There are many things that you must know if you find yourself needing to care for a kitten that may not have a mother. Our Wake Forest vets talk about how to care for a baby kitten, what to watch for and when to bring them to the vet.
How to Care For a Kitten
Although kittens are an adorable new addition to your home, they have very specific needs, especially if they were recently born. These needs are different for every stage of their life, and it is important to monitor these needs since it can impact their overall health and longevity if something goes wrong. Here we talk about how you can care for your new furry friend during their kitten years.
Caring for a Newborn Kitten
Kittens are considered a newborn when they are between 0 - 4 weeks old. During this time they are still learning how to meow, walk, and even regulate their body temperature. If they have a mother, their mother would be able to do most of the work including feeding. Your main focus would be to make sure the mother is in good health and that they are in a warm and safe environment. It is ideal to make sure the floor of their crate/area is covered with a blanket, and they have a warm bed to lay on. However, there could be instances where the kitten does not have a mother and the first thing you should do in that situation is take them to see a vet. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the health of the kitten and inform you of their requirements.
Keep Your Newborn Kitten Warm
If the kitten doesn't have a mother you will have to remember to keep them warm by using something such as a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their cage. Sometimes a kitten may benefit from you making a little nest out of a blanket and gently lay the kitten in the nest as a warm and comfortable environment. It's important that you make sure to physically check that the heating pad isn't too hot by touching it with your hands and providing a comfortable place in your kitten's cage/crate that is at a distance from the heating item so they can move to that are to cool down if necessary.
You should continue to provide your kitten with a heating source until they are about 6 weeks old because if kittens get too cold they will catch hypothermia, for this reason, their area should be kept at 85oF or 29oC.
Feeding Your Newborn Kitten
If you are caring for a newborn kitten without a mother you will also be responsible for feeding them and providing them with proper nutrition. In the beginning, you will have to bottle feed your kitten a special kitten formula every 2-4 hours. Every kitten is different, consult with your veterinarian about the best formula to use for your kitten, as well as how much to feed them and how frequently you should be feeding. In order for kittens to grow healthily, they will need to gain approximately ½ ounce (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) a week. Be sure to never give your cat cow milk and always make sure you are feeding them the same formula. Being kept nice and warm is crucial for your newborn kitten's digestion.
As Your Kitten Grows Older
Once your kitten is approximately 5/6 to 10 weeks old this is the time they should gradually stop being bottle fed or fed by their mothers and start feeding them high protein meals approximately 3 to 4 times a day. To begin this weaning process you can begin 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. At this stage, their fine motor skills will begin improving and 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. Between 2 -4 months old, they will require a lot of extra supervision and hands-on bonding playtime.
At 4-6 months of age, your kitten will begin to enter the adolescent stage. This is when they might develop unsavory behaviors and might require some behavioral modification, this is also the ideal time to conside having them spayed or neutered before they reach the 6 - 8 month mark.
Preventive Care For Your Kitten
No matter the age of your new kitten it is ideal to bring them for their first vet checkup within the first week that you are caring for them. 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 in regards to the care of your new family member.
Routine preventive care is essential to your new kitten's overall health and wellbeing, including wellness exams, routine vaccinations, and parasite prevention.
Regular wellness exams give your vet the opportunity to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten including their dietary requirements. During these wellness exams, your vet will also have the ability to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are easier and more affordable to treat.
It is also crucial to be sure that your kitten gets all of its vaccinations and parasite prevention on schedule. at 6 - 8 weeks of age, your kitten should receive its first round of vaccinations, 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 ever spot any of these signs or symptoms, be sure to contact your vet immediately to have your kitten in to be assessed.
Here is what you need to keep an eye out for in a newborn kitten:
- Delay's or difficulties in motor skills or coordination
- Refusing food (especially if being bottle-fed)
After your kitten has surpassed 4 weeks of age you will 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