Caring for a newborn kitten can be daunting. The type of care you provide will depend on whether the mother is present or whether you have found this kitten on its own.
In this article, we will talk you through the essentials of kitten care, what you should keep in mind as you raise this feline through the early years of their life and how to bring up a strong, healthy and confident cat.
Is the mother present?
The first question you need to consider when caring for a newborn kitten is whether the mother is present. If she is, then there is less that you will need to do. Most cats know instinctively how to raise their young and will do all the necessary actions at all the right stages in the kitten’s life. It is your job to simply make sure they are warm, safe and protected.
But if you have found a newborn kitten that doesn’t seem to have a mother, you will need to take on all her duties. If this is a stray kitten, do make sure the mother is not coming back before taking the kitten in. If you are not careful, you could separate the mother from her young.
Keeping them warm
When considering how to care for a newborn kitten, you must remember to keep them warm. If the kitten you find is cold, you must warm their body temperature before you do anything else. You can check how cold they are by touching their paws or the tips of their ears.
Usually, you can keep a kitten warm by wrapping a hot-water bottle in a towel and allowing them to snuggle up to it. This is good practice for a few weeks. Most kittens do not leave their mother’s side when they are born and her body heat keeps them at the right temperature.
Feeding a newborn kitten
Newborn kittens who are with their mothers will feed on their mother’s milk for their first four weeks. This has all the nutrients they need and you will not need to supplement their diet.
If the mother is not present, however, you will need to think of alternatives. Please check with your vet to see what they recommend. Experienced cat shelters can also be a huge help when caring for a newborn kitten. Usually, you would try and find your kitten a foster mother who has just had a litter herself and so has plenty of milk to share.
If this is not possible, you would need a commercial milk replacer and an appropriate dispenser, like a eye-dropper or syringe. Get professional help either from your vet or from a shelter for this, as the technique matters.
A kitten’s feeding habits change week by week and as they grow. Here is how you can care for a newborn kitten’s feeding habits.
During this period, the kitten will drink their mother’s milk. If you are feeding them on a commercial kitten milk replacer, you will need to give this through a bottle or appropriate dispenser. At this age, kittens need to eat every one to two hours.
At this age, you should try and teach the kitten to drink milk out of a shallow saucer and thus wean them off the bottle. Towards the end of this period, you can start mixing in some cat food that is watered down so that they can get used to solid foods. You should feed them four to six times a day.
From here on, your kitten should be able to eat dry cat food. You are now no longer caring for a newborn kitten so to speak, and you can slowly take them off the milk replacer. Feed them around four times a day. Purina One has a range of kitten food that is not only tasty but provides your kitten with everything they need to grow and develop.
Once your cat is three months old, you should feed them three times a day.
Helping a newborn kitten poop
Newborn kittens cannot naturally relieve themselves and need some help. Mother cats have accounted for this in their feeding regimes; they lick their kittens’ abdomens and anal regions to stimulate defecation. If your kitten is without a mother, you will need to take their place in this aspect of caring for a newborn kitten.
All you need is a slightly wet washcloth, which is a good substitute for a mother cat’s tongue. Massage the anal area and the genitals until your kitten poops or urinates. Once the kitten is old enough (i.e. around four weeks old), you can start to litter-train them.
Can you hold a newborn kitten?
When considering how to care for your newborn kitten, it is important to consider when they should be introduced to humans and touch. In other words, what should be their socialisation regime?
It is usually a good idea to handle kittens with gloves if they are below two weeks of age. If they are with their mother, avoid touching them. The mother will be extremely protective. Kittens that young are vulnerable to infection and disease and you may harm them by picking them up too soon.
Once they reach two weeks of age, it is a good idea to introduce them to humans and touch (weeks two to seven are a good time for socialisation). Even here, be sensitive to the mother. If she seems upset or aggressive, honour her feelings and leave the kitten alone.
How to hold a newborn kitten
When lifting up a newborn kitten, use both your hands. Hold them from the chest and under their back legs to make sure they are fully supported. Be gentle. If they squirm, do not put them down; this teaches them that squirming means they will be released. Instead, soothe them with your voice until they calm down.
In this article, we have explored the essentials of caring for a newborn kitten. With this advice and professional help from your vet, your kitten should grow up to be strong, loving and well-socialised cat.
Next, find out more about kitten vaccinations and how they work to keep your pet protected from a wide range of diseases.