Caring for kittens

| October 11, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Allerton Cat Rescue

One thing that has struck me as a rescue volunteer is the sheer lack of knowledge when it comes to feline lovers and kittens; unfortunately this tends to be the case with those who choose to wilfully breed cats in an environment already saturated with unwanted cats and kittens.

Within the space of two days, we received two wonderful examples of poor judgement when it comes to handling very young kittens. One occurred when a man brought in a cat he had been keeping in his garage. Because her kittens were walking, he didn’t think anything of separating them. But the five kittens will not survive without hand-rearing, as they are reliant on mummy’s milk at this stage.

Even with a willingness to hand-rear, no kitten formula will ever be enough to replace a mother’s milk. It will not build up the immune system kittens sorely need to see them through some very difficult months.

The following day, we received three kittens of around three weeks old that we were told had been found. Completely without thought, the fourth kitten was rehomed. Kittens hand-reared without their litter-mates have a higher mortality rate, as they are prone to depression. After some debate, we managed to convince the finder to go and collect the kitten from her new home. Thankfully she returned, and through sheer luck we managed to get the mother previously separated from her kittens to accept these as her own. Not only does this give the kittens a much higher chance of survival, it also helps mummy pull through a period of depression after separation from her babies.


If you come across what you presume to be abandoned kittens, it is very important that you take the following steps. First of all, under no circumstances rush to handle the kitten. Remember that mummy cat may be nearby, and any disturbance could scare her away or trigger an attack.

Once you are satisfied that the kitten(s) are stray, check them over to assess their overall condition. It is always a good idea, even if a kitten appears to be in good health, to seek veterinary care as the animal may be harbouring a hidden illness.

Older kittens that have been born outdoors, growing up without human interaction, may be unused to human contact so it is advisable to take special care when approaching them. Frightened kittens may bite or scratch if feeling threatened. If the kitten is overly friendly, it is possible that it is in fact somebody’s pet, in which case the authorities need to be contacted right away to check the kitten’s background. Once you have learned the kitten’s temperament, attempt to gauge her age, as this will be a good measure of how to feed her.

During the first few weeks of life a kitten is completely and utterly dependent on her mother. Her primary needs are to be nourished, warm, socialised and to learn how to excrete without mummy’s aid. In most cases, we play no part in this transition from newborn to young and independent kitten. In some instances, however, it is not possible for a kitten to receive the care she needs from her mother and learning how to take care of her is very important.

A mother cat’s milk provides everything a kitten needs to grow and become a healthy and strong adolescent. If the mother is unable to provide food for her young, it is important you consult with your vet, local shelter/rescue or someone with experience in hand-rearing kittens, as they may be in possession of a currently nursing mother. Failing that, consult a vet who can give information on the proper way of bottle-feeding a kitten with a milk replacer the vet can provide.

Feeding a newborn kitten (up to two weeks old) is complicated and requires serious commitment, as they will not survive without feeding and eliminating every two hours. Your local vet or emergency clinic should have commercial kitten formula on hand that is easy to mix and dose, along with a kitten feeding kit consisting of a small bottle or dropper. Remember to dispense the formula slowly and always ensure that it is free of lumps before feeding. It is very important that cow’s milk is not substituted, as this can lead to severe digestion issues in kittens. Older kittens can be fed the same formula every four to five hours, while kittens on the brink of being weaned may be offered well “mushed up” kitten food as well as their formula until they have made the transition to solids. It is important to avoid under- or over-feeding so always follow the guides that are available on feline food containers.

If the kitten in your care has been orphaned, it is essential that you keep the young one warm. A heating pad or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel works well. The heat source should be positioned so that the kitten can move away from it at will. Please consult your veterinarian about ideal temperatures, and do take care to monitor the heating pad, if you are using one, to ensure it is functioning properly.

If the kitten is with her mother, it is important not to over-handle her during her first week of life as this can upset mummy and potentially lead to rejection. Kittens may be handled a little more when on their own, but try to limit this as they are extremely frail and prone to injury at such a young age. From their second week, gradually increase handling and socialisation as this is a crucial time in which to teach kittens how to interact with humans and reassure them that they are safe.

Please note, kittens are prone to injury if handled roughly. Anyone who handles the little ones in your care will need to be very gentle. Young children in particular should be supervised or prevented from handling early on.

It is usually the mummy’s job to teach her kitten how to use the litter box. When grooming her children, she will pay particular attention to the anal region as this stimulates excretion. Kittens are unable to excrete on their own until their second or third week. If hand-rearing, dip a soft washcloth in warm water and gently massage the anal and urinary regions. The warmth, texture and movement mimic a mother cat’s tongue. When the kittens are four weeks old, you can teach them to use a litter box by placing them there after their meals. Cutting one side down will make it easier for the kittens to go in and out.

Caring for a stray kitten is a huge commitment, especially if the kitten is at its earliest life phase. The best care way to ensure a young kitten’s survival is to leave it with its mother or find a surrogate – local rescue groups may be able to place an orphaned kitten with another litter of the same age, so get in touch. If you have found an older kitten and wish to keep it, be sure to visit a vet and have a full examination done, including a microchip check. They will then tell you the steps you need to follow to find an owner or report the animal found.

Please like us on Facebook:

Address: 258 Allerton Road, Allerton, BD15 7QX

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply