August 4, 2016
What should I know about caring for newborn kittens?
In most cases, the mother cat will take good care of her kittens, so all you’ll need to do is keep an eye on them. Here are some suggestions:
Over the first few days, check every few hours to make sure the kittens are warm, active, and getting plenty of milk. If the kittens seem to be hungry, gently squeeze one of the mother’s teats to make sure she is producing milk.
If the mother does not stay in the box with her kittens, and the kittens feel cold, use a heating device (e.g. a heat lamp) to provide extra warmth. For the first 4 days of life, keep the box at 85–90ºF. Gradually decrease the temperature to about 80ºF by the end of the first week. Continue to steadily decrease the temperature to about 72ºF by the end of the fourth week.
If the mother seems to want to hide her babies or is overly protective of them, either cover the box with a sheet or towel, or move the box to a darker, or more secluded place.
If the mother keeps moving her kittens from place to place to hide them, it is best to confine her with her kittens in a secluded area.
Remember, too, that the mother cat needs extra nutrition while she is nursing (twice the amount she was fed before she was pregnant). Feed her a diet that is formulated for kittens.
What about premature kittens?
Kittens that have been delivered several days too early require round-the-clock care in order to survive. Premature kittens are small, thin, and weak. They have little or no hair and are very susceptible to cold (and to overheating). Some are able to nurse, but they may be too weak to get to the teat or nurse unassisted. Kittens that cannot nurse must be fed with a bottle, a small syringe, or a stomach tube. Your veterinarian will instruct you on how to feed the kittens.
How can I tell if the kittens aren’t doing well, and what should I do?
kittens spend most of their time eating or sleeping. If they are crying instead of nursing or sleeping, have your veterinarian examine both the mother and her kittens. The most likely problem is that the mother isn’t producing enough milk and the kittens are hungry. Hungry kittens quickly become weak kittens; weak kittens nurse less than healthy kittens and so become weaker. Without nourishment, newborn kittens can die in as little as 24–48 hours.
After examining your cat and her kittens, your veterinarian may recommend that you begin supplemental feeding of the kittens.
Here is what we suggest:
Use a commercial formula specifically designed for kittens, and follow the directions for preparation. Canned goats’ milk can be used as a short-term alternative (available at most grocery stores) Warm the formula to 95–100ºF before feeding it. A simple test is to place a few drops on the underside of your wrist; the milk should be about the same temperature as your skin. Depending on how much milk the mother is producing, feed the kittens 1–3 times per day. Feed 1/3 to ½ the daily amount recommended in the formula directions. Continue with supplemental feeding until the kittens are old enough to eat solid food (3–4 weeks of age). If the kittens are too weak to nurse they may have to be tube fed. Your veterinarian can teach you how to do this.