How to hold newborn kittens

How to hold newborn kittens

To ensure the survival of a newborn kitten, ample nutrition must be provided. Sometimes, however, the mother cat grows ill and cannot nurse her young or she alienates a kitten from the litter due to an injury or disability. In these situations, you will need to step in and take on the role of the mother cat. This often requires bottle feeding a newborn kitten until the kitten is strong enough to eat regular cat food.

Preparing to Bottle Feed Your Kitten

Depending on its size and condition, your newborn kitten will need approximately nine to 12 daily feedings. For the first two weeks of life, you will need to count on feeding the kitten every two hours during the day and every four hours overnight.  

In order to bottle feed the kitten, you will need to gather a few supplies. Regular human baby bottles will likely be too big, but most pet stores have newborn kitten bottles and nipples, as well as a commercial formula specifically designed for kittens. If your kitten is a preemie, you will need to dropper-feed it until it’s strong enough to suck on the bottle. Make sure to check with your veterinarian if this is the case.

What You Need

  • Newborn kitten bottles and nipples
  • Dropper (if needed)
  • Kitten formula
  • Soft towels and washcloths
  • Kitchen scale

Prepare the Formula

Just as with human babies, it’s important that you feed your kitten with sterilized bottles and warm the formula before offering it to the kitten. Taking a few minutes to prepare everything properly will make each meal go a little smoother.

  1. Sterilize the baby bottles and nipples in a boiling water bath for about five minutes. Allow them to drain on a clean towel before using.
  2. If you are using a new nipple, you will need to make a small hole in the tip. Make sure to keep the opening small so the formula does not come out too fast. You can use a pair of cuticle scissors to cut the tip off the nipple. When held upside down, the formula should drip out.
  3. Place a large towel, a washcloth, and a bowl of warm water on a table next to a comfortable chair.
  4. Mix and fill one bottle with kitten formula according to the directions on the package.
  5. Warm the formula by placing the bottle in the bowl of hot water.
  6. Test the temperature by dripping a few drops on your forearm. If it burns, it’s too hot; body temperature is just right.  

Bottle Feed the Kitten

Sit in the chair with a towel folded in your lap. Place the kitten face down on your lap. You can wrap it in the towel to make sure the kitten stays warm while it eats.  

Without raising the kitten’s head, place the nipple in its mouth. The kitten should instinctively start sucking right away. Continue to feed the kitten until it pulls away.

Burp the Kitten

Much like human babies, kittens need to be burped after nursing.   The best way to accomplish this is to hold one hand under the kitten’s abdomen and gently pat its upper back. But do so gently—you don’t want the kitten to vomit. If it doesn’t burp right away, don’t worry, just move onto the next step.

Stimulate Elimination

The mother cat stimulates her kittens’ elimination by licking their anuses and genital area with her rough tongue. You can imitate this process by placing a warm, damp washcloth in the same general region, wiping softly.   Be careful not to wipe too vigorously as this can cause irritation to the sensitive skin in that area. It may take a couple of feedings to see results, so don’t despair. Urination may take even longer.

Let the Kitten Sleep

After nursing, your kitten will most likely fall asleep. Place it in a warm cat bed and let the kitten sleep undisturbed.

In this Article

In this Article

In this Article

  • How Do I Feed a Newborn Kitten?
  • What Do Kittens Eat Besides Milk?
  • How Often Should a Kitten Eat?
  • How Do I Keep a Newborn Kitten Warm?
  • How Much Should a Newborn Kitten Weigh?
  • Can I Hold the Kitten?
  • How to Teach Your Kitten to Go to the Bathroom

How Do I Feed a Newborn Kitten?

Kittens under 4 weeks of age cannot eat solid food, whether it’s dry or canned. They can drink their mother’s milk to get the nutrients they need. The kitten will rely on you to survive if their mother isn’t around.

You can feed your newborn kitten a nutritional substitute that’s called kitten milk replacer. It’s essential that you avoid feeding a kitten the same milk that humans consume. Typical cow’s milk can make cats very sick. If you’re unsure of which kitten milk replacer to choose, talk to a veterinarian. They can help you select the right one.

