Tiny kittens are adorable, but they’re helpless and need a full-time caregiver. If the mother cat or a foster cat isn’t available, that duty falls to generous humans. Raising orphaned kittens might sound like fun, but the reality includes feeding the kittens in the middle of the night, helping them urinate and defecate, and fending off sharp claws and teeth. Things to consider when raising orphans:
Orphans should see a vet right away to ensure that they’re warm enough and properly hydrated (dehydration and low temperature are deadly). Your veterinarian can also approximate the kittens’ age and recommend a feeding schedule.
During the first week of life, kittens need to be kept at temperatures around 90 degrees and at around 80 degrees after that. Keep them warm with a water bottle full of warm (not boiling) water wrapped in a towel in the kitten’s crate. Make sure the kittens have enough room to crawl away from the bottle if they get overheated.
Orphans need eight CCs of formula per ounce of body weight daily. You can buy bottles and commercial kitten milk-replacer formulas at veterinarians’ offices, pet stores and many supermarkets.
Recommended feeding schedule:
1–2 weeks of age: every two hours
3–4 weeks of age: every 3–4 hours
5–6 weeks of age: every 4–6 hours
Hold the kitten with his stomach resting in your hand and the bottle at a 45-degree angle. At first, you may have to gently open his mouth and place the nipple inside, but after a few feedings, most kittens will start to look for the bottle. Let the kitten eat as long as he wants.
Offer the kittens soft food mixed with enough formula to make gruel when they’re 3 weeks old. When they’re eating well, decrease the amount of formula in the mix at each feeding. As they eat more kitten food, they’ll drink less from their bottle. At around 6 weeks of age, they should be eating solid kitten food and weaned from the bottle.
Urination and Defecation
Mother cats lick kittens’ genitals to stimulate them to urinate and defecate, and you can mimic this by rubbing their genitals with a rag or cotton ball moistened with warm water before and after they eat.
When the kittens are 3 to 4 weeks old, add a shallow litter box to their crate. After feeding the kitten, put him in the box and gently move his paw through the litter to simulate digging. If he doesn’t urinate or defecate after several minutes, then use a rag or cotton ball to help him.
Spend time talking to the orphans, as well as petting and holding them. Offer them toys to play with, but never use your hands or fingers as toys and don’t let them bite or swat at your fingers or hands. Between 3 and 6 weeks of age, introduce your kitten to other people, the animals in your home, grooming procedures, and being carried.