ORPHANED KITTENS


Options when you find an Orphaned Kitten:

1. Nursing mom: Kittens under 5-6 weeks should not be put on a nursing mom unless both moms have been tested for FeLV & FIV. Kittens can pass diseases to the nursing mom and the nursing mom can pass diseases to the kittens.

2. Original mom is best: A mom cat will still produce milk to feed her kittens after being spayed. Mom's milk is the best for the kittens. They get immunities from mom's milk.

3. Bottle feeding: When bottle-feeding kittens, use a different bottle for each litter if you have more than one litter. Also, change your clothes to prevent upper respiratory infections (URIs) and other diseases from passing from litter to litter.

4. Supplementing a litter of 6 kittens or more with a mom: If you have a mom with a litter of 6 or more kittens, watch them carefully around 3-4 weeks of age. Mom may not have enough milk for the entire litter and all the kittens will suffer. You may need to supplement the feedings with KMR (or equivalent)

Aging the Kittens:

1. Umbilical cord attached: They are 3 days or younger.

2. Eyes: They begin to open at 7-8 days and all eyes should be open by day 10. Their eyes generally change from blue to blue/gray then yellow/green between 6 1/2 to 7 weeks of age but can vary kitten-to-kitten and litter-to-litter. In one litter, kittens can be conceived 4-5 days apart. This also contributes to the different days the eyes open.

3. Ears: Their ears stand up at 3-1/2 weeks of age.

4. Teeth: Another way to age the kittens is by the teeth. The following is from the Cornell Book of Cats. The ages are when the teeth break the skin or 'eruption of the teeth' happens, or when they break the surface.

Baby teeth:

Center (4) Incisors (front teeth between the canines) 2-3 weeks
Outer Incisors (still between the canines) 3-4 weeks
Canines 3-4 weeks
Upper molars (called a premolar) 2 months (8 weeks)
Lower molars (called a premolar) 4-5 weeks

Adult teeth:

Center (4) Incisors (front teeth between the canines) 3-1/2 to 4 months (14-16 weeks)
Outer Incisors (still beaten the canines) 4 to 4-1/2 months (16-18 weeks)
Canines 5 months
Upper molars (called a premolar) 4-1/2 to 6 months (depending on tooth)
Lower molars (called a premolar) 5-6 months for all
Upper molar in back, no baby tooth, just the molar at 4-5 months

5. Mobility: They are unstable on their feet until they are around 4 weeks of age and can run pretty well by 5 weeks. If you see kittens running around a yard, they are at least 5-6 weeks old.

6. Eating: They generally are eating on their own between 5 and 6 weeks of age. Some will eat as young as 4 weeks and some will take as long as 8 weeks to stop the bottle if you are bottle feeding. The older kittens who refuse to leave the bottle are generally needing the one-on-one affection they are receiving.

Care: 911:

1. If you find a chilled kitten: If you find a chilled kitten, warm it up before trying to feed the kitten. Hold the kitten close to you to get warmth into the body. Give it warmed sugar water in the mouth. You can also rub Karo Syrup on the gums. The syrup will inter the body quickly through the gums. Also, if the kitten is dehydrated, give it lactated ringers (fluids) via sub-Q (can be done by a vet).

2. If you find an over warmed kitten: If you find an over warmed kitten, cool it down before trying to feed the kitten. Put in cool water to lower the body temperature. Administer room temperature water into the mouth. Then, give the kitten room-temperature sugar water or Karo Syrup and lactated ringers (fluids) sub-Q as listed in #1.

3. If a kitten doesn't eat on his own after Karo Syrup: A kitten who is still doesn't eat may need a dose of antibiotics. They often get an imbalance in their intestines and need to correct the bacteria. They should eat within 12 hours of the first dose. Continue through the entire dose of drugs.

Care: non food related:

1. Very young need attention: If the kitten(s) do not have their eyes open, they are young and they should be held a minimum of three hours per day. Transfer what we know about monkeys in a cage without TLC, and you'll understand why the kittens need to be held. Without this affection, young kittens will often die. Hold them SEVERAL HOURS A DAY and you should have success with the kitten.