For many dry milk replacers, refrigeration is not always required. But if extra milk is prepared, it should be stored in the fridge. To feed your kitten, follow these steps:

Prepare the formula. Warm the kitten formula to slightly above room temperature. Test the temperature of the formula right before you feed your kitten. Do this by placing a few drops of the formula on your wrist to ensure it’s not too hot.

Keep things clean. Before and after each feeding, you should wash your hands and the bottle that you used to feed your kitten. It’s also recommended that you use a “kitten gown.” This could be a robe or a shirt that you only wear when you’re handling or feeding your kitten. Using a kitten gown helps reduce the possibility of spreading germs.

Feed them gently. Handle your kitten with care. The kitten should be on their stomach lying next to you. This would be the same way they would nurse from their mom. Try holding your kitten in a warm towel while they sit on your lap. Find a position that feels comfortable for both of you.

Let them take the lead. Hold the bottle of formula to your kitten’s mouth. Let the kitten suckle at their own pace. If the kitten doesn’t eat right away, gently stroke their forehead. The stroking stimulates how their mother would clean them and it encourages the kitten to eat.

Continued

Kittens need to eat every 3 hours, no matter what time it is. Many people set an alarm so that they don’t miss a feeding. This is especially helpful overnight. It’s important that you feed your kitten regularly. Skipping feedings or overfeeding can cause your kitten to have diarrhea or develop severe dehydration.

Burp them. Kittens need to be burped the same that way babies do after feeding. Lay your kitten down on their stomach and gently pat their back until you hear a little burp. You may need to do this a few times throughout each feeding.

If for any reason you can’t get your kitten to eat, contact your veterinarian immediately.

What Do Kittens Eat Besides Milk?

Once your kitten is about 3.5 to 4 weeks old, you can start weaning them off of the bottle. This is a gradual process that takes time and practice. The process usually looks something like this:

  • Begin by offering your kitten formula on a spoon.
  • Later, start offering your kitten formula in a saucer.
  • Gradually add canned food to the kitten formula in the saucer.
  • Increase the canned food in the saucer, adding less and less kitten formula.

If your kitten doesn’t take to the spoon or the saucer right away, you can continue to offer the bottle.

As you progress through the weaning process, monitor your kitten and their stool to ensure that they digest everything well. If your kitten is doing well and isn’t experiencing digestive issues (like loose stool or diarrhea), then you can gradually introduce more and more food.

At this stage, it’s also important to offer your kitten a bowl of fresh water to make sure that they’re staying hydrated.

How Often Should a Kitten Eat?

The frequency that your kitten eats normally depends on how old they are:

  • Up to 1 week old: every 2-3 hours
  • 2 weeks old: every 3-4 hours
  • 3 weeks old: every 4-6 hours.
  • 6 weeks old: three or more feedings of canned food spaced out evenly throughout the day
  • 12 weeks old: three feedings of canned food spaced out evenly throughout the day

If you have questions or need additional guidance about how often or what kind of food to give to your kitten, contact your veterinarian for help.

Continued

How Do I Keep a Newborn Kitten Warm?

Kittens should be kept in a cat carrier wrapped in a few layers of towels. Using a heating pad or heat disc (often the safer option) for pets alongside a soft fleece blanket can also help keep them warm. Ensure that the carrier is large enough for your kitten to move away from the heater when they want to.

It is very important to keep your cat carrier in a safe, warm room away from other pets. It’s helpful to go and check on your kitten throughout the day. If your kitten feels cold, you need to warm them up as soon as possible.

How Much Should a Newborn Kitten Weigh?

Newborn kittens usually weigh about 3.5 ounces, depending on their breed and the litter’s size. A healthy kitten should gain at least 10 grams per day. If you don’t see growth in their body size, this is often a sign of illness.

It’s essential to track and write down your kitten’s weight and how much they’re eating every day. You can use a gram scale for accuracy in weighing animals this small. If your kitten isn’t eating or growing as expected, contact your veterinarian right away.

