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Caring for Orphan Kittens

Caring for orphan kittens is no easy task. Sometimes despite doing everything right things go wrong. Perhaps the queen dies or simply doesn’t have enough milk to feed her kittens. It’s estimated that 10-30% of kittens overall die, and with orphans they have an uphill battle. Keeping them inside and from getting chilled is critical.

 

Part of what to do depends on the age of the kittens. If they’re newborn do everything you can to get some colostrum down them from the mother cat. The colostrum has antibodies they need and it can give a newborn kitten a fighting chance at life. Conflicting studies show that this comes from ingesting feline milk, not necessarily the colostrum, with antibodies that can be given via serum injected under the skin.

 orphaned kitten feeding from syringe

There is commercial kitten milk replacement powder available at many pet stores or veterinarians. These usually have a recommended amount to feed on the label but remember this is often for a 24 hour period so spread that amount over multiple feedings!

 

For the first week the kittens should be kept at 90 degrees but not warmer. This can be a small box or other container that the kittens are in, and if necessary using a heating pad in a small folded towel helps raise the temperature to be comfortable for the kittens.

 

Feeding can be done with an eye dropper, small syringe or a nursing bottle – if the kittens will suckle use the nursing bottle. With an eyedropper it’s easy to give too much fluid at once – fluid that ends up in the lungs and can cause pneumonia. If the fluid ends up in the lungs gently hold the kitten upside down to let the fluid drain out until the choking subsides.  

 orphaned kitten feeding from bottle

Ideally the kitten will be face down on a towel or pillow so it can cling as naturally as possible while nursing. Keeping the bottle at a 45 degree angle helps keep air from getting to the kitten. When the tummy is rounded withdraw the bottle – overfeeding isn’t good.

 

Initially kittens should be fed every 3-4 hours then as they get older 6-8 hours is enough.

 
Kittens also needs help with stimulation of the bladder and bowels. The mother naturally licks the kitten to do this but we can duplicate it with a moistened cotton ball, cleaning thoroughly under the tail as the kitten goes. Using a damp towelette groom them, again duplicating the mother licking them as they nurse.

 

Along with the physical care the orphan kittens need to be held and snuggled. There is no substitute for the mother cat’s attention but as much as can be the time being with someone makes a difference to the growing but still helpless kittens. Allow them to sleep as they naturally do as much as possible.

 

At about three weeks they can start nibbling wet food or moistened solid food. They must be kept extremely clean the first few weeks especially if they did not receive colostrum. Kittens will sleep a great deal the first few weeks and should be allowed to do so. During this time keep handling to a minimum so their food can go towards growing and survival.

Raising orphan kittens can be a difficult, uphill battle but the reward in a healthy kitten that becomes a beautiful cat is beyond the countless hours put in to insure survival.




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