Caring for Orphaned Kittens


KEEP THEM WARM:  Newborn kittens are incapable of maintaining their own body heat for the first three weeks.  Kittens quickly enter a downward spiral when they get cold.  They become too weak to nurse, blood sugar drops and coma and death can quickly follow. Gently warm a kitten until it is alert and mewing for food. If the kitten is warmed but still dull or unwilling to nurse, this can indicate trouble. Seek veterinary care without delay.  Keep them warm in a “nest” made from a high-sided box, crate or pet carrier lined with soft blankets. An electric heating pad is a convenient way to maintain the ideal ambient temperature but it should NEVER be placed directly in the nest.  Place the heating pad UNDER the crate over half the carrier. Placing a chilled kitten against a warm water bottle or next to your skin works well in a pinch. During their first week, kittens should be kept between 88 and 92 degrees F. For the next 2 weeks they still need temperatures of 80 degrees or so. When they reach 5 weeks or so they can tolerate a lower room temperature

QUARANTINE: Kittens can carry infections and harbor parasites that can be dangerous or even deadly to other pets. Testing them for Feline Leukemia is very important as well as having a stool sample analyzed.  Plan to quarantine the kittens for at least two weeks, even after they’ve been officially “vetted.”

NUTRITION:  Always use kitten formula such as KMR . Never feed cow’s milk to kittens–it can cause harmful or fatal digestive problems.  Use a kitten nurser bottle.  Eye droppers are not recommended as tiny kittens do not have a gag-reflex and could aspirate the milk into their lungs.  Always feed in an upright position.  NEVER FEED A COLD KITTEN!  Formula should be warmed to body temperature and fed every 3-4 hours.  As they get older every 6-8 hours will be enough. Check the package for recommended feeding amounts and feedings per day. A kitten needs approximately 8 cc’s of formula per ounce of body weight per day.  Make sure to weigh the kittens daily to ensure they are gaining weight.

Feeding Guide for Kittens

Age in Weeks Average Weight Amount of Formula Per Day Number of Feedings Per Day
1 4 ounces 32 cc 6
2 7 ounces 56 cc 4
3 10 ounces 80 cc 3
4 13 ounces 104 cc 3
5 1 pound 128 cc 3

STIMULATION FOR ELIMINATION:  Kittens 3 weeks and under are unable to pee and poop on their own. The mother cat normally helps things along by licking and cleaning under their tiny tails to make them void. If mom’s not around, it’s up to you.   With a warm wet washcloth or cotton ball, firmly rub the kitten’s anus and genital area in a back-and-forth motion until the baby urinates and defecates. The stool should be formed, and the urine should be clear. If not, consult your veterinarian. Stimulate the kittens to go before and after each feeding to avoid urine or stool retention.

WEANING:  By 3 to 4 weeks, kittens are ready to start eating solids. Begin by mixing pureed canned kitten food with kitten formula and offer it, slightly warmed, in a small flat dish.  As they get the hang of it, you can begin increasing the proportion of canned food in the ration. Within a week or so the kittens should be able to eat straight canned food on their own.  Royal Canin Baby Cat is one of the best foods for this stage.

LITTER BOX:   With weaning under way, it’s time to introduce a litter pan. Offer a shallow box (a shoe box lid works perfectly) filled with regular unscented,  non-clumping clay litter. After some preliminary scratching and digging, their instincts will kick in. By five weeks of age, most kittens are using the litter pan well and they can also leave the safety of their nest to start exploring their world. Socialization is critical at this stage, so be sure to handle them often and play with the kittens.

Age Characteristics
Under 4 days Eyes and ears are closed. The kitten curls in a comma shape. It is able to squeal with hunger and move toward warmth. Umbilical cord may still be attached. Weight: 3-4 oz.
5-7 days Ears open. Can orient to smells. Weighs 6-8 ounces.
1-2 weeks Eyes open. Getting ready to crawl.
2-3 weeks Takes first tentative steps. Baby teeth begin to erupt. Weighs 8-10 ounces.
3-4 weeks Walking, wobbly at first. Can orient to sights and sounds. Begins socializing with other kittens. Able to regulate body temperature on own. Weighs 10-12 ounces.
4 weeks Can eat solid foods, eliminate on own, beginning to use litter pan. Walking well. Learning to leap and pounce. Self-grooming begins. Eyes begin changing from blue to green and then yellow. Weighs 14 ounces and up.


Adapted from Hoskins, Johnny: Canine and Feline Pediatrics, and