Feeding a small amount of formula (kitten milk replacer) to kittens every couple of hours is normal. But how much do they need, and what else can you feed them? This article will show you how to recognize if your kitten is hungry, and give some tips on feeding him.
Kittens are born without any immune protection. This heavy task is left to their mother’s antibodies which are passed on through the colostrum, the first milk produced by the mother immediately after giving birth (or after being pregnant).
When kittens arrive in this world, they are deaf and blind, but very hungry! So make sure you have a good quality kitten milk replacer ready before the kittens are born.
Usually it takes a queen 2 to 3 hours after birth to begin to produce milk, so during this time you can remove some colostrum (the first milk) with a clean spoon and place it in your fridge for later. It’s best to let an experienced person show you how to do this safely.
If the queen doesn’t feed her kittens for some reason, there are a couple of different options:
– You can hand feed the kittens yourself with a bottle and kitten milk replacer (and colostrum if available). Or you can give them small amounts of warm water with a dropper every 2 hours to keep them alive.
– Another option is fostering the kittens on a foster mother (another cat, or even one of our modern “foster dads” – see below). This works best when the kittens are less than 3 days old.
A third option is getting professional help (e.g. at your local veterinary clinic), since special equipment and knowledge is needed to hand rear kittens.
The best choice all round, if it’s possible for you, is just to let the mother cat do her job. The kittens’ immune systems are still developing during the first 1-2 weeks of life, so they should be kept with their own litter as much as possible. After 2 weeks the risk of infection is much lower, and they can be safely integrated into another (dry) household.
Starting to eat:
When the kittens arrive in this world, they will do little more than drink milk and sleep for their first couple of days. As soon as colostrum is available you can start to let them taste a bit of kitten milk replacer on your finger.
If the kittens look like they are starving (e.g. big empty tummies, very thin), you can start feeding them a little bit of formula every hour. If they are still suckling from their mother, it’s best to let them do that first before you try to feed them.
Let the kittens suckle for a couple of minutes on your finger, then let them have a little break before offering more. If they are eating well you can try to increase the time they are sucking in between meals.
If there is no improvement after 2-3 days it’s time to call in professional help. A good quality milk replacer is essential, and the right temperature makes a huge difference.
Heating it up to 45 degrees Celsius can make a big difference to how well it’s digested by the kittens. See this video for feeding orphaned kittens using an esbilac milk replacer , which is basically just like kitten milk replacer, but in powder form:
You can also try feeding the kittens with a syringe or catheter if you want to take things slowly, instead of using an esbilac bottle. This is more time-consuming and requires some training, but it’s still possible for someone without any experience.
It’s quite common for inexperienced people to overfeed new borns, which can lead to serious problems like intestinal problems and dehydration. Signs that they are not getting enough milk include:
– They cry constantly (and this means something is wrong)
– Poop looks very watery
– Poop looks all mushed up and smelly (indicating diarrhea)
Kittens eat every 1-3 hours during their first 2 weeks of life, and it’s best if they are allowed to finish feeding before you try to remove them. A good rule of thumb is to let them suckle for about 5 minutes on each side, or 10 minutes in total per feed.
If possible it’s nice to keep the kittens with their mother at this age, but it’s not always possible to keep them together, especially if you are fostering kittens.
It’s important that the kittens drink enough during their first few weeks of life because it stimulates the mother cat’s milk production. If they don’t eat for two or more days, they can become seriously ill very quickly.
If you have to remove the kittens from the mother cat, it’s usually best to return them after one or two feeds. If the mother is hostile, you may have to remove them for longer periods of time.
Kittens start to eat solid food at about 3-4 weeks of age (although they don’t need it yet). This means that during this period there is normally no need to bottle feed.
Kittens’ stomachs are very small, so they need to eat often. When they start to eat solid food you can give them 4-5 feeds per day, increasing this gradually as they grow older. Kittens drink milk/formula up until about 3 months of age (or longer), and they need to eat moist food up until about 8 months of age.
Kittens will start to wean off milk at about 3 weeks of age, which means you can let them suckle from the mother cat during the day as well as giving her milk. The number of feeds per day should gradually decrease as they get older. For more information see this article on weaning kittens .
Kittens will eat more when they are big enough to climb in the food bowl, so it’s always better to offer them several small meals per day rather than one or two large ones.
If you have any questions about feeding orphaned kittens please leave a comment below.