There are many things you will need to know when caring for a newborn kitten, especially if they do not have a mother. Today, our San Diego vets discuss how to care for a baby kitten without a mother, what can go wrong, and when you should take them to the vet for the first time.
Raising a Kitten
Kittens are adorable and lovable house pets, but they have very specific needs that must be met. These requirements differ for each stage of their lives, and if something goes wrong or is overlooked, it can have an impact on their overall health and longevity. In this section, we will discuss how to care for your new furry friend during their kitten years.
Caring for a Newborn Kitten
When a kitten is between the ages of 0 and 4 weeks, it is considered a newborn because it is still learning how to meow, walk, and even regulate its body temperature. If they have a mother, she will be able to do the majority of the work, including feeding. All you have to do is ensure that the mother is in good health and that they are in a warm and safe environment. Make sure the floor of their crate/area is blanketed and they have a warm bed to sleep on. If the kitten does not have a mother, the first thing you should do is take them to a veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the kitten's health and inform you of their needs.
Keep Your Newborn Kitten Warm
If the kitten does not have a mother, you will need to do more to keep them warm, such as placing a heating disk in the crate or placing a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their cage. You should also make a small nest out of blankets for the kitten to sleep in. Make sure the heating pad isn't too hot by touching it with your hands, and provide a comfortable place in your kitten's cage/crate that doesn't have a heating item for them to go if they get too hot.
You should continue to provide a heating source for your kitten until they are about 6 weeks old because kittens will catch hypothermia if they get too cold; therefore, their area should be kept at 85 degrees.
Feeding Your Newborn Kitten
Another thing you'll have to do for a newborn kitten who doesn't have a mother is feed and nourish them. Every 2-4 hours, you will need to bottle feed your kitten a special kitten formula. Because each kitten is unique, your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the best formula to use, how much to feed them, and how frequently you should feed them. Kittens must gain approximately 12 ounces (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) per week to grow healthily. Never give your cat cow milk, and always make sure they are fed the same formula. In addition, your cat will need to be kept warm to digest food properly.
As Your Kitten Grows Older
When the kitten is 5/6 to 10 weeks old, they should gradually stop being bottle fed or fed by their mothers and begin eating high protein meals 3 to 4 times per day. Start by pouring the formula into a food bowl and possibly adding a bit of softened hard food or canned soft food to help them along. And, because their motor skills are improving, they will become more adventurous, and you will need to keep a close eye on them to ensure they don't get themselves into trouble. As they are between 2 and 4 months old, they will require a lot of supervision and hands-on bonding playtime.
When your kitten is 4 to 6 months old, they will begin their adolescent years. This is when they are generally very troublesome and may require some behavioral modification; it is also at this point that you should start thinking about 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 to the vet during the first week they are in your care. Your veterinarian will assess your kitten's health and inform you of their dietary requirements. This also allows you to ask any questions you may have about your new family member's care.
Making sure your kitten gets routine preventive care is essential, 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. 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 numerous things to look out for at all stages of your kitten's life that could indicate a problem or even a veterinary emergency. If you notice your kitten exhibiting any of the following symptoms, contact your veterinarian right away 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