom with a clean fresh of cotton wool.
Lastly, you’ll have to observe the newborn kittens regularly if you are responsible for their care. As mentioned earlier, newborn kittens don’t have the ability to produce their own body heat. They rely on their mothers to keep themselves warm.
But if for some reason the mother is not there to provide warmth, you can still do something to the newborn kittens. One way to help them is by wrapping a hot water bottle in a towel then place it next to the kittens. Position the bottle in such a way that the kittens would still be able to move away from it anytime they want.
Aside from ensuring that they get enough warmth, you will need to make sure that the newborn kittens are gaining weight normally. On average, kittens will weigh around 3.5 ounces at birth. But they will gain up to 3 times more weight during their first week.
Perhaps you’re wondering whether you can hold newborn kittens. The rule is simple—avoid handling newborn kittens especially during the first week as this may upset their mother. Even if they have been orphaned, you’d still want to avoid handling them because of their delicate nature during the first week.
The Second Week
By the second week, those cute little ones will start to open their eyes. Yet, their vision is still underdeveloped. Don’t force them to open their eyes since you will be risking infection. You must also be attentive to signs of infections like yellow discharges around the eyes. You’ll have to continue carefully monitoring the kittens’ weight during their first two weeks. It is recommended that you weigh them at least every other day.
Kittens are considered healthy if they gain up to .25 ounces of weight daily until weaning. Those who fail to gain weight at this pace are considered sick; don’t delay in consulting the vet since these fragile babies’ condition can deteriorate quickly. The vet may recommend that you feed the sick kitten with formula every two hours instead of the usual 2-3 hours interval.
Unlike the first week, it’s okay to handle kittens starting from their second week up to the seventh week—which is an important stage for socialization. Be reminded, though, that kittens are very prone to injuries when roughly handled. As such, it may not be wise to let young children handle them.
The Third Week
As they enter their third week, kittens will continue to develop their sense of smell. Their ears and baby teeth will also start to appear. Some kittens will also start to purr. Healthy kittens can be very playful even at an early age. While it is usually during the fourth week that kittens start to show activity, it is not uncommon for some newborn kittens to become playful at the third week. You’ll want to give them safe and appropriate toys to aid in their development.
The Fourth Week
It is during the fourth week that most kittens will show increased levels of activity. They will be more interactive with their littermates. Don’t be surprised if you see them exploring the outside of their bed. After all, their sense of smell has fully matured at this stage. Their eyesight is also rapidly developing.
At this stage, the mother may start to leave the young ones—although usually only for short periods of time. It is also at this point that they will start to learn how to relieve themselves properly, so make sure that you’ve prepared a litter box that’s easy for them to climb into.
Cats are known to be very hygienic animals. That’s why some people believe they don’t need to train newborn kittens on how to use a litter box. While it’s true that kittens may learn how to relieve themselves in a litter box by watching their mother, it differs from kitten to kitten, and you may find yourself needing to potty train a few late bloomers in the litter.
You’ll know that the kitten is ready to be trained to use a litter box when she starts walking on her own. As mentioned previously, get her a litter box with a low lip. Put it in a quiet and private location where your kitten can easily reach it.
Obviously, kittens must feel comfy when then use the litter tray. Try to get cat litter that is unscented.
You may have to pick her up and put her in the litter tray at first. To induce her to pee, do this immediately after feeding the kitten. You will be surprised at how fast she learns that the litter tray is her toilet.
If she still has trouble learning how to use the litter tray, confine her to a small room or a cage where there are provisions for food, water, a bed, and the litter box. The idea is that confining her to a small area will force her to learn how to use the litter tray. She will quickly understand which area is for eating, which for sleeping, and which one is for relieving herself.
Once she has used it, empty the tray right away. Remember that cats are very hygienic animals and won’t use a dirty litter tray.
Finally, remember this: Accidents happen. Even the smartest feline could have an accident on your carpet or the floor. Don’t punish her. Instead, when she uses the litter box correctly, praise her and offer some treats.
The Fifth Week
By the fifth week, most kittens have fully developed their eyesight. It is also recommended that you begin the weaning process if you haven’t already. The weaning process is widely considered as one of the most important aspects of caring for newborn kittens.
Weaning—or the process of transitioning kittens from being fed with milk to eating solid food—starts at around the fourth to the fifth week of age. This process is ideally handled or taken care of by the mother cat. You’d know that the kittens are ready for this process when they try to eat their mother’s food, who will push them away at first. But then again, there may be instances when you have to do this yourself.
When weaning kittens, you have to put some kitten milk, lactose-free formula in a saucer. Then gradually mix small amounts of canned food or moistened dry food into the saucer. Slowly increase the amount of solid food while reducing kitten milk formula. Be patient, though, as some kittens may have trouble adjusting to solid foods, and instead will continue crying out for the formula.
Monitoring the stools is also important as this can give you an idea of whether the felines are digesting the mixture well or not. If you observe loose stools, you must lessen the amount of canned food and add more formula.
To keep the kittens well-hydrated, you’ll also have to keep a bowl of fresh water available at all times. Once they get the hang of it, you may stop moistening the dry food.
The Sixth Week
From week 6 up to week 8, the kittens will become very active. You’ll have to take a more hands-on role during this phase. Playing with your kitten and providing them with lots of love will be critical. You’ll also need to touch their ears, mouth, and paws more frequently. Get them used to you, and make sure they are properly socialized so they won’t grow up to be unfriendly or even hostile.
As you can see, newborn kittens can quickly grow in a span of two months. The first three weeks are the most critical because of the delicate nature of the young felines. By the sixth week, kittens can become self-sufficient.
Caring for newborn kittens can be very exciting especially if you know what to do. While mother cats are as attentive and loving as human mothers, there are instances when they could not attend to the needs of their newborns. It is up to you as the owner to step in and help your pet in this regard. Now that you know how to take care of newborn kittens, you have a better shot at raising friendly, affectionate, and active felines.
Is this the first time your cat has given birth? Is she taking good care of her kittens or does it seem like you’ll have to step in? If you have any experience at taking care of kittens, please share some tips and tricks in the section below. We’d love to hear from you.