Hand-Raising Kittens

The best possible mother for any kitten is its own natural mother! However, there are times when human intervention, to varying degrees, is necessary to save a kitten’s life. When orphaned or rescued kittens are without their natural mother, the next best thing is to find another female cat who is nursing her own litter and is willing to accept the newcomers. Of course, this is not always possible, and when that is the case, YOU must become the mother.

Your ultimate goal is to make sure that the kitten(s) grow into strong, healthy, loving adult cats. It will take a great deal of your time and attention to reach this goal; however, your dedication will be rewarded with one of the most enriching experiences in your life.

Part of Carol’s Ferals three pronged approach to ending feline overpopulation includes Kitten Care.  Please feel free to join this special facebook page that will help put you in touch with a community of people who want to learn how to best care for these most vulnerable beings in need.  Carol’s Ferals Kitten Care

You will need to focus on three main areas when raising kittens.

  1. You’ll want to create a warm, dry, clean and safe environment for them.
  2. You will need to feed them the most healthful nutrition you possibly can in the right amounts, and at the right times for their optimal growth and development.
  3. You will need to provide VERY CLOSE attention to all the factors that contribute to giving your kittens the proper overall care. Kittens need LOVE, and LOTS of it!!! Without their mother, they look to you for that love, as well as for guidance.

Keep a Journal

We really like the idea of keeping as detailed records as possible as to each kitten’s individual progress. You will be awfully busy taking care of them, and writing down their daily weights, hydration status, stool appearance, amount of food fed, and their overall appearance will provide invaluable information to you as they grow.

Materials You Will Need

  • Science Diet Dry Kitten Food
  • Soft food (poultry, never fishy)
  • Bedding
  • Toys (never string/yarn or easily ingested toys)
  • Litter (clay, not scoopable)
  • Litter boxes (shallow)
  • Litter Scoop
  • Bag Balm
  • Pedialyte
  • Preparation-H Ointment
  • Notebook for log
  • Kitten Nursing Bottle, Nipples and Cleaning Brush
  • KMR Kitten Formula
  • Snuggle Safe Warmer
  • Nesting Box / Carrier

Nesting Box / Carrier

A Nesting Box is usually sufficient with the addition of a Snuggle Safe for warmth, and clean, soft bedding. This box needs to be kept clean and dry. Kittens need a tremendous amount of sleep to grow and develop. The nesting box does not have to be elaborate, and using a cardboard box or cat carrier will work just fine.

Warmth is going to be especially vital in the first two weeks of a kittens life, as they are not able to shiver, and you may not be able to tell if they are cold. The Snuggle Safe included in your kit is very easy to use and will stay warm for up to 10 hours. Be sure to read and follow the instructions for heating (printed on the Snuggle Safe). Be sure to place it to one side of the nesting box so that the kitten(s) can move to a cooler side of box if they get too warm.

The nesting box needs to be in a quiet, private, draft-free location. Be sure that the kittens cannot get stuck under pads or bedding in the sides or corners of the box, or that they cannot climb under the layers of towels and get directly onto the heat source.

Bottle Feeding

Bottle feeding a kitten requires the following special nursers designed for hand-feeding kittens, KMR kitten formula, mixing jar, bottle cleaning brush, measuring scoop, and a funnel. Once you have everything ready and set up to feed be sure you also have plenty of soft paper towels or other soft cloths to stimulate the kitten(s) to potty. You will need to do this prior to and after feeding for each kitten. (see below for instructions on how to stimulate the kitten to eliminate)

Mixing Formula

Using the scoop, mix the formula at a 2 to 1 ratio in the mixing jar. 2 parts warm water to 1 part powdered formula. Replace lid and shake well until now lumps remain. Place funnel into top of nurser bottle and pour formula into bottle, place top of bottle, with nipple attached, onto bottle. Place a few drops of formula onto your wrist to test the warmth of the formula. It should feel a little warmer than your skin temperature. If formula is not warm enough you can place the bottle of formula into a cup of warm water to both warm it up more and to keep it warm between babies. Any unused formula may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Powdered formula may be kept in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Feeding Kittens

Gently insert the nipple into the kittens mouth – preferably while it is resting on its stomach – then slowly pull up and forward on the bottle so that the kitten will have its head slightly elevated and extended while nursing. Be sure that the kitten is actually suckling by checking the level of formula in the nurser bottle. The kitten will spit the nipple out of its mouth when it has had enough to eat.

How Much to Feed The Kitten

It’s actually better to under-feed rather than over-feed a kitten in the first few days. A bottle-fed kitten will usually stop nursing when it is full. If, however, you notice milk coming out of the kittens nose, the milk is being delivered too fast, which usually means that either the hole in the nipple is too big or you are squeezing the bottle too hard. Use caution when heating the formula in the microwave as it can cause “hotspots” in the formula. If a kitten continues to bubble its formula out of its nose each feeding contact us immediately. An average meal can vary from kitten to kitten.

  • Week 1: Newborn kittens during their first week need to consume about 32cc of formula per day. This amount should be spread out into about 10 feedings, spaced every 2 to 2 and a half hours around the clock.
  • Week 2: about 55cc of formula per day. You can cut back on the frequency of feedings to every 3-4 hours, if the kitten is steadily gaining weight.
  • Week 3: about 80cc of formula per day.
  • Week 4: about 100cc per day (every 4-5 hours)
  • Week 5: about 125cc per day (every 5-6 hours)Kittens that are hungry and need feeding will cry continuously, move their heads from side side and may even suckle on each other or objects in the nest box.

