There's a lot to know if you're caring for a kitten, especially if the mother isn't nearby. Below, our Orlando vets explain how to take care of a newborn kitten without a mother, what can go wrong, and when to take them to the vet.
How to Take Care of a Kitten
Kittens are adorable and lovable household pets, however, they have very specific needs that have to be taken care of. These needs are different for every 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 furry friend during their kitten years.
Caring for a Newborn Kitten
Between 0 - 4 weeks of age your tiny feline friend is considered to be a newborn. At this stage they are still learning how to meow, walk, and even regulate their body temperature. If their mother is present, their she 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 the floor of their crate/area is covered with a blanket, and they have a warm bed to lay on. However, if the kitten does not have a mother the first thing you should do is take them to see a vet. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the health of the kitten and inform you of their requirements.
Warmth is Vital
If the kitten doesn't have a mother you will have to do more to help keep them warm by using something such as putting a heating disk in the crate or putting a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their cage. You should also make a little nest out of blankets for the kitten to lay in for comfort. It's important that you make sure that the heating pad isn't too hot by touching it with your hands and providing a comfortable place in your kitten's cage/crate that does not have a heating item so they can go there if they get 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 85oF or 29oC.
Feeding Your Newborn Kitten
Of course, when caring for a newborn kitten without a mother you will need to feed them and provide them with proper nutrition. You will have to bottle feed your kitten a special kitten formula every 2-4 hours. Every kitten is different, your veterinarian will be able to inform you of the best formula to use, how much to feed them and how frequently you should be feeding your kitten. In order for kittens to grow healthily, they will need to gain approximately 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.
Caring for a Slightly Older Kitten
When the kitten you are caring for is around 6 - 10 weeks old they should gradually stop bottle feeding and begin eating high protein meals about 3 to 4 times a day. You can start this by pouring the kitten formula in a food bowl and possibly adding a bit of softened hard food or canned kitten to help ease them into the process.
Around this time their motor skills will begin improving and they will start becoming adventurous. That means you will need 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 between the ages of 2 -4 months.
Once your kitten is about 4 - 6 months old they will start entering their adolescence. This is when they are generally very mischievous and might require some behavioral modification, this is the ideal time to speak to your vet about having your kitten spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering before 6 - 8 months of age can help to avoid some undesirable behaviors being established.
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 caring for a kitten there are many things you need to keep an eye out for in every stage of your kitten's life, which could indicate a problem or even a veterinary emergency. If you see your kitten displaying any of the following signs call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment.
Here is what you need to keep an eye out in a newborn kitten:
- Delays or difficulties in motor skills or coordination
- Refusing food (especially if being bottle-fed)
When your kitten is 4 weeks old or older you still need to keep an eye out for the signs above in addition to these behavioral signs:
- 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
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.