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How to Care for Newborn Kittens or Raise an Orphaned Kitten

Updated on April 24, 2014

How Do I Raise Kittens That Have Been Orphaned?

Have you found an orphaned kitten?

Caring for kittens, especially young orphans or kittens who have been removed from the care of a feral mother, is a challenging and time-consuming task. It will require dedication and lots of patience!

There are five keys to caring for kittens:

-- Warmth

-- Hydration

-- Nutrition

-- Helping With Bathroom Activities

-- Socialization

We'll explore these five issues in this article, which will include, among other things, a feeding schedule for orphaned kittens. This is perhaps the most important and time-consuming aspect of their care.

Please note that it takes a lot of time and effort to care for newborn kittens! Raising kittens is not feasible for everyone, due to work obligations, school, etc. If, after reading this, you realize that you cannot provide suitable care, please contact an animal shelter or rescue group. There's additional info at the very end of this article.

(Angela P Photo/Sxc.hu)

If You Find an Abandoned Kitten...

When you find a kitten, the first step is to ensure they're truly abandoned/orphaned!

Mama cat is often hiding in the bushes, letting her babies explore while she watches from afar. If the kitten appears playful and peppy, then there's a good chance that mama is nearby. In this case, it's often best to capture the kitten(s) along with the mother cat to allow mama cat to breastfeed. Or you may opt to care for the family outdoors and wait to capture them at approximately 7-8 weeks of age -- that's the age when kittens begin the weaning process.

If the kitten appears distressed (e.g. wandering alone, approaching people, vocalizing, appears cold and/or dehydrated, etc.), then there's a good chance he's in need of help.

Once you're sure the little cat is, in fact, orphaned or abandoned, you'll need to assess him and tend to issues in the following order:

  1. Warm the kitten to prevent hypothermia;
  2. Rehydrate a dehydrated kitten;
  3. Determine the cat's age;
  4. Feed him;
  5. Stimulate bathroom activities; and
  6. Place him in a warm, secure location to sleep.

Orphaned Kittens Cuddle to Stay Warm! (Michaelal Photo/Sxc.hu)
Orphaned Kittens Cuddle to Stay Warm! (Michaelal Photo/Sxc.hu)

Warming an Orphaned Kitten (And Where to Keep it!)

Young kittens are prone to hypothermia because they're not good at regulating body temperature. Plus, their small small size allows for rapid loss of body heat.

Before attempting to feed or rehydrate an orphaned cat, you must warm it!

Warming a Kitten and Making a Warm Box

Cuddle the kitten against your torso and wrap him in a blanket. Ideally, you should place him against your bare skin or wear a thin T-shirt, so your body heat will reach him quickly.

While you're cuddling the kitten, ask another person to prepare a warming box. Place a heating pad inside a small cardboard box. Cut a slit in the side of the box and slide the cord into the slit, so you can keep the cord outside the box. Turn the heating pad to "Low."

Place a fleece blanket on top of the heating pad. Never place a kitten directly on top of the heating pad. The blanket will protect the kitten from the heating pad, while providing him with a place to cuddle up.

Also, the box should be sufficiently large that the kitten can crawl off the heating pad in case he gets too hot.

Making Sock Buddies

Add two or three "sock buddies." Sock buddies are perfect for single orphaned kittens, as they provide warmth and comfort. The sock buddy mimics the feeling of another cat's body. In short, it will make the kitten feel like he's cuddling up against another warm body.

To make a sock buddy....

-- Fill a large sock with uncooked rice. If you don't have uncooked rice, beans will suffice.

-- Knot the sock to enclose the rice or beans.

-- Put the sock buddy in the microwave and heat it for approximately 2 minutes or until warm (but not hot).

The sock buddy will stay warm for about half an hour.

If you do not have a heating pad available, place the box under a warm desk lamp. The lamp should shine on only one portion of the box. The kitten will need an area to go if he gets too hot. A lamp is not ideal, but it will suffice until you can purchase a heating pad.