2. Clear Urine: Urine should be clear, not with mucous, blood or yellow. If there is blood or mucous, see a vet immediately. If the urine is yellow, the kitten is probably dehydrated. You may want to have lactated ringers (fluids) administered by sub-Q .

3. Bathroom stimulation: Stimulation is required for the release of both stool & pee until 3-4 weeks of age. use rough material, not cotton, to resemble mom's tongue. Use a warmed, wet wash cloth or a rough paper towel. Make sure the towel is wet. Slowly massage the genitals until the kitten has peed and pooped. The stool should be softly formed, not runny. If the stool is runny, it is likely you are overfeeding the kitten or it has a parasite. It is better to feed more often and give less food each time than to overfeed a kitten. Potty them before and after each feeding.

4. Keep warm and away from drafts: Young kittens do not keep a steady body heat. Keep out of drafts. Also, heating pads are essential if the weather is under 75 degrees. Put the pad on low and cover with a towel. The kitten will move off the pad when warm enough, so allow enough room in their 'area' for them to move off the pad.

5. Sucking on each other: If the kittens suck on each others genitals, separate them immediately. This can be painful to the kittens and can cause sores as well as protruded genitals (which will calm down when separated) Once they stop sucking, you can put the kittens back together. This can take several days.

6. Litter box usage: When starting to use a litter box, if the kittens poop outside the box, pick it up and place it into the box for training. Most kittens train themselves with a litter box with a little nudge from us. If you have the kittens in a large area, you may wish to provide more than one box so 'accidents' don't happen.

7. Type of litter: Do not use clumping litter with kittens under 4 months. Litter can get into the eyes and cause infections. Kittens also tend to eat the litter when young. You may wish to start out with a small container for the litter box with sides that are only 2 inches high. I use drawer dividers that are 6" x 9" x 2" high from Rubbermaid.

8. Keeping the kittens clean: While you are feeding the kittens, they will get food all over them, especially while you are weaning them. You need to clean them regularly to keep the food off them. They have sensitive skin and can get red, irritated skin if you leave KMR on their skin. A damp washcloth usually cleans them. You don't want them to get too wet and therefore get cold.

9. Parasites: Remove all fleas. I use a citrus based shampoo that doesn't kill the fleas, but slows them down. This also takes the dirt off them. A metal flea comb works great, too. Fleas can cause anemia in a kitten which can kill the kittens. Intestinal parasites can also kill the kitten. if you suspect parasites, take the kitten to a vet for de-worming and stool check. Drontal is a fairly new de-wormer that will kill both tapeworm and roundworm. It can be used on fairly young kittens.

Note: All kittens should be treated at sometime for roundworms, since 95% will have roundworms from their moms. It should be routine with your vet to de-worm for roundworms.

Care: food related:

1. Feeding all kittens: Food should be warmed to room temperature prior to feeding any kitten under 4 months of age. This includes mother's milk replacement. You should only put as much milk in the bottle that will be used at this feeding. After the feeding is over, throw out all remaining milk and clean the bottle and nipple. Re-using milk can cause bacteria in the kittens stomachs, which can make them stop eating. If kittens DO get a bacteria in the stomach (and stop eating), a dose of amoxicillian should fight the bacteria within 12 hours. Use the entire dose of the drug.

2. How much to feed and how often: 8cc per ounce of weight per day, do not overfeed. Feedings should be every 3-4 hours when the kittens are young and should be round the clock. The stool should be soft formed, not runny. If the stool is runny, it is likely you are overfeeding the kitten or it has a parasite. It is better to feed more often and give less food each time than to overfeed a kitten.

3. Position to feed from a bottle: Kittens should eat on it's stomach, in the position one would feed a horse, lamb or cow. Do not put them on their backs and feed like a human baby. This can lead to the formula going into the air pipes which can cause pneumonia and can kill them.

