Cat Care

Rearing Orphan Kittens

Cat Care > Cat Breeding > Rearing Orphan Kittens

Rearing Orphan Kittens

Because of the constant care and commitment that are required, especially during the first two weeks, it is extremely difficult to try to rear kittens that have been orphaned at birth. If there are just one or two kittens, or if the feeding is going to be for only a short time (for example, if the mother cat has had a Caesarean section), it may be worthwhile to try to feed the kittens artificially, although one should not underestimate the difficulties involved.

It must be pointed out that some experts think it unwise to make the attempt, believing that without their mother a kitten cannot learn how to become a cat. They believe that orphaned kittens are destined to become unsociable adults with behavioral problems. Others, however, hold the opposite view and have successfully reared kittens that have become affectionate adult cats. It is always best to try to find a substitute mother. A nursing cat may be persuaded to accept one or two extra kittens if they are placed among her own litter during her absence. It is worth telephoning the veterinary clinic or an animal welfare center to see if they can help.

If the decision is taken to attempt to rear the kittens, they need to be kept in a very warm place at a temperature of about 28C during the first two weeks of life. The temperature can be lowered over the succeeding weeks although the kittens must still be kept in warm surroundings of about 21C. A well-covered hot-water bottle should be kept in the box to provide warmth and comfort. The kittens need to be fed every two hours during their first fortnight of life with a proprietary cat milk substitute that can be obtained from a veterinary clinic. Suitable feeding bottles can also be obtained from pet stores, or a plastic syringe or eyedropper can be used. These must be sterilized before use, and it is easiest to use a solution designed for use with baby feeding utensils. Each kitten needs about 5 milliliters of milk at first, with the quantity gradually increasing according to need.

The milk formula should be carefully made up according to the instructions, and it should be given at blood heat (38C). It may be difficult to persuade a kitten to feed at first, and great care must be taken to ensure that none of the milk is inhaled. After each feed, the kitten must have its face washed using warm water and a piece of cotton wool. Clean water and a fresh pad of cotton wool should be used to wipe the abdomen and anal and urogenital openings as a substitute for the licking of the mother cat. A warm clean towel should be used to dry each kitten. After two weeks, the kittens can be fed at four-hourly intervals until they are a month old. Weaning can begin early, at three to four weeks, but milk feeds are still necessary about every six hours.

Hand-reared kittens, especially if they have missed out on receiving colostrum, are more vulnerable to infection and also to digestive disorders. If a kitten shows any signs of diarrhea veterinary advice and attention should be sought as a matter of urgency as this can rapidly become life threatening. Of course, this is the case for all kittens and not just those that have been reared by hand.