How to Care for An Orphan Kitten
Author, Dorinne Whynott, Owner of Professional Pet Sitting Etc.
Raising a young orphaned kitten can be very challenging, especially if you have never done it before. Well, the ideal solution is to find a nursing mother cat that’s willing to take on a new mouth to feed. If it is not possible, you will need to prepare for weeks of constant care so as to safely raise the young motherless kitten to a point of weaning.
In this article, were are going to give you a step by step guide on what to do if you have an orphan kitten.
Step 1 – Bring to a Veterinarian
If the Mom is just refusing to nurse the kitten, she may have something wrong. Best to check her out.
If the kitten is orphaned, make sure that the baby is healthy. They may have been orphaned because the Mom knows something is wrong or if you found this kitten outside, exposure may have put this baby in an unhealthy environment. This baby may have parasites and a quick safe wormer may be in order.
Step 2 – Keep Warm
The first thing you need to is to make sure the orphaned kitten is kept warm in her nest (typically a box or crate). Young kittens that are less than 3 weeks old cannot regulate their body temperature, and can easily get chilled. You will need to improvise a safe warming center for a couple of weeks that’s kept in an isolated area of the house. You can prepare a nest that’s lined with towels, and then put a hot water bottle under the towels or a heating pad (on low, always have a towel between kitten and heat source). Make sure you leave it in a place where the kitten can easily crawl away if she gets too hot.
Step 3 – Kitten Formula
During the 1st 48 hours of life, kittens normally receive the vital antibodies from their mothers’ milk. This rather special milk (also known as colostrum), is secreted by the kitten’s mother for the 1st couple of days before it’s replaced by regular milk. A kitten that doesn’t receive the colostrum for the 1st few days usually has a fragile immune system. If the kitten was lucky enough to have nursed the first few days great but in many orphan cases we will never know.
In any case, it is recommend that you use powdered kitten milk replacement formula right from the start. The powdered kitten milk replacement formula is the cat’s equivalent of infant formula, and has the same composition as the milk from the kittens’ mother. KMR (kitten milk replacer) can be found in any pet store. It can be found in powdered form (just add water) or ready to be fed as is.
NEVER feed cow’s milk because the lactose or sugar, will most likely upset the kitten’s stomach.
Before feeding the orphan kitten, remember to warm the formula up to body temperature just like you would a human baby. You can test it on your wrist to make sure it is not too hot or cold. Then feed via a syringe, a dropper, or baby nursing bottle. Make sure you keep the kitten in the upright position (on her stomach), so that the milk does not go into her lungs. Feed her slowly so she doesn’t choke. That said, it’s important to note that in the 1st week of life, a kitten should be fed every two to three hours. At 2 weeks, she can be fed every four to six hours. And after 3 weeks of age, she can be fed every six to eight hours.
Step 4 – Stimulate to go to the bathroom
Until the kitten is 4 weeks old, she will not able to go to the bathroom on her own. The Mother cat will help to keep the nest clean by gently washing the kittens genitals with her tongue and ingesting all elimination made by the kittens.
Since this is not something we will replicate exactly as mom would do, we will use a warm washcloth or cotton ball while on a paper towel.
After feeding, you would gently rub your kittens’ back to encourage a burp to help expel the air that was sucked in when she was feeding. Within 15 minutes after feeding, you can place the kitten on a few paper towels. Use a warm washcloth or moistened cotton pad or ball to gently massage her genitals and anal area. Be gentle to prevent chafing. This will stimulate the elimination process, and the kitten will start to defecate or urinate. Keep massaging the area until she stops. Afterwards, gently pat the genital area dry so as to avoid infection and irritation.
The urine should be pale yellow, and the feces should be yellowish-brown in color. If you happen to notice green or white feces, or a dark urine which has a strong odor, the kitten might be dehydrated or needs immediate medical attention.
At around 3 weeks of age, you can offer a litterbox, use just a small amount of litter at first. They may not use it right away but you will eventually see them start to use it. Try using pellets, they are large enough to prevent lots of tracking and are made from paper or wheat and will not cause a blockage if eaten. Unscented clay litter is also a possibility. Try to avoid clumping or silica litters at this age which may cause a blockage if ingested.
Step 5 – Keep Kitten Clean
Once you have fed and helped the kitten eliminate, you will need to clean her. Take a warm, clean, damp cloth and stroke the orphaned kitten’s fur using short, gentle strokes. The strokes should emulate her mother’s tongue, just as she’d have cleaned her kitten. Doing this will give the kitten a pleasant feeling of well being, and also teaches her how to clean the fur as she gets older. Make sure you towel dry the kitten til she’s completely dry, before placing her back in the soft warm bedding.
Step 6 – Lots of handling
In order for the kitten to thrive, she’ll need a lot of affection from you, similar to the closeness she’d receive if she was living with her mother. Not only will this be a fun part of raising an orphaned kitten, but it’ll also bond her closely to you and turn her into an affectionate, cuddly cat. In addition to this, she will also need plenty of playtime as she grows. This time in a kittens life is a very formidable one. This is where she will learn that humans are loving and caring.
Step 7 – Know when to go to the vet
Know when to take the motherless kitten to the veterinarian. As mentioned earlier, it is always a good idea to take the kitten to the veterinarian soonest possible to let them check for dehydration, parasites, and assess the kitten’s general health. That said, you need to know when to take the orphan kitten to the veterinarian for medical treatment. Babies can go down hill very fast, so do not hesitate.
You should take the kitten to the vet if you happen to notice;
-A very low or high temperature
-Lack of energy
-Discharge from the nose and eyes
-Lack of appetite
-Any kind of bleeding
-Coughing and sneezing
-Any kind of trauma, such as being stepped on, being hit by a car, among others.
Step 8 – Transitioning off formula
Around 3-4 weeks of age. You can start adding use a small amount of pate canned cat food. Just blend it very smooth so it can pass through the nipple of the bottle.
This will help the kitten feel fuller longer and will start transitioning the kitten to more solid foods. As they do well with a little, you can add a bit. After a few days, try mixing the pate canned food and formula in a bowl. Make sure to put lots of paper towels or newspapers down, the kittens will make a mess until they figure out how to eat properly rather than sucking a bottle. They will most definitely need a cleaning after feeding. At 4 – 6 weeks, you can add more canned food with less formula until there is no formula at all. Now you have successfully, weaned your kitten off formula and onto solid food.
Step 9 – Lots of play time
Ages 4 – 12 weeks. This is the important time of play. They learn how to wrestle, climb, jump and hunt. Playing with siblings and with you helps them develop good social skills, mental and physical abilities. This time is crucial in getting them socialized to become great housecats.
Step 10 – The Rest of Their Life
If you are fostering this kitten for a shelter, 8-12 weeks is about the time they will be going up for adoption. You can safely let them go knowing YOU made a difference in this kitten’ life.
If you are trying to find this kitten a home on your own, do NOT let it go without doing all the work to make sure the potential home is a lifelong safe one. This baby’s life depends on you and there are many people who seem nice but are not. It is hard to find good homes and that is why most people will leave it up to the people who do it all the time, a shelter or animal rescue. Here is some help but remember that YOU are responsible to find a safe home for this baby’s – What to ask when you need to find a home for your pet.
If you have decided to keep this baby, then you have made a difference in not only the kitten’s life but also your own!! Congratulations !!
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Dorinne Whynott, is a long time animal professional. She is a successful business owner establishing one of the largest pet sitting companies in New Hampshire since 1990. Click to Read her complete History.
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