Where to Keep an Orphaned Cat

Place the box inside a warm room (approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit). A bathroom works well. You can run the shower to fill the room with warm steam. Many bathrooms have heat lamps, which can be used to raise the room's temperature. Or you can place a space heater inside the bathroom (keep it at least 10 feet away from combustibles!)

Note: Don't worry about making a kitten box or sock buddies until you've provided urgent care for the kitten! He must be warmed and rehydrated or fed before you set up his bed!

(Michaelal Photo/Sxc.hu)

Why is My Newborn Kitten Crying?

If your orphaned kitten is crying, it means one of three things:

-- He's Cold --

-- He's Hungry --

-- He Need to Go Potty --

Take action!

(Ilker Photo/Sxc.hu)
(Ilker Photo/Sxc.hu)

How to Care for a Newborn Kitten With Dehydration

Once your kitten is warmed, the next step is to determine if he's dehydrated. This is common among kittens who are found abandoned.

Pinch the kitten's scruff into a "tent" and release.

If the skin flattens out immediately, he's in good condition.

If the kitten's skin stays up and takes more than a second or two to flatten out, he's dehydrated.

The kitten must be rehydrated before you feed him!

How to Rehydrate a Dehydrated Kitten

If you have a bag of lactated ringer's solution, give the baby a subcutaneous injection of fluids (in the scruff area) or take him to the vet for an injection.

If this is not possible, you'll need to make a homemade oral rehydration solution. The emergency rehydration solution recipe is as follows:

-- Boil 2 cups of water.

-- Add 5 teaspoons of sugar

-- Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt

-- Mix until the sugar and salt have dissolved

-- Feed the solution while it's warm (not hot) and store the remaining solution in the refrigerator. Microwave it until it's warm before serving.

Feed the rehydration solution using a kitten bottle. If a bottle is not available, use an eyedropper, medicine dropper or liquid syringe.

Feed 1 to 1 1/2 mL every 30 minutes. Position the kitten on his stomach, with his upper body elevated slightly. (I'll roll a washcloth and place it under his upper body.) Cover him with a blanket so he stays warm during the feed.

Give doses of homemade rehydration solution until the kitten is rehydrated and urinates when stimulated (see the bathroom activities section lower on the page for all the details on stimulating him to urinate!) Typically, the process takes about 12 hours.

Once the baby urinates, begin mixing the rehydration solution with kitten formula. Feed 3 parts rehydration solution and 1 part formula on the first feeding. Feed a 50-50 mix on the following 2 feedings. Feed 1 part rehydration solution and 3 parts formula on the next feeding, then make the switch to kitten formula.

Learn How to Determine Kitten Age (Martine Sansoucy Photo)
Learn How to Determine Kitten Age (Martine Sansoucy Photo)

How to Determine a Kitten's Age

Before you can effectively care for a kitten orphan, you must determine its age. The baby's age will determine feeding frequency and other factors.

The most effective way for determining the age of a kitten age? Take it to the veterinary clinic for an assessment. Until you can take the baby in for a vet visit, you'll need to estimate his age. Consider the following:

* Newborn to 2 Weeks old -- The kitten's eyes are closed until day 10. The ears are folded over. He doesn't walk; instead, he "commando crawls" and squiggles.

* 2 Weeks to 3 Weeks old -- The kitten's eyes are open, but his ears are still folded over. The four center incisors (small front teeth between the canines) come in between week 2 and 3. He's starting to walk, but still unsteady and wobbly.

* 3 Weeks to 4 Weeks old -- The kitten can walk well; he's no longer wobbly. His ears are unfolding into an erect position. He also has his outer incisors, and his canines are starting to come in. He's beginning to experiment with soft solid foods during week 4.

* 4 Weeks to 5 Weeks old -- The canine teeth are growing in, and he has his incisors. The lower molars are erupting around week 5. Some kittens begin learning how to run during the latter part of week 5 and nearly all run by the end of week 6.

