2 Where Are The Injection Location Sites For Livestock Animals How to Feed and Care for Orphaned Kittens

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How to Feed and Care for Orphaned Kittens

Over the past 15 years, I have fostered nine orphaned kittens. Four of them were two weeks old when the mother was killed; three others were only a few hours old when their mother died; two other kittens fell out of the nest in our barn when they were only a day old.

Raising motherless kittens is not a difficult process, but it does require patience, time and lots of TLC.

Here are some tips to help you raise your orphaned kittens:

1. Make a nest.

Normally, a mother cat spends many hours a day in the nest with her kittens, which helps her babies stay warm. Keeping kittens warm is important because if they are not warm enough, they will not want to eat and in fact, all their bodily functions will slow down.

To keep your orphaned kittens warm, make a nest in a small box and line it with towels or old T-shirts or sweatshirts to help the babies conserve body heat. Place a towel over the box to keep out the light. Female cats choose nests that are dark. If you don’t have a heat lamp, use a small 40 watt table lamp and place it a few feet above the box to help keep the kittens warm.

If the box is large enough, you can also use a bowl or other large container filled with hot water to keep the babies warm. Place the container in the box and then make a nest of towels next to it. Refill the container when it cools. You can use a quart jar as a “hot water bottle” as well, except that a quart jar gets cold very quickly.

2. Use a dropper or a syringe to feed the kittens.

The first time I fostered orphaned kittens, I found that the small breast bottles available at veterinary clinics were too big. The kittens could not get their mouths around the nipples. So, at first, for newborn kittens, I used a dropper. As the kittens grew, a syringe worked very well, the type of syringe for giving injections (no needle of course!). I started with the 3 cc size and used larger syringes as the kittens grew. The tip of a syringe is about the size of a cat’s nipple, and my kittens eventually sucked hard enough on the end of the syringe to pull the plunger out on their own. Check with your veterinary clinic to see if they have any used syringes or to see if you can purchase new syringes from the clinic.

A word of warning: Whether you’re feeding by dropper or syringe, be careful to only give a few drops at a time. My vet told me that if the kittens were given too much formula at once (more than they could swallow) they could inhale it. Inhaling formula will make your kittens much more susceptible to pneumonia.

Along the way I have also discovered that it is best to feed the kittens as much as they want to eat. They will settle down and sleep until the next feeding if they are getting enough to eat. Small kittens will start taking maybe 1 CC at a time. As they grow, they will eat about 12 CCs at a time (usually on several different helpers).

Kittens learn very quickly that food comes from the syringe you hold in your hand. If you have a hard time getting them to take the formula from the syringe, have them suck on the palm of their hand for a few seconds or have them suck on their fingers. Then insert the syringe and let them suck it up while very slowly pushing the plunger down.

3. Feed the kittens KMR or the kitten formula you mixed yourself.

KMR, canned milk replacer for cats, is available at most veterinary clinics in premixed or dry form. It is specially formulated for kittens to provide all the nutrients they need. Follow the directions on the label. The amount of food is determined by body weight. My newborn kittens weighed three ounces each, and for the first few days, they only needed half a dropper of KMR at a time.

My vet clinic also gave me a prescription for “kitten formula”. After the first can of KMR, this is what all my kittens have grown up with.

Here is the recipe for Kitten Formula

1 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon of white corn syrup

1 egg yolk

a pinch of salt

Mix in a blender and mix well in advance so that the bubbles have time to disperse.

Heat over medium heat. Warm the formula so that it feels slightly warm to the touch. All my kittens have refused to swallow formula if it was too cold or too warm. The same was true for KMR.

4. Feed your kittens on a regular schedule three times a day.

Mother cats nurse their kittens every two hours. The vet I consulted warned me not to feed them so often. “They’re not going to eat well and you’re going to be disappointed and they’re going to be disappointed and it’s going to be harder for everybody,” he said. He was right. Feeding the kittens three times a day worked very well.

5. Scrub your kittens with a warm, damp washcloth and help them empty their bladders and bowels.

Young kittens are not able to empty their bladder or move their bowels, so you have to help them. Use a warm, damp washcloth and wipe under their tail until they have emptied their bladder and/or moved their bowels. Be prepared to use up to four washcloths per kitten. If they only need to empty their bladder, you won’t need them as much. If they have to empty their bowels, watch out – it can get messy! Smaller blankets that you can squeeze with one hand while holding a squirming kitten with the other work best. I put the towels in a bucket of warm water and put the bucket where I can easily reach it.

Young kittens also don’t know how to take care of themselves, and after a day or two of eating kitten formula, they become sticky from the formula that inevitably dribbles down their chins. From time to time, use a warm, damp cloth to wipe off the formula, but be careful not to get the kittens too wet or they will have a hard time staying warm.

6. Provide a litter pan when they are four weeks old.

Cats have a strong instinct to use materials they can scratch when they need to empty their bladders and move their bowels. By the time kittens are four weeks old, they will already be thinking along those lines, and providing them with a litter pan will help them get the idea. You may have to help them with a washcloth for a while, but it won’t be long before they use the litter box.

Cat litter in an aluminum pie plate works well to start. As the kittens grow, use a larger container for a litter box.

7. Start feeding solid food when the kittens are about six weeks old.

Kittens raised by their mothers will probably start eating sooner than six weeks, but you will be able to provide more milk than their mothers would have available.

When your kittens are teething, you can start feeding them solid food. If you want to feed dry food, a good quality kitten food will work well. Kitten food has all the nutrients and protein they need to continue growing. Kitten food is also made into bite-sized pieces. To tempt their appetite and give them a “treat”, you can also try some canned kitten food. Be sure to provide fresh water for your kittens to drink as well. And until the kittens are eating solid food regularly, supplement their caloric intake with kitten formula. By this time, you will not need to feed them with a syringe. You can put the formula in a little pan and once they find out where it is and what it is, they will drink it themselves.

8. Get ready to be surprised and amazed.

Kittens grow up very quickly and in a few days you will think they are growing up right before your eyes.

Kittens open their eyes when they are about 10 days old.

They will start snoring when they are 6 days old.

Kittens will begin other “kitten behaviors” such as nodding, trying to groom, and rearing up to scratch behind their ears when they are between two and three weeks old.

New kittens will sometimes have hiccups (!) while you are feeding them.

New kittens are like human babies, in a way. Their days consist of eating, sleeping and emptying their bowels and bladder. Once the kittens have had enough to eat and have their bodily functions taken care of, when you put them back in the “nest” they will sleep or rest quietly until you are ready to feed them again. If they are fussy, crying and meowing, they may need a little more to eat, or they may need to empty their bladder or move their bowels, or they may have a cold.

As the kittens get older, they will be awake for longer periods of time and will eventually start playing with each other.

By the time the kittens are four weeks old, you will most likely need to move them to a bigger box, if not sooner, because the first one will be too small and they will know how to get out on their own!

If you have any questions about raising orphaned kittens, you can e-mail me at bigpines@ruralroute2.com

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© 2004 LeAnn R. Ralph

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