Can I Hold the Kitten?

Vets recommend not touching kittens unless you have to while their eyes are still closed. You can check on them to make sure they’re healthy and gaining weight, but try to limit direct physical contact.

The kitten’s mother will also let you know how comfortable she is with you handling her babies. It’s important to take it slow, especially at first. If the mother cat seems anxious or stressed, give her and her babies some space.

How to Teach Your Kitten to Go to the Bathroom

Young kittens can’t go to the bathroom by themselves. Usually, a mother cat will clean her kittens to stimulate urination and a bowel movement. If the mother isn’t present, the kitten will rely on you.

To help your kitten go to the bathroom, use a clean, warm, wet cotton ball and gently rub your kitten’s belly and genital and anal area. Your kitten should go to the bathroom in less than a minute. After your kitten is done, clean them carefully with a soft wet cloth.

Continued

Once your kitten is 3 to 4 weeks old, you can introduce them to their litter box. Add a cotton ball to the process in a similar way that you used one on them when they were younger. This will help them to understand what to do.

Gently place your kitten in their litter box and let them get used to it. Keep practicing with them. Ensure that their bathroom is in a safe area away from other people and pets so that they feel comfortable.

Sources

Animal Alliance NYC: “What to Do (and NOT Do) If You Find a Newborn Kitten.”
Best Friends: “Bottle Feeding Kittens.”

How to hold newborn kittens

The Spruce / Bailey Mariner

While you’ve been an attentive cat owner, meeting the needs of your pregnant cat, after she has the kittens, you need to know your next steps. During this delicate time, your observational skills are essential. Take a look at some guidance on how to handle the mother cat and her kittens as well as warning signs of health issues and kitten developmental milestones.

Veterinarian Check

If you haven’t already done so, after one week, take the mother cat and kittens to your veterinarian for a well-check. If the mother cat was not vaccinated, this would be a good time to do it. Also, she might get treatment for roundworms, to protect both her and her kittens.

New Kitten and Mother Cat Care

The first two to three weeks are the most crucial for a mother cat and her newborn kittens. The kittens should be developing rapidly, and if the mother is going to have any postpartum problems, it will happen during that period.

Let the mother cat set the pace for your attention. If she has been your pet for a while, she may welcome your visits. A rescued stray or fostered cat may prefer that you stay away. As long as the kittens are nursing frequently and appear to be thriving, they will be OK.

Keep the mother cat and her babies in a quiet part of the house; a separate room is ideal. Make sure the room is warm enough as kittens are unable to regulate their body temperature when they are only a few days old. The mother cat can keep the babies warm, but if she leaves to eat or use a litter box, the kittens can get cold. Chilling is one of the most critical dangers to newborn kittens.   Provide blankets, a heat lamp, or a heating pad to ensure the kittens stay warm.

Use a large enough box to comfortably hold the mother cat and her kittens. Stack clean towels to line it. The towels will become soiled quickly as the kittens defecate. It will be easiest to remove the top towel to reveal a clean layer.

Keep the mother cat’s litter box, food, and water bowls close by. Make sure you are feeding her a high-quality canned kitten food, supplemented with KMR (Kitten Milk Replacement). These specially formulated foods ensure that a nursing, postpartum mother cat gets the nutrients she needs.

Kitten Developmental Milestones

Three days after birth, a kitten’s eyes start opening, and the umbilical cord will also fall off. Their nervous systems are not fully developed; you may notice them twitching during sleep. This twitching is entirely normal and indicates the development of their nervous system and muscles.

By two weeks, the kittens will start crawling around and will be attempting to stand. Their teeth will be starting to come in during this time. If you put your finger in their mouth, you will be able to feel tiny teeth nubs.

For the first three weeks, the mother cat will lick each kitten around the abdomen and anal area after nursing to encourage the elimination of waste. In her absence, you will need to simulate this task with a warm, damp washcloth.

