There are many things you'll need to know when it comes to caring for a newborn kitten, especially if the mother isn't around. Here, our San Jose vets share some advice on how you can take care of a baby kitten that doesn't have a mother, what can go wrong as well as when to take them to their first vet visit.
How to Care For a Kitten
While kittens are lovable, fluffy, and adorable pets, young kitties have specific needs that must be provided for by their owners. These needs differ depending on life stage, and if something goes wrong or is missed it can have negative impacts on their general health and longevity. In this post, we discuss how you can care for your new furry best friend in their kitten years.
Caring for a Newborn Kitten
From 0 - 4 weeks old, a kitten is considered a newborn. They must learn how to walk, meow, and even regulate their body temperature. If the mother is present, the mother will be able to do most of this work, including feeding. All you'd have to do is ensure the mother remains in good health and that they have a warm and safe environment to live in. Cover the floor of the crate or area with a blanket and provide a warm bed for them to lay on.
However, if the kitten does not have a mother, we recommend bringing them to a vet as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can determine the kitten's health status and offer some guidance as to their needs.
Keep Your Newborn Kitten Warm
You will have to do more to help keep the kitten warm if it does not have a mother. You might use a heating disk in the crate or put a heating pad on low heat, then hide it underneath a blanket in their cage. A little nest made from blankets would also provide much comfort to your new kitten. Confirm that the heating pad isn't too hot by testing it with your hands, and provide a comfortable place in your kitten's crate or cage that is not heated so they can go there if they get too warm.
Continue to provide a heating source for your kitten until they are about 6 weeks old since a kitten can catch hypothermia if they get too cold. For this reason, their area should remain at 85°F or 29°C
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. For kittens to grow healthily, they will need to gain approximately ½ ounce (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) a week. Never give your cat cow milk and always make sure you are feeding them the same formula. And, for your kitty to digest food properly they will have to be kept warm.
As Your Kitten Grows Older
When the kitten you are caring for is around 5/6 to 10 weeks old they should gradually stop being bottle fed or fed by their mothers and start feeding them high protein meals about 3 to 4 times a day. You can start this 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. And because their motor skills will be improving at this stage they will start becoming adventurous and you will have to keep a close eye on them to make sure they don't get themselves into trouble. They will require a lot of supervision and hands-on bonding playtime as they are between 2 -4 months old.
Your kitten will start entering their adolescent days when they are 4 - 6 months old. This is when they are generally very troublesome and might require some behavioral modification, this is also when you should start considering having them spayed or neutered before they reach the 6 - 8 month mark.
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 regarding the care of your new family member.
Making sure your kitten gets routine preventive care is essential, including routine exams and vaccinations, and parasite prevention.
Routine exams allow your vet to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten including their dietary requirements. Your vet will also be able to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are easier and more affordable to treat.
You also need to make sure your kitten gets all of its 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. This prevents any serious diseases or conditions from arising in the first place.
What Can Go Wrong?
When caring for a kitten there are many things you need to keep an eye out for in every stage of your kitten's life, which could indicate a problem or even a veterinary emergency. If you see your kitten displaying any of the following signs call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment.
Here is what you need to keep an eye out for in a newborn kitten:
- 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