How to Care for Orphaned Kittens
Newborn kittens are small, delicate and beautiful. They are also vulnerable and helpless, even more when they are orphans. Providing foster care for kittens is a very serious decision and a big responsibility, although a very rewarding experience. Fostering is not only providing them with food a roof over their heads. It takes commitment, compassion, energy, ongoing education, expenses and sometimes sorrow.
In the United States, many shelters have established kitten foster programs in an effort to provide extra care for the newborn kittens. These shelters are already overcrowded due to the fact that there are owners who fail to spay and neuter their pets. Moreover, during kitten season, older cats already living in shelters suffer from the influx of kittens because these little ones get most of the potential adopters' attention. Most shelters welcome volunteers who are eager to give a hand in fostering kittens. They are dedicated people who provide a temporary safe and nurturing place to kittens who will later be adopted or might even become your own pets. I am one of those volunteers, and I love the feeling of being able to give my time, commitment and love to such wonderful creatures.
I did not know much about how to take care of cats. I never thought I would be the owner of a pet. In November of 2007, a 4 years old cat came to my life. What to do? The poor cat was outside the house, alone, and it was cold already. After 3-4 days leaving some food outside for him and waiting for an owner to come by to get him, I started reading everything about cats; I took him to a vet, and gave him a home which was his palace. Shadow (his name) was a Russian Blue cat that came to my life in a time I needed company the most and he was the most amazing, intelligent and adorable cat in the world. He was just like me; he liked his space, knew how to get what he wanted, and had a lot of pride. Having this cat before I started fostering was an opportunity for me to observe and learn. I realize now how much I really like cats. In 2014 Shadow passed away, he was acting different, He always came near me for me to pet his head as he always liked to do. He left to another room for 45 minutes I called him for his snack, but he did not respond. I found him under a rocking-chair. I tried to revive him, but no improvement. My heart hurt so much. But I did what I could.
Setting up for the newborn kitten(s)
The most desirable way to begin fostering would be contacting an animal shelter and or a rescue group and sign up. Each group has its own policies and guidelines. They should provide you with training or training and detailed instructions on the fostering process. There are times were the situation is that homeless kittens are found with or without a mother. This is when a decision has to be made; Do you call a shelter? Should you take care of the kittens and the mother? If the mother leaves, would you take care of them?
Whatever the case, you might want to consider the following:
- Fostering will change your daily routine. Having a kitten in your household means managing your time providing 24/7, especially when they are 4 weeks old or younger.
- Kittens should be taken away from their mothers after the 5-6 weeks of age. But, if the case is that you have to care for newborn kittens, remember that they are very fragile and susceptible to diseases and may not survive.
- Knowing the approximate age of kittens is imperative. Depending on how old they are you will be able to manage their care. Look for the general characteristics like the following ones:
Lilly and Diego (With me from Sept 13 - 17, 2009)
Kitten Development Timetable
Closed eyes/folded ears
Looses umbilical cord
Litter box use begins, ears straighten, crawling begins
Litter box training complete, starts eating wet kitten food
28 35 days
Kitten stands, weaning process begins, able to chew dry food, eyes become clear, ears stand fully upright
Critical socialization window
Deworm and vaccinate
Old enough for adoption
Her name is Precious. At first, she was a very sick kitten. By the 2nd week she was playing and running around.
Before fostering an orphan newborn kitten
Fostering a newborn kittens means having to do whatever their mother cat would do on: keeping they warm, feeding, and stimulating them to excrete on their own. Add to these, developing social skills the kitten needs at the time of adoption. There are certain tips to take into account before bringing that little one home:
Spare Room: Have a spare room that is warm, isolated from other pets and draft-free. Place a cat carrier big enough for building a nest on one half, and place a low litter box (dispensable low edge baking pan) in the other half of the carrier. Add to this a small stuffed animal for a sense of companionship. Newborn kittens are not able to balance their body temperature, due to this, it is important to keep them warm.
A kitten would not eat if it is cold. Maintain the temperature of the room between 85 to 90°F during their first week. Begin lowering 5°F every week until reaching 72°F. Use a tower or small blanket to build the nest and place a heat pad or warm plastic bottle wrapped in a towel. Make sure to place the heat objects in a way that the kitten can move away from it if needed. During the first two weeks the kitten would not be using the litter box.
Feeding & Stimulation of bladder and bowels/litter box training: Newborns or 2 to 3 weeks old kittens need to be fed with an eyedropper or a nursing bottle. Either way, let the kitten suckle the liquid at its own pace, otherwise, you might be filling up its lungs with the liquid and cause pneumonia. When kittens are too small to suckle, then and only then, you might stimulate them to suckle by massaging in circles the sides of their mouths with your fingers and moving the bottle's nipple inside their mouths. At the same time, squeeze the bottle just enough to let one or two drops out of it. At first, the feeding process takes a lot of patient, but most kittens will learn this if there is not an illness or condition involved. Kittens should gain about half an ounce a day or 4 ounces per week.