By three weeks, the kittens should be walking around and actively playing. You can introduce them to wet food and supplement it with KMR. They should still be actively nursing. You can also introduce them to the litter box. At this age, avoid clumping clay litter. The best litter for young kittens is any premium non-clay litter or the World’s Best Cat Litter.

Health Issues in Newborn Kittens

Intestinal parasites are most common in kittens.   Other health problems in young kittens are infectious diseases, such as respiratory infections, and congenital diseases.

Fading kitten syndrome occurs when a kitten fails to thrive.   If you notice one of the kittens is generally more lethargic and sleeping a lot more than its siblings, it can be a sign of the syndrome. That kitten requires immediate attention from a veterinarian who specializes in kitten care.

Postpartum Health Issues

Pregnancy, birth, and the period after delivery are a stressful time for the body of a new mother. A new mother has a flood of hormones, milk production begins, and recovery from the birth process is in full swing. There are a few severe conditions to keep an eye out for in your mother cat.

Mastitis

Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the milk ducts, which occurs when the mother cat’s milk production gets blocked by inflamed mammary glands. The teats become swollen and hot, with apparent “bruising,” and the mother cat may refuse to allow the kittens to nurse. Mastitis is a veterinary emergency. The cat usually needs antibiotics to fight the infection.   The kittens may need to be hand-fed until the mother cat has recovered.

Hypocalcemia

Hypocalcemia, also known as “milk fever,” is rare in cats, but it is another veterinary emergency.   This condition can result from a lack of calcium during pregnancy and nursing. Symptoms include seizures, staggering, muscle tremors, restlessness, and excessive panting. While the mother recovers, the kittens will need to be fed by hand.

Uterine Metritis

Metritis is a severe infection of the uterus; it is also a veterinary emergency.   The mother cat will usually have normal vaginal drainage after birthing her kittens. But, if you notice a foul-smelling discharge, that is a red flag. Other symptoms include lethargy, fever, and loss of milk production.

The mother cat may have to be hospitalized for treatment and might need an emergency spaying. As the mother cat recovers, feeding and care for the kittens will fall to you.

Last Updated: January 11, 2021 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Brian Bourquin, DVM. Brian Bourquin, better known as “Dr. B” to his clients, is a Veterinarian and the Owner of Boston Veterinary Clinic, a pet health care and veterinary clinic with two locations, South End/Bay Village and Brookline, Massachusetts. Boston Veterinary Clinic specializes in primary veterinary care, including wellness and preventative care, sick and emergency care, soft-tissue surgery, dentistry. The clinic also provides specialty services in behavior, nutrition, and alternative pain management therapies using acupuncture, and therapeutic laser treatments. Boston Veterinary Clinic is an AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) accredited hospital and Boston’s first and only Fear Free Certified Clinic. Brian has over 19 years of veterinary experience and earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University.

There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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With their cute faces and soft fur, cats can be wonderful creatures to hold. But cats are also known for their fickle personalities: they can also be easily frightened around strangers and even ambivalent about affection from those they know well. To avoid frustrating, scaring, or hurting a cat, it is important to pick it up and hold it correctly.

How to hold newborn kittens

Brian Bourquin, DVM
Veterinarian Expert Interview. 20 December 2019. If your cat seems angry or scared, you risk being scratched if you try to pick him up. With this in mind, there are some ways you can read your cat’s mood.

  • Look at your cat’s overall body language. Is he hiding from you or not coming out to play? Just like adults, cats need alone time, and if he is hiding it is a good indication he does not want your attention at the moment. Is he actively seeking attention, meowing, purring, or rubbing against your legs? These all indicate that he is interested in socialization. Rubbing against you in particular indicates he is trying to leave his scent on you, which is an affectionate feline bonding habit and indicates he is open to affection from you in return.
  • Unlike dogs, cats’ tails don’t wag when they’re happy. A slow back and forth tail movement usually means your cat is assessing a situation. If your cat’s tail is wagging, it’s not a good time to attempt to hold your cat. [2] X Research source
  • Look at your cat’s ears. Ears that are facing forward means your cat is feeling playful and content; this is a good time to pick him up. If your cat’s ears are facing backwards, watch out! Backwards-facing or flat ears indicate it’s not a good time to attempt to hold your cat. [3] X Research source

From choosing the right bottle and nipple to coaxing a reluctant kitten to suck, here’s how to help an orphaned or abandoned kitten grow strong and healthy.