The kitten's upper molars grow in around 8 weeks of age.

Notably, kittens from the same litter may be several days apart in terms of age. A mother cat may mate with multiple males. The first mating incident may lead to the conception of two babies. A few days later, she may mate again, leading to the conception of another two . Therefore, the kittens may develop at different rates.

Buy Kitten Formula and a Bottle in Advance!

Are you the type of person who would want to care for an orphaned kitten? If so, be prepared!

Purchase a kit with a canister of kitten formula and bottle, with an array of nipple attachments.

Keep it on-hand in case an orphan comes your way! Acting fast will dramatically increase his chances of survival!

Don't have any kitten milk replacer on-hand? See the next section for an emergency homemade kitten formula recipe.

(Sanae78 Photo/Sxc.hu)
(Sanae78 Photo/Sxc.hu)

How to Feed an Orphaned Kitten -- Feeding Schedule and Hand Raising

Always feed a formula that's intended for kittens. It's sold under two basic names: kitten milk replacer and kitten formula. If you don't have a commercial formula, scroll down for a recipe for homemade kitten formula. This can be used in an emergency for up to 24 hours.

A good feeding schedule is among the most important elements of caring for a kitten. Use the following schedule, which is based on the kitten's age:

-- 1 Week Old ---> Bottle feed every 2-3 hours (8 to 12 feedings per day)

-- 2 Weeks Old ---> Bottle feed every 3 hours (8 feedings per day)

-- 3 Weeks Old ---> Bottle feed every 4 hours (6 feedings per day)

-- 4 Weeks Old ---> Offer canned kitten food every 6 hours, followed by a bottle feed (4 feedings per day)

-- 5 Weeks Old ---> Offer canned kitten food and hydrated dry food at all times or provide a minimum of 3 feedings per day.

If you're unsure of the baby's age, assume that he's younger instead of older and feed accordingly.

Position the kitten on his stomach for feedings. Elevate his head and front legs slightly. Never feed a kitten on his back, as this can cause him to choke and inhale the fluids. This can lead to a deadly condition known as aspiration pneumonia.

Always warm the formula prior to feeding! Never feed cold formula, as this can cause body temperature to drop dangerously low. He'll also expend calories warming the solution once it's inside his body, so conserve heat and calories by warming the formula.

Scroll down for information on when to wean a kitten and when to introduce solid food.

My Kitten Won't Eat!

If you just found an orphaned kitten, he may not eat if he was just left his mother. A healthy mama cat's milk is quite rich and it can sustain the kitten for a longer period of time than formula.

If you've had the little one for more than 24 hours and he's refusing food for more than a few hours, take him to the vet immediately. Mix sugar and water into a paste and rub it on his tongue and gums to prevent hypoglycemia.

Make an Emergency Homemade Kitten Formula for Use for 24 Hours -- No Longer! (Ilker Photo)
Make an Emergency Homemade Kitten Formula for Use for 24 Hours -- No Longer! (Ilker Photo)

Emergency Homemade Formula for Orphaned Kittens

If you encounter and orphaned kitten and don't have milk replacer formula (also called "kitten formula" for the purposes of this article), you will need to make a homemade kitten formula to provide nourishment to the baby until you can buy milk replacer.

-- 3 egg yolks (raw);

-- 2/3 cup of whole milk (homogenized);

-- 1 tablespoon of corn oil;

-- 1 child's multi-vitamin.

Mixing Instructions

-- Crush a child's multi-vitamin into powder and add it to a small amount of hot water. Stir it until it dissolves.

-- Beat three egg yolks (the yellow part of the egg) in a small bowl.

-- Mix 1 tablespoon of corn oil (or vegetable oil, if you don't have corn oil) with 2/3 cup of whole milk and 3 egg yolks. Mix them together.

-- Add the dissolved vitamin and mix it into the mixture.

-- Heat the formula in a microwave until it's warm, but not hot. Mix it thoroughly after heating to prevent hot pockets of fluid.