Newborn kittens should be fed with stomachs down, or in an upright position. Hold their head between your thumb and forefinger. A towel should be used loosely around their bodies or beneath them to allow them to cling. When kittens are already 3 weeks, they do not mind how they have their bottle; even, many will cling on their bottles. Special formula for kittens can be found at department stores (Walmart, K-Mart,etc.) and pet stores. Do not feed a cat with cow milk. Follow the feeding guides provided on the formula package.
Kittens need about 8 cc's of formula per ounce of body weight. When a kitten is full, you will see bubbles around its mouth and its stomach will be round. It is a good idea to burp the kitten placing it upright against your shoulder while patting and massaging his back. As a side note, It is funny to hear them burping.
- Keep a schedule of feeding 1 weeks old kittens every 2 hours; stimulate bladder/bowel before and after every feeding. In order to stimulate the kitten to urinate and have bowel movement, take a cotton ball or a piece of tissue and damp it in warm water. Stimulate the kitten's anus area and genital area gently by dabbing. Most times it will urinate and hopefully will have a bowel movement (at least once a day or every other day during the first week old).
- 2-3 weeks old: feed every 3 hour; stimulate bladder/bowel before and after every feeding.
- At the beginning of the 3rd week place a litter box (ex. low aluminum baking pan or shoe box open on one side. Keep stimulation on the box. After stimulation, place the kitten in the litter in order for it to get used to the scent and feel of the box.
- 4 weeks old: feed every divide in 5 feedings (4 of formula; 1 of can food). During this time you can begin introducing solid foods 4 times a day. First times, add 2 tablespoons of warm water or formula to 1 tablespoon of can food for kittens.
- The first two days of the 4th week you must use the tip of your fingers to open the kitten's mouth. Place a small amount of food in its mouth.
- During the following days of the 4th week, place small amounts of food on a lid or flat container 3-4 times a day.
- By this time, the kitten should be able to go to the litter box by itself.
- 5-7 weeks old: two feedings of formula and 3 feedings of solid can food or mix a little amount of warm formula or water with dry food.
Socialization and exercise: The beginning of the third week, although still vulnerable, kittens start moving more.
- If they have company, they will begin playing with each other.
- If it is only one kitten, you can begin interactive play with a bell ball, a feather or a string. Do not use your fingers as a toy because this will create bad habits.
- Pet the kittens and let them snuggle, they love this. Love , hold and talk to them softly.
- Not all kittens like to be affectionate; they do not need to be. Many people like cats who are independent.
Time to say goodbye: When kittens are eight weeks old they are ready to be adopted. At this time, they should be around 2 pounds.
- If kittens come from a shelter through a fostering program, take them back after reaching your goals. Include a brief written record or summary describing kittens' development, likes and dislikes, and habits.
- Remember that you were the mom or dad to that precious kitten. If you decide staying with it, make sure it is a conscious decision, not because you feel too attached to the kitten. Many of us, foster parents, can and will return kittens we have taken care of because we know where they are going, and that they will give and receive deserving love. You were the first parent and caregiver.
- Every time you know your kitten is adopted, you know you did good. Feel proud and get ready for other kittens in need of your care and love.
- Before, during and after fostering a kitten make sure to disinfect the room, toys and any other items. You can also boil those items you will be re-using for other kittens. Do not re-use bottle nipples.
- Saying goodbye to the little ones who have been with their foster mothers (fathers) for 2 months can be bittersweet, but you are sending them to homes where they will be loved and cared for.
A Story to Remember
Leo was saved to be happy
In my case, it was May 5, 2009 when I found a homeless mother with her 3 kittens (maybe 28 days old) in the back of the house. I observed that two of the kittens, although playing with their sibling, had problems walking, they were constantly falling over and their heads bobbling. They look out of balance. I later knew that what they probably had was a neurological condition called Cerebellar Hypoplasia, when the cerebellum (responsible for coordination and muscle movement) is underdeveloped.
I was suggested to call Animal control to come and "rescue" them. The mother and the two ones with the balance problems were taken to the local Animal Rescue League. Hours later, the Animal control lady came back with bad news; the mother and two kittens had to be euthanized. She immediately, set a cat trap for the kitten left. The next day he was in the trap. I transferred him to a large cage with water and some food and waited for the lady to come, but this time I made clear that I wanted the kitten back after was examined by a Vet. Few hours later, Little Leo was under my care.
Leo is currently living with an amazing family and receiving all the love and care he deserves.
If you cannot foster, but you want to help: Volunteer few hours a month at a shelter: you can also donate towels, food, toys, money, among other things. Believe me, donations help so much and are so needed. There are many other areas on fostering kittens I could cover and are not mentioned here. If you are interested on a specific topic, let me or other hubbers know or visit the hundreds of web pages filled with a lot of information.