4. How the kittens should suck the bottle: Kitten should suck the bottle, not be forced down the throat. If the kitten is sucking, the ears move and the mouth creates a suction around the bottle. This prevents the food from going down the air pipes which can cause pneumonia. If the milk comes out of the mouth or nose, the hole is too big and you need to replace the nipple with one with a smaller opening.

5. Weaning kittens: Weaning kittens can be frustrating, especially if they don't want to give up the bottle and the special attention you are giving them. Start by mixing baby food (meats like chicken or turkey) or wet food mixed with KMR. You can also puree dry food in a blender and add with KMR.

6. Water dishes: Kittens should start drinking water on their own at 4-5 weeks of age. Don't get frustrated when they are only playing or walking in it. One day, you will see them drinking.

What to feed:

Goats milk or KMR should be used on young kittens. Regular milk (whole, low-fat and non-fat) is not recommended. There are some home made remedies which work, too.

Goats milk: Most grocery stores carry goats milk, and it is available in condensed form to keep in the cupboard.
KMR: Available from a pet store, your vet or a feed store.

KMR is available in both mixed and dry version. The dry is more economical. There is a trick to mixing the water. Get a small container with a secure lid. Add some KMR powder and then add 1/10 the amount of total water needed. Shake until mixed. You should have a thick, smooth liquid. Dilute the liquid with the remaining 9/10 of the water.

Notes: I, personally, don't believe in tube-feeding. A healthy cat will eat. A cat that needs to be forced may need a 12-24 hours of anti-biotics to 'kick in' the stomach. A kitten that has gone a long time without food may have it's stomach shut down. This will result in the milk curdling inside the kitten if the stomach is not functioning. This will kill the kitten. The best thing to do is to give the kitten warmed sugar water or rub Karo Syrup on the gums. Warmed sugar water is water that is saturated with regular white table sugar. Warm up a bit of water and add as much sugar that will be absorbed by the water. Karo Syrup on the gums will be absorbed into the system through the gums. Karo Syrup is easier to digest and is the best for the kitten, but if you are in a jam and don't have Karo Syrup, use regular white sugar.

Single kitten syndrome:

Single kittens tend to be biters. This can be helped by putting in a stuffed toy for the kitten to snuggle up to. You may also wish to find another single kitten to merge with this kitten. It is a health risk to merge them together for either kitten, but it can be really hard to break the habit of biting with a young kitten.

Why some kittens are abandoned:

Abandonment at birth: Moms tends to leave some kittens behind at birth if she feels she can not care for, protect or have enough milk for the entire litter. This is usually done within the first 24 hours.

Abandonment after the first week: If the mom has kicked just one out of the litter, there is probably something congenitally wrong with him/her and you will probably loose the kitten. Mom cats can sense if there is something wrong with a kitten.

Caught while moving them: If the mom is in the middle of moving her litter when you find 1-2 kittens, you have a choice. You can let her come back and retrieve her kitten or you can take it/them and care for them until they are adopted. Unlike other creatures (like birds) cats will take their young back after being touched by a human.

Why some kittens die:

Some kittens die for no apparent reason. Any kitten you bring in may die despite your efforts. This is a sad fact of rescue.

Additional Reading:

Hand Raising the Orphaned Kitten, by M.L. Papurt, DVM, 1999

This book was written by a vet on the care of orphaned kittens. The book walks you through the bottle feeding, when you bottle feed, housing and caring for these kittens, nutrition, homemade formulas, feeding times, tools needed, how to avoid pneumonia, how to wean, socializing, parasites, and even touches on overpopulation and feral cats.

The only issue I found that needs changing in this book was how to mix KMR and water. This vet says to start with water and use a blender. See above for a simpler method without the blender and with no lumps.

order through amazon or through your local book store.


Cornell Book of Cats
, A Comprehensive and Authoritative Medical Reference for Every Cat and Kitten, by Mordecai Siegal

This book covers Nutrition, Behavior, Pediatrics, Reproduction, Anatomy, Genetics, Illnesses, Emergencies and more.

order through amazon or through your local book store.


More info available on my links page.

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