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Caring for newborn kittens is not easy. Despite the presence of the kittens mom, whose job is to feed and protect her babies, “you can be an help to her.” But, if the mother cat is not around, you’ll have to take all her responsibilities, which include feeding the kittens, keeping them warm, and even helping them go to the bathroom.
Considering the situation
Before you start feeding kitten, take some time to consider the necessity of it, and also to what extent you will have to do it. The appropriateness and effectiveness of doing it may be evaluated through considerable efforts such as:
- If you find kittens abandoned by their mother, watch them for some time from a distance to have an idea if their mother returns.
- If the kittens are in immediate danger (of freezing from cold or because of a dog), take them without waiting for their mother to return. Caring for kittens in such case is better trusted than the local animal shelter.
- If the mother cat is around, you can help her a lot by providing food and shelter. Find a dry warm spot, not close to blowing wind, put a fruit crate there, put an old blanket as overlay, and the soft and warm spot is ready.
If the mother cat is unable to take care of her kittens by herself, you will have to feed them several times a day, depending on their age. Ask your veterinarian about feeding tips before developing your own feeding regiment. Now let’s take a look at feeding routine, based on the age:
- 1-2 weeks old: bottle-feeding is done every 2 hours with a commercial milk substitute formula. Please, never use cow milk, which is hard even for a grown up human to digest, knowing that kittens are more delicate.
- 2-4 weeks old: replace bottle-feeding with a shallow dish when providing the meal. Pour the formula into the dish and let them eat it. Also, you may add a light snack of premium kitten food softened with water.
- 6-12 weeks old: now it’s time to gradually decrease the amount of formula. Begin giving them dry kitten food 4 times a day. Do not make brusque transitions as it may cause indigestion (read also hartz.com/Cats/Hartz_Kitten).
You may have noticed that feeding is done rather frequently, which can be seen by tremendously fast growth. This is why you should weigh kittens once a week. If kittens do not gain 1-3 ounces of weight per week, you should absolutely visit a veterinarian (more about Kitten food).
Protecting and handling
If the mother cat is around, you’d better not handle kittens too much as it may cause to reject them. However, from the age of 2-7 weeks it is important to take kittens on the lap so that they get used to being held by humans. When handling a newborn kitten, you must be very gentle: kittens are very delicate and even a child can seriously harm them. Keep kittens warm at all times. Usually cats move their litter to a warm spot themselves. If there is no such place in your house (warm floor or radiator heating, for instance), make one yourself: take and old crate or a basket, put inside thick and warm cloth and let the mom cat equip the nest (read Kittenrescue.org).
If the parent is around, she will help and it will be enough. But if she’s not around, you will have to help the kittens to do toileting. How it is done: use a damp cloth to rub gently in the rear of them. Discard the cloth after you are finished, and dry them before putting them back. When kittens reach 4 weeks of age, encourage them by using a litter box: place a kitten in the box and leave it alone. If the kitten begins digging the litter, it’s a good sign.
If you feel that there is something wrong, it’s better to pay a visit to your vet.
If the kitten refuses to eat and doesn’t ease himself for long time, and the mother cat refuses to feed them, and if they scream for a long time for no apparent reason – any of these reasons should be considered for veterinary assistance. Never wait until something has gone wrong. It is evident that kittens have low immune response and have less survival chances than adult cats do.
As a conclusion it is worth mentioning that only the veterinarian can tell you for sure what’s going on with the kittens. This is why you should consult with the specialist every time that you have questions or suspect that something is wrong. See also Kittens.