What To DO When You Find Orphaned Kittens
Updated: Mar 29
You are out on your afternoon walk around your neighborhood block and hear the tiniest of little cries. You stop and listen hard. Yep! There it is again! You follow the pitiful cries and discover 3 tiny, newborn kittens, under a thick shrub. They are trying to pick up their little heads, their little bodies shaking. You look around and do not see a mother cat anywhere! You think about a memory of your grandmother telling you not to touch newborn animals because then their mother will kill them or abandon them. You are not sure if this is true or not, but these tiny babies clearly need help!
WHAT DO YOU DO?!
Caring for newborn kittens is a very large undertaking. It requires around the clock attention and care, almost more than a human baby, but certainly no less! If you are unable to care for the kittens, you can find a no kill rescue that cares for neonates or that has a list of experienced fosters that can take the kittens. Either way, here is some advice on how exactly to handle the situation that you have stumbled upon.
ASSESS THE SITUATION
First off, know that mothers abandoning or killing their young if you touch them is an old wives tale. Secondly, make sure that they really are without a mom. Typically a momma cat will not leave her newborns without good cause. She could be in the process of moving the babies to what she deems is a safer location or she is out in search of food. The unfortunate fact about cats being out and about on their own is that there are so many dangers and this mom could have been victim to a number of different situations. Check and see if babies are dry. Are they warm to the touch? Does it appear that they have full belly's or are they dehydrated? If kittens are in fact warm and do not appear to be dehydrated, leave babies in the place you found them. As long as they are located in a place they will not be disturbed by predators or be harmed by the elements. Then keep a watch on them for an hour or so. Mommas nurse newborns regularly, no more than an hour or two apart. If you can, try to watch from someplace that you cannot be seen so as to not scare mom from returning. A kittens best chance of survival is with mom. She will have the ideal nutrients and precious antibodies that baby needs to survive and thrive. If kittens appear to be in serous distress or mom hasn't returned and babies have gone over an hour on your time not being fed, it is time to take action.
TIME TO TAKE ACTION!!
You will need to get babies warm and dry first. A small box or tote will suit babies fine, line the bottom with soft towels. Kittens will need a source of heat. They will not be able to regulate their own body temperature for several weeks. It is best not to use an electric heating pad as this can get too warm and cause burns on their delicate skin before you even realize it has happened. It is best to use empty plastic water bottle with hot tap water, These can be wrapped in a towel and placed on the 4 sides, creating a snug nest for babies. This will also help bring babies body temperature up slowly. These will need to be changed frequently, typically they last from 1 feeding time to the next. Be sure to check on kittens temperature frequently.
***PLEASE DO NOT FEED KITTENS (OR ADULT CATS COWS MILK OR GOATS MILK), THIS WILL CAUSE DIARRHEA WHCIH IS LIFE THREATENING TO A NEWBORN KITTEN.***
While babies are warming up is your best opportunity for a quick run to the store for baby supplies. If you have a pet supply or a farm supply store close by they will have the items you need. If not, some supercenter type stores may have these things.
Here is your shopping list:
Kitten Replacement Formula - I have always used the KMR brand and have the best of luck. Again, if this isn't available, any brand will do as long as it is replacement formula and not the "sip" treat style milk. I recommend that you get the powder because you can make what you need, unused formula has to be thrown out after 24 hours. * I use a small shaker cup to mix and store the formula in. If you don't have one, any jar with a lid will do.
Kitten Nurser Bottles - I usually pick up the kit because it comes with a bottle brush and an assortment of nipples. Sometimes figuring out the nipple can be the hardest part of feeding a newborn kitten. So, next on the list:
Kitten Nursing Nipple - I have had the absolute best luck with a nipple that I had ordered on amazon. It is called The Miracle Nipple. I have had no problems getting newborns to latch on to this nipple. If it isn't available at the store, get the small pack that comes with the bottle set to get you started, but order that Miracle Nipple for overnight delivery before you leave the store! lol
Cotton Balls, QTips and the like - Kittens need to be kept clean and you will appreciate these in your care kit!
BACK HOME AND READY TO FEED
As stated in the list, I use a shaker cup to mix up the formula, following the directions. Kittens will only take a single ml or cc at a time so you do not need to make a lot. Follow the instructions on the can for dilution and mixing recipe. I use warm tap water for this. Again, this is going to be very similar to making human baby formula. Test the temperature on the inside of your wrist.