Feed the homemade formula to the kitten until he's full (he'll turn his head away once he's done). Use a kitten bottle. If you don't have one, use an eyedropper or a medicine dropper. A liquid syringe (or a syringe with the needle removed) can also work.

Use this homemade kitten formula for up to 24 hours only! If you use this for any longer, your kitten may die. Only use this formula as a last resort; if you can get to a pet store to purchase formula, do so!

Never feed cow's milk to a kitten! This will be deadly!

Don't Forget to Buy Kitten Formula!

I recommend buying kitten formula in bulk. It's less expensive and you're apt to use it if you're raising newborn kittens or an entire litter. If you don't use it all, you can return unopened canisters or donate them to a local animal rescue group.

Kitten formula comes in two forms: concentrate liquid and powder. Both forms require the addition of water.

Why Are You Caring for Newborn Kittens?

(Laura Schirmacher Photo)
(Laura Schirmacher Photo)

(Laura Schirmacher Photo)

How did you end up with newborn kittens in your care?

See results
(Michal Zacharzewski Photo)
(Michal Zacharzewski Photo)

How to Care for Kittens' Bathroom Activities

Like many other baby animals, newborn kittens cannot eliminate on their own. As a surrogate mama, you'll need to tend to this as part of your care duties.

In nature, the mother cat will lick the genitals to stimulate them to urinate and defecate. You'll need to mimic this using a warm, damp cotton ball. Babies under the age of three weeks will need help in this area. If you're unsure of age, assume that they need assistance, until a veterinarian determines age or until you see him go independently.

How to Care for Newborn Kittens' Bathroom Needs

Stimulate the kitten's bathroom activities after every meal and whenever he seem restless or starts crying.

-- Cover your lap with a towel and a few paper towels, positioned under the baby's hind quarters.

-- Position the kitten on his side, on top of the towel and paper towels.

-- Fill a cup with warm (not hot) water.

-- Dip a cotton ball in the water and squeeze out the excess water. Re-dip every 30 seconds or so, to keep it warm.

-- Gently stroke the kitten's genital area with the warm, damp cotton ball, moving from, from front to back. Continue this process until the kitten eliminates. Be patient; it can take a few minutes.

If he does not eliminate after five to ten minutes, discontinue and try again an approximately 45 minutes to an hour.

Caring for Older Kittens' Bathroom Needs

After approximately three to four weeks of age, kittens will no longer need stimulation in order to eliminate. (You'll start noticing urine or bowel movements in the box.) They will start using a litter box at this age.

-- Fill a small cookie sheet or pie tray with litter.

-- Place the litter tray in the kitten's box (you may need to upgrade to a larger box at this time.)

-- Place a piece of the kitten's feces and a piece of soiled paper towel in the litter tray.

-- Place the kitten in the litter tray after every meal.

-- Stand the kitten in the litter tray and gently move his front leg/paw so he paws the litter (the same motion that adult cats use to push litter over their "business."

Until the cat is using the litter box regularly, keep a piece of feces and a urine-soiled paper towel (or urine-soiled litter) in the tray. This tells him, "This is where your 'business' goes!"

Books on Raising and Caring for Newborn Kittens

Find Out When to Introduce Solid Foods to a Kitten (Kerem Yucel Photo)
Find Out When to Introduce Solid Foods to a Kitten (Kerem Yucel Photo)

When Do I Wean a Kitten and Introduce Solid Foods?

Wondering when you should feed solid foods?

Offer wet (canned) kitten food when the baby reaches 4 weeks of age. Many kittens will begin eating solid food around 4 weeks of age, but most still need to drink kitten formula as well.

Therefore, it's best to offer canned kitten food and once he's done, offer a bottle of kitten formula. Let him eat until he's full (he'll turn his head away and refuse the bottle when he's done.)

Kibble can be introduced around week 5; provide the kibble in addition to the canned kitten food. Suddenly switching to a new food will result in potentially deadly diarrhea! Soak the kibble in hot water and allow it to swell. This will soften the kibble (remember, he doesn't have many teeth!). Feed dry kibble beginning around week 6.

