It’s an awesome thing to care for an animal that’s so young, so tiny and helpless, it would not survive if left on its own even for a few hours. It can also be scary. What if I do something wrong? What if it dies? All of these thoughts will rush through your head as you look down at the defenseless little ball of fluff. Well, I’m here to tell you, you can do this. It’s going to e a challenge, yes, and you are going to be exhausted soon into it. But when it comes to caring for a bottle baby kitten, it’s going to be so worth it.
I’ve raised two bottle baby kittens. Both successfully. The first we named Little Bit. She had been abandoned in a parking lot where I worked. Some woman came in to say she heard a cat under the hood of my coworkers car. But when my coworker went out to check she didn’t hear or see anything. After work, my coworker went to Home Depot. Then she went home. Around 9pm, my phone rang.
“There was a cat in my car!” My coworker said frantically.
Turns out, the woman who came in to tell us she heard the cat in the car must have stuffed the cat up inside the car herself. It was so tiny. It’s eyes were barely open. It could barely stand up, let alone have the ability to crawl up inside that car. I told my co-worker to try to give it water with an eye dropper and, if it made it through the night she could bring it to the office and I see what I could do.
My co-worker brought her to the office the next day. She had spent hours in the heat with no food or water. How she survived the heat and the car rides to Home Depot and to my coworkers house was a miracle in itself. But she was in such bad shape. I called our veterinarian right away. The veterinarian estimated her to be 10 days old. She was extremely dehydrated and not expected to live. But, because I was not about to give up, my veterinarian explained everything I would have to do. If the kitten survived the night, there would be a slim chance she could survive. Today, she’s three years old.
The second bottle baby was one I agreed to foster. It was part of a litter of seven brought to the shelter in Pasco County because the mother had passed away. Because they were full, they asked if we could take them at the Humane Society of the Nature Coast. Of course, the Director of Development, Susana Arneson, could not say no. She went and picked them up and they were taken in by fosters. I was blessed to take one of them. As we didn’t need another pet (we already have a house full) we didn’t want to give him a name. It would make it easier to hand him over after our time in caring for him was over. But we couldn’t keep calling him, “it.” So we named him Voldemort. Harry Potter fans will get the humor. “He who cannot be named.”
While both kittens came into our care under different circumstances, both survived. So I can tell you from personal experience. If you are faced with this situation, and you are determined to help the little fur bundle live, you can do this.
Of course, the first thing you have to do when you undertake any task, is get prepared. There are several things you are going to need to gather from around the house and things you will have to purchase. Then I am going to explain the whole process. So. Let’s get started.
A Secure Place to Keep Them
Baby kittens are so vulnerable. You will need to make sure they are kept safe, especially if you have young children or other pets in the house. Small children can be rough with tiny kittens and could unintentionally harm them if they aren’t supervised when interacting with the kitten. Your other pets will be naturally curious and, whether or not they intend to, they too could harm or even kill such a fragile little kitten. I suggest a carrier with a door on the top, which can be kept secure. A top-loader will make it easier for you to get the kitten in and out for feeding time.
Keep them Warm
You are going to make sure your little fur baby stays warm. Normally, your little fur ball would be snuggled with its mother and siblings to stay warm. In the absence of a fur family, you are going to come up with an alternative way to provide that warmth.
You have, essentially, two options. An electric heating pad or one you heat in a microwave oven. I strongly suggest the latter. Primarily because the microwave version doesn’t have an electric cord, which the little critter could chew on. It’s also never a good idea to leave a heating pad on and unattended. There are fire risks when it’s on and overheats, and you can’t turn it off at night because you need to keep the kitten warm. The microwave version is absolutely safe and provides long sessions of warmth with no worries.
Create a nice, soft bed in the bottom of the carrier out of small, soft blankets, being sure to tuck the heating pad under the blankets so the kitten doesn’t lay directly on it. I used old baby blankets, donated from a friend. Make sure to keep the heating pad on one side of the carrier so the kitten can move away from it when it gets too warm. Be sure to wash the blankets regularly to keep the carrier nice and clean.
You are going to need to buy a few things. You can get all of these items at any local pet supply store. Of course, you’re going to need a bottle. Most pet supply stores sell a package that contains a bottle, various sized nipples and a bottle cleaning brush. You will also need to buy Kitten Milk Replacer. It’s baby formula for cats and there are several brands. I’ve used them all and they are all good products.
Never feed a baby kitten cow’s milk. Kittens lack the proper enzymes to digest the lactose in cow milk, and feeding cow milk to kittens can cause diarrhea and dehydration very quickly.