You know that old saying: “As helpless as a newborn kitten”? There’s a reason for the comparison. New kittens are indeed pretty helpless. And if a kitten doesn’t have a momma to shepherd it through those early weeks, he will need human help to bridge the gap. Especially when it comes to feeding.

Bottle-feeding a newborn kitten takes commitment and patience, but the rewards are well worth the effort. In just a few weeks with the right feeding formula and schedule, you’ll see a helpless ball of fur turn into a fun, frolicking happy kitten.

What You Need To Bottle Feed a Kitten

To get started you’ll need several baby bottles with nipples designed especially for kittens, and some kitten milk replacer. (Note: Never offer cow’s milk to a kitten.) Most nipples don’t come with holes, so you may have to make a small hole in the end to allow milk to drip out. Kitten milk replacer is available in pre-mixed liquid form and in a dry powder. Both work equally well, but some people find the powder to be more convenient because you only need to mix what you need for each feeding.

Before you offer your kitten a bottle, make sure the milk replacement is warm. To check that it’s not too hot, shake a few drops of formula onto your wrist to make sure it’s comfortably warm. Carlene Strandell, founder and director of Smitten with Kittens, a nonprofit, foster-based kitten rescue that operates in Tallahassee, Fla., says that the first thing you need to do when feeding a newborn kitten is to ensure that the kitten is warm. “You should not feed a cold kitten. A cold kitten is a fading kitten, and trying to feed them is just adding one more stress to their bodies,” she says. If your kitten’s pads or gums feel cold, wrap him in a blanket and/or hold him against you until he warms up.

How to Bottle Feed a Kitten

Once the kitten and formula are ready, set the kitten on his stomach; never try to feed a kitten on its back. Hold his head gently with one hand to encourage the kitten to latch onto the nipple. According to Alley Cat Allies, try your best to imitate the position a newborn kitten would use when nursing from its mother. Use your other hand to guide the kitten’s mouth to the nipple. Never force a kitten onto a nipple. The kitten’s tongue should form a v-shape to facilitate sucking. By holding the head of the kitten, you’ll be able to feel if he’s swallowing the milk.

If your kitten refuses to suckle, you may want to try gently rubbing his face and head with a terry washcloth or an old toothbrush to simulate the roughness of the mother cat’s tongue. If the kitten still refuses to latch onto the nipple you can use a syringe to provide nourishment. Offer small drops of formula this way. Never force formula down the kitten’s throat or you could asphyxiate the animal by filling its lungs with liquid.

How Much to Bottle Feed a Kitten

Newborn kittens should be fed every 2 to 3 hours. Kittens who are 2 to 3 weeks in age need to eat every 4 to 6 hours. See how much to feed your kitten for every age with this feeding chart. Avoid overfeeding, which can cause digestive problems.

When your kitten is about 4 weeks old you can begin offering a small bit of formula on a spoon, slowly mixing in a bit of canned food to start the weaning process. Until kittens are eating solid food on their own, you may need to continue bottle-feeding several times a day to keep them healthy. During and after weaning, offer a shallow bowl of fresh water at all times.

Keeping a Bottle-Fed Kitten Healthy

Newborn kittens can’t regulate their bodily functions on their own (their mother helps them with that). To imitate the actions of the mother, rub the kitten’s belly with a soft tissue or a cloth after every meal until it pees and poops. Then, place the kitten in a warm, quiet place until the next feeding.

