There's a lot to know if you're caring for a kitten, especially if the mother isn't nearby. Here, our Chino Hills vets outline the details for caring for a new kitten during the first year of their life.
How to Take Care of a Baby 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.
How to Take Care of a Newborn Kitten Without a Mother
Between 0 - 4 weeks of age your tiny feline friend is considered to be a newborn. During this period they will be learning to meow, walk, and perform basic functions. If the mother is present she will know what to do and your responsibilities would just include monitoring the kittens and ensuring mom and babies are in a warm and safe environment. However,
However, if you're caring for a kitten that does not have a mother you will have a lot more responsibility. The first thing you should do is take the kitten to the 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 keep the kitten warm than just provide a bed or blankets. You may consider putting a heating disk in the crate or putting a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their care. Be sure to check the heat source isn't too hot (you should be able to comfortably place and keep your hand on it) and that your kitten has an area in their cage or crate they can go to that isn't directly near the heat source.
Your kitten will require this heat source until they are about 6 weeks of age. Until that point your kitten is susceptible to hypothermia and their cage area should be kept at around 85ºF or 29ºC.
You should also make a little nest out of blankets for your kitten to lay in for comfort.
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) of weight 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. 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 will gradually stop bottle feeding and begin eating high protein meals between 3-4 times a day. To ease them into the process of eating regular cat food you should pour some of their kitten formula into a bowl and mix it with a small portion of softened hard food or canned kitten food.
It's also around this time that your kitten will start to become adventurous—this means you'll have to keep a close eye on them to ensure they don't get into trouble. Kittens require a lot of supervision and hands-on playtime between the ages of 2 - 4 months.
Preventive Care For Your Kitten
Regardless of your kitten's age, you should take them to 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.
After this initial appointment, your kitten will return regularly for the crucial first round of vaccinations that all cats should receive during their first year in life. While your vet is administering their vaccinations they will also chat with you about any necessary parasite preventives your cat may require.
During their first year of life, typically between 6-8 months, your kitten should undergo a spay or neuter procedure. These common veterinary surgeries prevent unwanted litters, can protect your cat from some forms of cancer, and also help prevent unwanted behavior such as aggression or roaming.
After your kitten hits the year mark they will need to visit the vet less often (unless an issue comes up), but should still go at least annually for routine preventive care. Their annual preventive care will consist of wellness exams, vaccine booster shots, and parasite preventive measures.
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 that might 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.
In newborn kittens:
- 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.