The formula comes in liquid and powder form. The liquid comes in three sizes, The 32 ounce box, the 8 ounce cans and Mylar pouches that come in 8, 11 and 192 ounce sizes. After opening the liquid formula container you have to keep the rest refrigerated. After being opened, the formula will only last for 72 hours so use the amount of formula you need each day in mind. Don’t open a container you can use completely within three days because you will only be tossing money down the sink drain. Obviously, the liquid is more convenient, and trust me, expediting the preparation and feeding time is going to be important… quickly.
While it takes a bit more effort, I strongly suggest the powder form of formula, and here’s why. You mix the powder with a 2-to-1 ratio with water and it has a 24-hour shelf-life in the refrigerator. Yes, it doesn’t last as long but you can mix only what you need each day. There is little if any waste. By mixing the powdered formula each day, you will always know the formula is still good. You must be very careful not to feed the kitten soured formula. This could cause vomiting that could lead to dehydration. If the kitten gets dehydrated, it can sink fast and you should get the kitten to the vet quickly.
Yes, burping. Just like human babies, kittens will swallow air while feeding. This gas will cause a bit of discomfort if it isn’t… expelled… from one end or the other. After feeding, hold the kitten like a baby and pat its little back until it burps or… well, you know. You will be surprised how loud it will be sometimes and how much air it expels. It always makes me chuckle.
Okay. There really isn’t a subtle way to put this. Not only are baby kittens unable to feed themselves, they are also unable to go to the bathroom with out… assistance.
Normally, the mother cat would help the kitten by licking its… well, you know. Well, without the mother there to do this, you are going to have to take up the challenge.
The way I have found is easiest, and less messy, is to take the kitten to the bathroom. Get a handful of toilet paper and dampen a bit of it with warm water. Then, while holding the kitten over the toilet bowl or the sink (with plenty of paper towels in it to catch “everything”) and gently rub the warm, damp toilet paper bundle back and forth across its little kitty bits. It won’t take long. It will urinate almost immediately. The “other” might take a bit more time. For moms with human babies, you’ll recognize the color immediately. We even have a name for it… “Baby poop yellow.”
Don’t worry if your kitten doesn’t poop each time. It’s normal for that to only happen every other day. However, if it doesn’t poop for more than two days, it may be constipated. Do not give the kitten any laxatives or mineral oil. It’s too aggressive on their tender systems and that could lead to diarrhea and dehydration. Cut the formula with twice the water. This usually gets things “moving.” If it doesn’t, take the kitten to a veterinarian. They will likely solve the problem with, yes… an enema.
Remember when I said it would be important to make the preparation for feeding time efficient? Well, feeding and caring for a baby kitten is much like caring for a newborn human baby… only without the diaper.
Just like with a human baby, a kitten will nurse for about 45 minutes at a time every 2 to 3 hours during its first week of life. The rest of the time the kitten will be sleeping. While it takes a bit of time, the kitten will consume about a tablespoon, or 15 ml, of formula at each feeding.
It’s going to be an exhausting adventure. Because the kitten needs to be fed ever two hours, that means you are going to have to get up to feed it every two hours, and that means day and night. If you have other family members who can help, I strongly recommend that you teach them the fine art of ‘mommying’ the kitten so you can get some sleep.
By the end of the first week, the ear canals of a kitten will have opened and, if it is eating appropriately, it should weigh about 4 oz. You should monitor the kitten’s weight daily to make sure it is gaining, not losing weight. I use a regular digital kitchen scale.
At two to three weeks old, the kitten will still need to be fed every two to three hours. By now, it’s eyes should be open and, while it will be adorably wobbly, it will start to crawl around.
By the end of week 3, the kitten should weigh about 11 ounces and will be able to stand up. Normally, this is about the time the kitten would have started interacting with its littermates, engaging in ear-biting, wrestling, and exploring its surroundings. This is all part of learning those all-important social skills. But, since you are the only “family” the kitten has, it will be up to you to provide these skills as well as teaching discipline. More on that later.
There’s going to come the day when you reach in to get the kitten out of the carrier and you will notice that the bedding is wet… or worse. That’s because your kitten is able to go to the bathroom on their own now. Now it’s time to start teaching them how to use a litter box. This also means you will need to provide them a larger living space. I use a large cage. I keep the bedding on one side and a shallow litter box on the other side.