According to Shelter Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, it’s also important to weigh your young kitten every day to be sure he’s gaining weight. Newborn kittens should gain 3 to 4 ounces a week and weigh approximately 2 pounds by the time they’re 8 weeks old. If your kitten is not flourishing or shows signs of crusty eyes or running nose, get him to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

How to hold newborn kittens

Your pet cat just gave birth and you’re wondering if you can handle and touch her newborns. Can you touch newborn kittens? Yes, you may touch them for at least a minute or two. However, cat experts advise that you should avoid touching newborn kittens unless there’s a very good reason to do so such as if they’re in distress, not moving or breathing, and not suckling milk within two hours after birth.

Is it okay to touch newborn kittens?

Vets and cat experts agree that there is generally no harm in touching newborn kittens. However, the rule of thumb is to refrain from doing so while their eyes are still closed unless there’s an urgent reason to do. It will also depend on the mother cat’s character. It is considered a normal mama cat behavior to become aggressive if you or other family members go near her and her newborn kittens.

You can generally briefly hold and touch the newborn kittens upon birth to check for a bleeding placenta or birth membranes in the mouth and to check their gender. You may also touch them at least once a day during the following days just to check if they’re gaining weight. However, do not overdo it as the mama cat may feel stressed and anxious. If you notice a change in the mama cat’s demeanor then stop touching the kittens and respect the mama cat’s feelings.

Some mama cats are very protective of their kittens and if she and the kittens are disturbed too often by people or other pets they may move the kittens to a more secluded area. Nevertheless, because you’re the mama cat’s pet parent, she may allow you to hold and touch her kittens because she trusts you and associates you with security and comfort. If your mama cat isn’t aggressive and allows you to touch the newborn kittens then this is a good sign. However, don’t be complacent as a mama cat’s maternal instinct may prevail and she may suddenly attack you if you come near the kittens.

When is there a need to check and touch the newborn kittens?

While cat experts agree that you should avoid touching the newborn kittens in the first few days following their birth, you should check and touch them if the following instances happen:

  • if the mama cat is having difficulty while giving birth then you should hold and touch the newborn kittens as well as the mama cat and bring them to the vet
  • if the kittens’ lives are at risk such as if they don’t move or breathe
  • if a kitten is born in the sac
  • if a kitten doesn’t suckle milk within two hours after birth
  • if a kitten is feeling cold and shivering
  • if the mama cat is not giving any attention to the kittens

You should see to it that your hands are clean after returning the kitten back to the mother after you’ve touched her and try stroking the mother and then the kitten to transfer their scent.

When is it advisable to leave the kittens alone?

You do not usually need to worry and it is usually best to leave the kittens alone with their mama if you the mama cat delivered her newborn kittens in a secured area of your home, is is caring for her young, and the kittens are warm and suckling milk from their mama. Should you see that the nesting place is not suitable for the mama cat and litter, you may transfer them in a clean and safe spot in one go, after a day or two.

However, be very observant of the mama cat’s behavior and be vigilant if she’s manifesting disagreeable or aggressive behavior. If so, then forego the option of transferring them to a new area until such a time when the mama cat is calm and cooperative.

Final thoughts

As any pet parent would be, you can’t wait to check on your pet cat who just gave birth to her litter of fluffy kitties. But, while it’s okay to touch newborn kittens for at least a minute or two, it’s best to leave them in peace especially if the mama cat is attentive, the kittens are healthy and eagerly suckling milk, and they’re in a quiet spot at your home.

How to Make Kittens Friendly

Contrary to popular belief, you should hold kittens as early as possible. The right time depends on how soon the kittens’ mom will allow you to touch them without getting stressed. Early touch is necessary, because the window for taming kittens closes after the early weeks.

Newborns

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says you can pick up a kitten from birth if the mother doesn’t mind your presence, but it suggests you consult a veterinarian before you do so to kittens under a week old. The ASPCA also noted you don’t want to wait longer than two weeks before starting to handle the kittens.

Pick a kitten up, hold him for a minute or two, gently stroking him, and then return him to his mom. It’s important not to keep young kittens away from their mom for more than a few minutes at a time. Mom provides them nutrition, warmth and security, and must even stimulate them to potty. Only adults should handle young kittens. Young kittens are fragile and tiny, and even the best-behaved child may accidentally cause injury.