Once you introduce solids, don't forget to place a water bowl in the kitten's box!

Must-Have Kitten Supplies

You'll need a heating pad to keep the little orphans warm. You'll also need kitten bottles for feeding formula. I recommend the following products:

(Angela P Photo/Sxc.hu)
(Angela P Photo/Sxc.hu)

Socializing and Hand Raising Kittens

Socialization is among the most important elements of raising an orphaned kitten.

Cuddle and handle the baby on a daily basis. This is key! Sounds simple, but it's often overlooked. Instead of putting the little one back into his box, cuddle him for a while after each meal. Your body heat will be comforting as he would normally be cuddling with his mother and siblings. Cuddling will help with the bonding process.

The baby will need to become accustomed to human contact. A kitten who is ignored and rarely handled will grow into an aloof adult. What's more, cuddling is comforting to the orphaned newborn kitten; it reduces stress. Stress can have a negative impact on his body, making him more prone to illness and even death.

Heavily-supervised interactions with kids, other cats and dogs can also be beneficial. The entire world is new to a kitten, so they're "programmed" to be more daring and adventurous as youngsters. An older cat will be less willing to try new experiences, so take advantage of this curiosity and expose him to different experiences!

Did You Know...

Many animal shelters and rescue organizations are in desperate need of foster homes for orphaned or abandoned kittens.

Consider volunteering as a kitten foster parent -- you may literally save a life (or five!)

How Many Kittens?

How many kittens are you caring for?

See results

Kitten Vaccination Schedule

As with all pets, your kitten will need vaccinations.

Felines typically receive the following immunizations:

- FVRCP -- This protects against Feline Viral, Rhinotracheaitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia

- FeLV -- This protects against Feline Leukemia Virus.

- Rabies -- Cats are required to be vaccinated against rabies in most parts of the world.

- FIV -- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is the cat equivalent of HIV/AIDS. This vaccination is considered optional.bies

The following is an overview of the recommended kitten vaccination schedule:

-- 6 to 8 weeks old -- FVRCP

-- 10 to 12 weeks old -- FVRCP and Rabies

-- 16 weeks old -- FVRCP, Rabies, FeLV and FIV

Need Help to Care for Newborn Kittens?

Please note that it takes a lot of time and effort to care for newborn kittens! Raising a cat is not feasible for everyone, due to work obligations, school, etc. You must be available for feedings every few hours! In the beginning, the demands are similar to those associated with a newborn child, particularly if you have multiples!

That said, where there's a will, there's a way. One friend brought her orphaned kittens to work and kept their box under her desk. She had a very understanding employer! You could also feed them on your lunch break, or hire a pet sitter to assist during the work day.

Many humane organizations and animal rescue groups can also assist. A volunteer may come to your home to perform a few daily feedings while you're at work or school; some volunteers may even be willing to provide kitten day care.

Some veterinary clinics also provide medical boarding services, so you may be able to work out a kitten day care-like arrangement. A doggy day care facility may even be able to assist, particularly if you have an existing relationship with the business owner.

If you find that you cannot care for the kittens properly, you will need to find a suitable caretaker. Animal rescue groups, animal shelters and feral cat rescue organizations can assist; they will place the kittens in a foster home. Many veterinary clinics can also provide assistance. Vet techs and other veterinary clinic employees are animal lovers and they may be willing and able to raise the newborn kittens; they may also know of a client who is qualified to provide full-time care.

Whatever you do, don't let the little ones suffer because you don't have enough time for them. It may mean the difference between life and death. Shelters, rescue groups and animal lovers can and will help; you just need to ask for assistance!

Take the kittens to the veterinary clinic ASAP!

The vet can identify illnesses, deformities and potentially deadly (but treatable) issues!

The vet will also determine kitten's age! That's vital, as his age will determine feeding frequency.

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