Kittens learn and explore in the same way human babies do–with their mouths. You will need to choose a litter that doesn’t create dust the kitten will inhale and one that is safe for them to eat. I use a litter made from corn cobbs. Do not introduce the kitten to adult cat litter until it is at least 2-3 months old.
You should also use a shallow litter box so it’s easy for them to get in and out of it. I actually use the small cardboard tray the cat food come in for our adult kitties. I just cut the box down, leaving about a one-inch lip in the front so the kitten can easily step in and out. Then I toss it out and create a new one.
Kittens tend to be drawn to corners so placing the litter box in the corner of its cage will give them a better chance of finding it. Because kittens are traditionally messy learners at this as well, placing a puppy pad under the box will make it easier for you to keep their area clean.
Introducing Food and Water
During weeks 4 and 5, the kitten will start consuming more formula but will require feeding less frequently. It’s about this time you should provide and a small bowl of formula, which the kitten can start to practice drinking from. By the end of week 5, you should only be nursing the kitten with the bottle three times a day. However, the kitten should be consuming about 3 tablespoons formula at each feeding.
By 4 to 5 weeks of age the kitten should weigh about 14 to 16 oz. It’s at this time you should start offering the formula in a saucer as often as possible rather than using the bottle to feed it. Start using less water when mixing the powdered formula to start getting the kitten use to eating rather than drinking. If all goes well there, start mixing formula with wet kitten food. This is going to be messy at first, and totally adorable. It’s going to walk through it, do face-plants in it… and fall asleep in it, so have you camera ready!
By six weeks of age, your kitten should be eating the gruel four times a day and nursing much less from the bottle. The gruel should have less and less formula added while simultaneously introducing dry kitten kibbles with a separate bowl of water.
Socializing and Discipline
Another thing you will have to do is provide the social skills and discipline the kitten would have otherwise received from littermates or its mother. Once the little kitten has stared to crawl, stand and walk — three to four weeks old — it will want to explore and play. I usually take the kitten to my bedroom and close the door. This keeps the other pets away so we can play in a safe environment.
At first, the kitten won’t have much interest in toys. For the first couple of weeks it will primarily be occupied with sleeping or learning how its own legs work. Around three weeks old it will start being curious when it comes to toys and things that move. When you interact with the kitten — petting and gently duplicating the wrestling it would have otherwise engaged in with its siblings — you will be helping the kitten learn coordination and accuracy. However, there will be times when the kitten will be too aggressive. When the kitten bites too hard or uses its claws too aggressively, you will have to teach it the little kitten the manners its mother would have laid out.
The most effective way to teach the kitten a certain behavior isn’t acceptable is to do precisely what the mother would do. Give the kitten a firm pinch to the skin on the back of the neck, pin it gently to the floor and say “no.” Don’t pinch so hard it hurts the kitten and don’t yell “no.” Just pin the kitten down firmly for a second and say the word ‘no’ in a firm but calm voice. Then, let go. You will be surprised how quickly the kitten gets the message. It’s important to do this the moment the kitten exhibits the unwanted behavior. That way, the kitten will associate the discipline with the behavior. Otherwise, it will just think you’re being mean and that will cause trust issues. When the kitten adjusts its behavior, praise the kitten immediately by using your higher-toned mommy voice ( you know the one) and give it lots of gentle rubbings.
And be consistent. Just like with human children, don’t expect a kitten to learn good behavior if you aren’t able to provide the necessary guidance every time it exhibits bad behavior. If you have other members of the house interacting with the kitten, teach them how to teach the kitten how to be a well-behaved member of the family as well.
Yep. You’ll have to give the kitten regular baths. But not in water. Feeding, going to the bathroom… Your little kitten is going to need to be kept clean in order to keep it healthy. The mother cat will keep its kittens clean by licking them. This is what you must duplicate. Personally, I get a soft, warm, damp cloth and simulate the movements a mother cat would make while stroking the kittens fur. It’s amazing how calming this is to the kitten. Sometimes, I like using a spray bath product. I spray it on the cloth and rub it into the fur and it makes them smell baby powder fresh! They just lay there, letting you clean them. It seems to be very comforting to them. I suppose this is because one of the ways cats bod and show affection for each other is grooming. Because of this, it can also be a loving way for you and your kitten to bond.
So, there you have it. While it’s tedious and time consuming and you’re going to be very tired for the first month or so, it’s so rewarding when you see a kitten who otherwise would not have survived, grow strong and healthy because of your devotion… and love.
Be sure to take lots of photos, and keep a journal. All of this will make for a fabulous table book for your guests to look through!