How to Burp a Kitten

After each feeding you will need to burp the kitten to release any air they may have swallowed during nursing. If this air is not released it can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. There are 2 methods to choose from to burp the kitten.

  • Hold the kitten upright with its tummy against your shoulder and pat it gently, but firmly on its back until it burps.
  • Hold the kitten with its tummy against the palm of your hand and gently, yet firmly, pat its back until it burps.

If the kitten should bloat or become colicky add a few drops of infant anti colic drops such as ‘Equate Infants’ Gas Relief’ from WalMart, to the formula.

A steady weight gain of about 10 grams, (1/3 of an ounce), per day is recommended, but do not be surprised if a kitten stays at the same weight for a day or two, then suddenly the weight gains are seen.

After feeding, burping, stimulating and weighing the kitten(s), check to see if the bedding in the nest box needs to be changed and that the temperature is correct. Then, put the kitten(s) back in the nest box so that they can sleep. A properly fed kitten will sleep through to the next feeding.

Stimulating the Kitten to Eliminate

Usually kittens will have a couple of stools per day which are firm, yellowish brown, with a jam-like consistency, if they are being fed properly. Prior to and after each feeding you will need to gently massage and stimulate the anus and genital area with a clean cotton ball, kleenex, paper towel or soft cloth moistened with warm water. This will cause the kitten to urinate and have a bowel movement and it is very important that you continue to do this for the kitten until it is definitely using the litter box on its own, even though many kittens can control their own bowel movements at about ten days old.

Be very gentle when you do this as the skin in these areas is very delicate and may become raw or sore from your efforts. If this happens, apply a tiny dab of Preparation H ointment to the affected area after each stimulation.

Don’t worry if no stool is produced after every feeding and sometimes they may even skip a day. This should be fine as long as the kitten is growing, eating well, not showing any signs of distress and is still urinating. By the time the kitten is three weeks old it should be able to start using the litter box on its own.


What does a loose and/or yellow stool mean?

This may indicate a mild case of overfeeding. Try diluting the formula strength with liquid, unflavored Pedialyte by about 1/3 until the stool returns to normal, then gradually bring the formula back to full strength. Because Pedialyte expires soon after it is opened, we suggest pouring it into ice cube trays, freezing it and using a cube or two as needed.

What does a loose and/or greenish color stool mean?

This would be indicative that the food is moving too quickly through the kitten’s system, and the bile is not being absorbed, and is probably attributed to moderate overfeeding. Cut the formula back with Pedialyte or bottled water, and check with us to see if you need to give some Bene Bac until the problem is cleared up.

What about stools that look like cottage cheese?

In this case, either the formula strength is too rich, there is severe overfeeding, or the kitten may have a bacterial infection. Check with us to see if the kitten needs to be seen by a Veterinarian.

What if the kitten is straining or constipated?

In this case, you would want to increase the strength of the formula, and feed slightly smaller amounts, but feed more frequently. If the kitten has a swollen abdomen and hasn’t passed a bowel movement in over a day, you may try olive oil given by mouth (3 drops per ounce of body weight).

Weaning: You Are Almost There!

Kittens even from the same litter can differ widely as to when they start accepting solid foods (the weaning process). At about three and a half to four weeks old, most kittens have almost all of their kitten teeth in and will start to express some interest in solid foods. By five weeks of age the kitten has all their kitten teeth in and should be weaned off of the bottle.

Be sure to treat this weaning time as a positive experience, so the kitten will not be frightened. Start by offering some formula on your finger. If the kitten does not lick it off, then you should gently smear the formula on its mouth, being careful not to get the formula on its nose or restrict its breathing. The kitten will definitely clean itself, and get the formula that way.

Take It Slow When Weaning Kittens

It is important to remember how delicate the kitten’s digestive system is and how easily it can get upset. Taking it very slowly, continue to work on the kittens lapping skills, by using your finger, and encouraging the kitten to lap up formula from your finger. The next step is to gradually add some slightly warmed pate’ style canned kitten food, or a/d canned food to the formula, making a ‘gruel’ out of it. Never, ever use fish flavored canned food. Do not use human baby food, it is too low in calcium and vitamins. Continue working with the kitten four times a day and supplement with a bottle to be sure the kitten is getting adequate nutrition per day.

Once kittens are eating this ‘gruel’ well, keep the gruel very moist with bottled water or Pedialyte, and gradually decrease the amount of formula while increasing the amount of canned food. Be sure to keep dry Science Diet Kitten food constantly available, both moistened and dry. To moisten the dry food place 1 cup of dry in a container and add enough warm water to just cover the food. Set this aside to let the water be absorbed. This will also make a little gravy, (flavored water). At night you can leave some of the dry and moistened dry out for the kittens to eat at night when they get hungry. Be sure there is always a bowl of water available for the kittens.

Hydration is Important

One of the most important things to always check with these kittens is dehydration. The easiest way to check the hydration of the kittens is to grasp the skin firmly but gently between the shoulder blades and lift it straight and release it. Kitten skin that is well hydrated drops back down within a second or less. The longer it takes for the skin to drop back down the more dehydrated the kitten is. In severely dehydrated kittens subcutaneous fluids may be necessary. We suggest you contact a veterinarian immediately.

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