If you are taking care of a newborn kitten without a mother, there are important things to learn. Our vets at Turlock will show you how to care for a motherless kitten and what problems to watch for. You should also know when it's time to take your kitten to the vet for the first check-up.
How to Care for a Baby Kitten
Kittens make wonderful pets, but they require specific care to thrive. The needs of a kitten change as they grow, so it's important to understand their requirements at each stage.
Missing something important can affect your kitten's health and lifespan. Learn how to properly care for your new furry friend during their early years.
Caring for a Newborn Kitten
Newborn kittens (0-4 weeks old) are still developing their basic skills like walking, meowing, and controlling body temperature. If a kitten has a mother, most of the care is taken care of by the mother, but you need to provide a warm and safe environment for them.
For motherless kittens, the first step is to take them to a vet for a checkup and to learn about their needs. Ensure they have a warm bed and a soft blanket in their crate/area.
Keep Your Newborn Kitten Warm
If the kitten doesn't have a mother, you need to take extra measures to keep them warm. You can use a heating disk in the crate or a heating pad on low heat under a blanket in their cage. Also, make a comfortable nest with blankets for the kitten to rest in. Ensure that the heating pad is not too hot by testing it with your hands. Provide a cool area in your kitten's cage/crate where they can go if they get too warm.
It's important to continue providing your kitten with a heating source until they are about 6 weeks old because kittens can catch hypothermia if they get too cold. To prevent this, maintain a temperature of 85°F or 29°C in their area.
Feeding Your Newborn Kitten
If a newborn kitten doesn't have a mother, you must feed and give them proper nutrition. You must bottle-feed your kitten with special formula every 2-4 hours.
Consult your veterinarian to find the best formula, feeding schedule, and quantity for your kitten. Healthy kitten growth requires a weight gain of around ½ ounce (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) weekly. Don't give your kitten cow's milk; always use the same formula. Also, keep them warm for proper digestion.
As Your Kitten Grows Older
When the kitten you're caring for is between 5/6 to 10 weeks old, gradually transition them from bottle-feeding or nursing to high-protein meals 3-4 times a day.
Start by pouring the formula into a food bowl and adding some softened hard or canned food to ease the process. At this stage, their motor skills improve, and they become adventurous, so supervise them closely to prevent accidents.
Bond with them through hands-on playtime, especially when they're between 2-4 months old. Your kitten will become an adolescent at 4-6 months old, which can be a troublesome period. Consider behavioral modification and spaying/neutering before they reach 6-8 months old.
Preventive Care For Your Kitten
Ensure that you take your kitten for their first veterinary appointment within the first week of their arrival, regardless of their age. Your veterinarian will evaluate your kitten's health and provide guidance on their dietary needs. This is also an opportunity to ask any questions you have about taking care of your new pet.
Routine wellness exams are crucial for preventive care, enabling your vet to assess your kitten's overall health, and dietary requirements, and detect diseases early before they become severe and more expensive to treat.
Don't forget to schedule your kitten's vaccinations and parasite prevention on time. Their first set of shots should be given when they're 6-8 weeks old, and spaying/neutering should be done when they're 5-6 months old. This helps prevent serious diseases or conditions from developing.
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