Today our North Boulder vets explain how to provide care for a newborn kitten in a situation where it does not have a mother, including feeding requirements, veterinary care requirements, and when a trip to the emergency vet is needed.
How to Take Care of a Kitten
Cats make great pets but they require a commitment to their care in order to ensure they live a long and healthy life. Today, we talk about how to provide your feline friend with the best care possible during early kittenhood, particularly if they do not have a mother.
How to Take Care of a Newborn Kitten Without a Mother
When a kitten is 0 - 4 weeks old they are considered a newborn. During this stage, they are still learning basic functions such as how to walk and vocalize.
If they have a mother, their mother will be able to do most of the work including feeding. All you would have to do is make sure the mother is in good health and that they are in a warm and safe environment. Make sure the floor of their crate/area is covered with a blanket, and they have a warm bed to lay on.
However, if the kitten does not have a mother there will be extra steps you will have to take to protect their health. The first thing you should do is make a trip to the vet. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the health of the kitten and inform you of their requirements.
Keep Your Newborn Kitten Warm
Baby kittens have trouble regulating their own body temperature and are susceptible to cold and hypothermia. They also need to be kept warm to promote healthy digestion. If the kitten doesn't have a mother you can keep them warm by putting a heating disk in the crate or putting a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their cage. Ideally, you want the temperature in their area to be kept at 85ºF or 29ºC.
You should also make a little nest out of blankets for the kitten to lay in for comfort. It's important that you make sure that the heating pad isn't too hot by touching it with your hands. There should also be an area in the cage or crate where the kitten can go if they get too hot that is not directly touching the heat source.
You should continue to provide your kitten with a heating source until they are about 6 weeks old.
Feeding Your Newborn Kitten
Another thing you will have to do for a newborn kitten without a mother is to feed them and provide them with proper nutrition. You will have to bottle feed your kitten a special kitten formula every 2-4 hours.
Every kitten is different, your veterinarian will be able to inform you of the best formula to use, how much to feed them and how frequently you should be feeding your kitten. While they are growing, kittens should be gaining approximately a ½ ounce (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) a week—so you can see why the consistent feeding schedule is important!
Never give your cat cow milk and always make sure you are feeding them the same formula.
How to Take Care of a 6-Week Old Kitten Without a Mother
Around the 6 week mark, if confirmed by your vet, you can gradually stop bottle feeding your kitten and begin feeding them high protein meals about 3 to 4 times a day.
You can start this process by pouring the formula into a food bowl and possibly adding a bit of softened hard food or canned soft food to help ease them in the process. Watch them carefully during this period. Their motor skills are still developing and it is during this stage that they start to become adventurous.
Once your kitten is around 8 weeks old you should begin slowly introducing them to other animals or people in your household. Lots of hands-on playtime is good during this period so that your kitten bonds with you.
Preventive Care For Your Kitten
No matter how old your kitten is you should take them for their first veterinary appointment during the first week they are in your care. Your veterinarian will evaluate the health of your kitten as well as inform you of their dietary needs. This also provides you with the opportunity to ask any questions you may have in regards to the care of your new family member.
Making sure your kitten gets routine preventive care is essential, including wellness exams, routine vaccinations, and parasite prevention.
Regular wellness exams give your vet the opportunity to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten. They also allow your vet to screen for any emerging health issues so that treatment can start as soon as possible.
You also need to make sure your kitten gets all of their vaccinations and parasite prevention on schedule. Your kitten should come in for their first round of shots when they are 6 to 8 weeks old and you should have them spayed or neutered when they are 5 to 6 months old. Spaying or neutering can prevent unwanted litters and protect your furry friend against some serious forms of cancer.
What Can Go Wrong?
Even with the best care, there are still situations in which your kitten might require urgent veterinary care. If you see your kitten displaying any of the following signs call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment or to ask them whether a trip to the emergency vet is required:
- Delays or difficulties in motor skills or coordination
- Refusing food (especially if being bottle-fed)
When your kitten is 4 weeks old or older you still need to keep an eye out for the signs above in addition to these behavioral signs:
- Litter box usage/ not using the litter box
- Signs of play biting or aggression
- Fears and other concerning behaviors that should be managed when they are still young