If the kitten’s mom is tame, it is likely she won’t mind you holding the kittens for a few minutes at a time. However, even some tame cats don’t like humans handling their very young babies. If handling the kittens seems to cause mom stress, you should wait to begin socializing the kittens until they are a couple weeks old. If mom sees you as a threat, she’s likely to try to move the kittens and hide them from you.

Toddlers

By the time they’re about 2 weeks to 4 weeks old, kittens have opened their eyes and ears, and aren’t quite so dependent on mom. This is the time when handling by humans is critical. Introduce kittens to other people so they don’t become socialized only to you. You should try to introduce them to men and women alike. With supervision, you can introduce them to older children. During this stage, you may introduce them to a gentle cat-friendly dog, car rides and other common experiences. It’s important at this age that kittens not be separated from their mom or siblings for too long at a time.

By 7 to 8 weeks of age, most kittens can think of nothing but playing. It’s important to teach your kittens that human fingers aren’t toys. It may be cute when your kitten grabs your fingers, but it won’t be so much fun when your kitten is a 12-pound cat with very sharp claws and sharp teeth. If your kitten grabs your fingers in play, redirect his attention to a toy. You may have to do this repeatedly during this stage, but it will be worth it when your kitten’s an adult cat that doesn’t attack your hands. Never encourage your kitten to play with your fingers and hands.

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What do newborn kittens need?

While the queen will usually provide her kittens with warmth and nutrition, it’s good to know what kittens require, in case you need to help. If you’re concerned about how to look after kittens before they are eight weeks old, take a look at our video below.

Feeding newborn kittens

Newborn kittens should get all of their nutrition from their mother. This will continue until they gradually transition to solid foods when they are around four weeks old (weaning).

The first milk produced, called colostrum, is rich in antibodies and will help protect kittens against diseases. These antibodies last for six weeks or more. Kittens can only absorb colostrum during their first 16 to 24 hours of life and they should feed within two hours of birth. It is essential that kittens receive colostrum to protect them against disease. If any kittens do not receive the first milk, contact your vet.

Newborn kittens need to feed every two to three hours. Kittens suckling well from their queen will sleep between feeds and do not need additional nutrition until three to four weeks of age. Kittens not receiving adequate nutrition from the queen may cry and constantly seek the teats. Contact your vet if you think a kitten is not getting enough milk.

Distressed newborn kittens may be restless, cry excessively, stay awake for long periods, leave the queen and kittening area, appear neglected by the queen or stop feeding and have a reduced sucking reflex.

If the queen is relaxed, you can gently weigh the kittens at birth and then weigh them daily to ensure they are gaining around 10-15g each day, doubling their birth weight by two weeks of age. Kittens typically weigh between 90 and 110g at birth.

If kittens are rejected by their mother for any reason, or if the queen is unable to feed her kittens, you may need to hand feed them.

Veterinary care

Talk to your vet to find out which treatments the kittens need and when.

Flea and worming treatments may be recommended for kittens as young as two days old, depending on the risk to the kittens.

Vaccinations are essential to protect the kittens from disease, so ask your vet when the course of vaccinations can begin.

Neutering – the kittens should be neutered when they’re around four months old. If neutering is not carried out by then, you should separate males from females and the queen to prevent inbreeding. Ask your vet if you need help sexing the kittens.

Hand rearing kittens

If any of the kittens are rejected by their mother – or the queen is too ill to care for them – then you will need to help care for the kittens.

Hand reared kittens need:

  • a carer who can attend to them throughout the day and night
  • a clean, warm environment. If there is no queen, a cat-carrying basket with lots of bedding and a soft toy to snuggle up to is ideal
  • a safe source of warmth
  • a clean environment to prevent infection
  • regular feeding. Newborn kittens must be fed every two to two and a half hours
  • to be stimulated to pass urine and faeces before and after each feed until at least three weeks old
  • to be socialised with positive experiences and taught normal behaviour that they would normally learn from their queen