If you don't feel it warm or cold, then it is body temperature which is just right!
Start with the smallest nipple in the pack. Use a pin to cut a hole on the nipple. You can always make the hole larger if need be. Make sure the formula doesn't come out too fast, baby can choke or too slow, they get worn out before they get any nutrients. When you shake the bottle, it should just allow a few drops to come out.
Newborn kittens need to be warm in order to properly digest their food. Kittens
should have gotten nice and cozy while you were getting their meal prepped. Before trying to feed, kittens need to "be pottied". Momma cats will stimulate kittens to encourage them to urinate and have bowel movements. You can do this with cotton balls or the cotton pads, dampened with warm water. You will wipe the kitten in gentle strokes. Sometimes this takes a doing, but be patient and gentle. Once kitties have pottied, it is time for their feeding.
Kittens should NEVER be fed cold or be fed on their backs. This will cause them to choke or aspirate the liquid in to their lungs, resulting in pneumonia. Kittens should be fed in the natural nursing position which is on their tummies. I usually wrap kitten in a nice dry, warm cloth like a little "purrito". This makes handling them during feeding a little easier. I place the nipple in the kittens mouth, pointing toward the roof of their mouth to encourage them to latch on.
THEY AREN'T TAKING THE BOTTLE!!! NOW WHAT?!?
THIS IS THE HARDEST PART OF BOTTLE
Even the most experienced fosters have struggled with this. The nipple is going to be very foreign to the kitten and they most likely will not know what to even do with this. There are a couple of things you can try to get kitten to latch on.
Make sure that the nipple is warm.
Try to get a drop or two of the formula on the end of the nipple before putting it in baby’s mouth. (Never squeeze bottle in babies mouth. Again, this can cause aspiration.)
Try wiggling the nipple back and forth in kittens mouth.
If kitten tries to start sucking, gently pull back on the nipple to encourage her to suck harder and latch on.
If kitten is struggling, you can place a single drop on their tongue and repeat all of the same steps.
Even though this can be frustrating, be patient. Do the best you can to get a drop or two into baby, then do other babies and then come back around. Eventually they will get the hang of it. (And remember, you have a Miracle Nipple on the way from amazon! This nipple truly does make all the difference!)
THEY SEEM TO BE FULL....
Don't try to force or overfeed the kitten, they will stop when they are full. Even though it seems as though they took very little, remember how tiny those little belly's are!
After kittens have gotten their fill of formula, they will be ready to be burped. Yes, kittens that are bottle fed need to be burped. This is done in similar fashion to burping human babies. Put kitty up on your shoulder and ever so gently pat them. You will hear the burp!
**Kittens should be weighed daily and fed according to their weight. Kittens should gain about 1/2 ounce daily. They need to consume 2 tablespoons which is about 30cc's or ml's, for every 4 ounces of body weight over a 24 hour period. So if the kitten weighs 4 oz and is less than 2 weeks old, feeding every 2 hours, that is 12 feedings. 30cc/ml divided by 12 equals approximately 2.5cc/ml at each feeding. Weighing daily ensures that kitten is getting what she needs and allows you to adjust accordingly. Weaker kittens or those not taking the full amount at each feeding should be fed more frequently.****
AFTER THE BURPING
After burping, try to potty again. Also, kitten formula is sticky, so you will want to use damp cotton balls to wash kittens faces. Momma cats keep their babies meticulously clean, you will want to try to do the same to cut down on risk of infection. Please don't put a kitten in water to bathe, this can cause chills and shock. Only wipe kittens with the cotton balls to keep them clean. Once kittens are all clean and dry, it is time to go back to sleep. Change the water in the hot water bottles and put babies back into their nest.
REPEAT AND REPEAT!
Kittens 10 days and under will need to be fed every two hours around the clock. If you have had difficulty getting them to latch on, you may have to feed closer together until they get the hang of it. From 11 days to 17 days old, every 3 to 3 1/2 hours, from about 18 days to about 4 weeks old they can be fed every 5 to 6 hours. After 4 - 4 1/2 weeks, you will begin the weaning process.
Please look for my post on caring for older kittens!
Please send us a message with any questions you may have about feeding and caring for your new kittens or cats!