While there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of cats dying in the shelter system, statistics indicate that about 1.4 million cats are still killed each year. The most challenging residents for many municipal shelters are neonatal kittens (newborn to one month old). Bottle baby foster folks are the front lines of increasing this age group’s save rate. Bottle feeding kittens is a science and an art: you need the right tools, proper nutrition, a stringent schedule and plenty of patience. It can’t be stressed enough — knowing how to bottle feed kittens will help save precious feline lives. Let’s dive into what to feed, when to feed and how to bottle feed kittens!
Can bottle feeding kittens drink cow’s milk?
First off, we must dispel a nutritional myth right away. Kittens (and cats) are lactose intolerant. Do not feed a kitten cow’s milk. If you find an abandoned stray kitten, and can’t get him to the vet or you can’t procure proper kitten milk replacer, he can be fed goat’s milk or this recipe for 24 hours.
How much to feed kittens depends on their age. His age is best determined by his weight, along with other factors, including how open his eyes and ears are, and if he is ambulatory. Newborn kitten care is all about making the right choices at the right times.
Here’s how much and how often to feed nursing kittens
- Under 1 week old: kitten weighs less than 4 ounces. Feed formula: every two to three hours.
- 7 to 10 days old: kitten weighs 4 to 6 ounces. Feed formula: every two to three hours.
- 10 to 14 days old: kitten weighs 6 to 8 ounces. Feed formula: every three hours.
- 14 to 21 days old: kitten weighs 8 to 12 ounces. Feed formula: every four hours.
- Pro-tip: kittens require 8 milliliters of formula per ounce of body weight daily.
Proper bottle protocol
While there are many experienced human moms out there who are probably well-versed in feeding newborns, we should stress that there are some similarities and differences between bottle feeding kittens and bottle feeding humans. Following the best practices when bottle feeding kittens reduces health risks.
Bottle feeding kittens — the do’s
- Feed the kitten with his belly toward the ground.
- Check the liquid’s temperature on your wrist – it should be heated until warm but not hot.
- Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle.
- Burp the kitten during and after bottle feeding (gently pat his back until he burps!).
- Sterilize the nipple and bottle after each feeding.
- Wipe his face with a warm cloth after he’s fed.
Bottle feeding kittens — the don’ts
- Don’t feed the kitten on his back!
- Avoid making the opening of the nipple any bigger — feeding too fast is deadly.
- Don’t overfeed the kitten — adhere to the weight/age guidelines (resist feeding more — overfeeding is also very dangerous).
Additional practical advice on bottle feeding kittens
- Identify each kitten (this can be done with a dab of different-colored, pet-safe nail polish on their little claws if they look alike).
- Keep a record of every kitten’s weight each day — they should be gaining weight.
- Kittens that are losing weight, crying constantly or acting lethargic should go to the vet right away.
Throughout the kitten’s nursing stage, the mother assists in his elimination. As a surrogate kitten mom, you’ll be performing this vital duty as well.
Here’s how to help kittens eliminate
- Hold the kitten securely (but not too tightly) in one hand with your palm supporting his belly.
- Make sure his feet are facing the floor.
- With your free hand, take a damp, warm (not too hot!) wash cloth and gingerly massage his back end.
- Lightly rub his behind area until he poops and pees.
- Be patient!
- Check his waste — if it’s an unusual color or consistency, get him to the vet. As per the National Kitten Coalition, the correct color and consistency is brown with a toothpaste-like consistency. Clear (mucous), any shade of red, black, orange, yellow, greenish or white require a trip to the vet’s office. Gray means a kitten needs an adjustment to his diet.
Weaning kittens — and beyond
At four weeks old, kittens begin the weaning process (transition from drinking their mother’s milk or kitten milk replacer to eating solid food). While the labor-intensive production of bottle feeding is behind you, weaning involves specific ingredients on a fixed timetable. Catster’s article on weaning kittens is a good guide to doing it right.
Whether you’re a seasoned kitten foster or a first-time kitten caregiver, bottle feeding kittens doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Just take the time to do it right, pay attention to any warning signs, and take pride in being an integral part of saving lives.
Tell us: What are your tips for bottle feeding kittens?
Thumbnail: Photography ©douglascraig | Getty Images.