When caring for a newborn kitten, there are lots of things you will need to know, especially if they don't have a mother. Here, our Torrance veterinary team shares how to care for a kitten without a mother, what can go wrong and a guide on when to bring them to their first veterinary appointment.
How to Care For a Kitten
Kittens are adorable and lovable household pets. However, they have very specific needs that will need to be taken care of. These needs are different for each stage of their life and, if something goes wrong or is missed, it can impact their overall health and longevity. Here, we talk about how you can care for your new kitty all throughout their first years.
Caring for a Newborn Kitten
When a kitten is 0 - 4 weeks old they are considered a newborn, they are still learning how to meow, walk, and even regulate their body temperature. If they have a mother, their mother will be able to do most of the work including feeding. All you would have to do is make sure the mother is in good health and that they are in a warm and safe environment. Make sure that the floor of their crate or living area is covered with a blanket and that they have a warm bed to rest on.
However, if a kitten doesn't have a mother, the first thing you should be doing is bringing them in to see a veterinarian. The vet will be able to determine the health and well-being of the kitten and can walk you through their care requirements.
Keep Your Newborn Kitten Warm
If the kitten doesn't have a mother, you will have to do more to help keep them warm by using something like a heating disk or heating pad under their crate set to low. You should make a little nest out of their blankets for the kitten to comfortably rest in. It's important that you make sure the heating pad isn't too warm to touch by touching it yourself with your hands. Also, make sure you have a part of your kitten's crate that doesn't have a heat source so they can rest there if they are too warm.
You should continue to provide your kitten with a heating source until they are about 6 weeks old because if kittens get too cold they will catch hypothermia, for this reason, their area should be kept at 85°F or 29°C.
Feeding Your Newborn Kitten
Another thing to keep in mind when caring for a newborn kitten without a mother is feeding them and ensuring they get proper nutritiion. You will have to bottle feed your kitten a special formula every 2-4 hours. Every kitten is different, so your best will be able to work with you to determine the best formula to use, how much to feed them and how frequently you should be feeding your kitten.
For kittens to grow healthily, they will need to gain about ½ ounce (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) a week. Never give your cat cow milk and always make sure you are feeding them the same formula. And, in order for your kitty to digest food properly they will have to be kept warm.
As Your Kitten Grows Older
When the kitten you are caring for is around 5/6 to 10 weeks old they should gradually stop being bottle fed or fed by their mothers and start feeding them high protein meals about 3 to 4 times a day. You can start this by pouring the formula in a food bowl and possibly adding a bit of softened hard food or canned soft food to help ease them in the process. And because their motor skills will be improving at this stage they will start becoming adventurous and you will have to keep a close eye on them to make sure they don't get themselves into trouble. They will require a lot of supervision and hands-on bonding playtime as they are between 2 -4 months old.
Your kitten will enter their adolescent days at bout 4-6 months old. This will be when they can be quite troublesome and may require some attentive behavioral training and modification. This is also the beginning of the time when you should consider having your kitten spayed or neutered (generally this should be done by the time they reach between 6 and 8 months old).
Preventive Care For Your Kitten
No matter how old your kitten is you should take them for their first veterinary appointment during the first week they are in your care. Your veterinarian will evaluate the health of your kitten as well as inform you of their dietary needs. This also provides you with the opportunity to ask any questions you may have in regards to the care of your new family member.
Making sure your kitten gets routine preventive care is essential, including wellness exams, routine vaccinations, and parasite prevention.
Regular wellness exams give your vet the opportunity to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten including their dietary requirements. Your vet will also be able to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are easier and more affordable to treat.
You also need to make sure your kitten gets all of its vaccinations and parasite prevention on schedule. Your kitten should come in for their first round of shots when they are 6 to 8 weeks old, and you should have them spayed or neutered when they are 5 to 6 months old. This prevents any serious diseases or conditions from arising in the first place.
What Can Go Wrong?
When providing care for a kitten, there are a number of things you should keep an eye out for through every stage of their first year. Any of these could indicate a health issue or even a veterinary emergency. If your see your kitten show any of the following symptoms, call your vet as soon as possible o schedule an appointment.
Here is what you need to keep an eye out in a newborn kitten:
- Refusing food (especially if being bottle-fed)
- Delays or difficulties in motor skills or coordination
When your kitten is beyond 4 weeks old, you should still keep an eye out for the signs above on top of thew following behaviors:
- Litter box usage/ not using the litter box
- Signs of play biting or aggression
- Fears and other concerning behaviors that should be managed when they are still young