hand-rearing kittens – newborn to three weeks

I have written before on kitten needs in terms of feeding them. Because of the recent surge in kittens at Ubi Kuching Project, Aswat has been busy feeding Animalac milk to the kitties while they rehabiliate at Angels, alongside solid food.

Hand-rearing kittens is a big responsibility if the kitty you’ve got is an orphan. If the kitten is between newborn to three weeks of age, they will be needing milk very often, round-the-clock, at a rate of one- to three-hours per feeding. Thankfully, the kittens at Angels are already three-weeks old and have been eating canned food as well.

Orphaned kittens need to at least have been nursed by their own mother for the first few days as this is the period where they get all their antibodies from their mother’s milk. If the mother cat is nowhere to be found, perhaps because the kittens were separated from their mother by humans, or that the mother cat died in childbirth, then hand-rearing is the only way to ensure the kittens’ survival. Another option is to tompang the kittens with another nursing mother cat, but the availability of a nursing queen may be very limited. A mother cat’s milk is better than pet milk substitute. Hand-rearing should be the option only when there is no mother cat around.

Because of the necessity of round-the-clock feeding, sending under-three-week-old kittens (the age of partial-weaning and solid food experimentation) to animal shelters is not a good idea. The shelters are not likely to be able to care for them as there will not be volunteers available to feed the kittens round-the-clock. The resources are just not available to care for them, and they will likely be put to sleep to manage the problem.

If you have become saddled with the responsibility of becoming a surrogate mother to orphaned kittens, then you will need to know how to care for them. The apparatus you will need is pet milk, and either a syringe or a pet milk bottle. Aswat is a fan of using the syringe lately as it is faster to administer compared to a bottle. Also, Kendra bit off the teat of his last pet bottle and he hasn’t recommissioned a new one to replace it. We get our syringes for free from our vet. At our home, we have both. Either one will work.

You also need to keep the kitten warm. A towel, blanket or hot-water-bottle will do well, and her pen should be as draft-free as possible. Wrap the kitten up in her blanket when she is feeding.

At this delicate newborn age, mother cats also lick the kittens’ behinds to encourage them to pee and poo after drinking milk. You can replace this action by using a wipe or a tissue to stimulate the kittens to eliminate, using the same wipe to absorb and clean whatever comes out. Being on only milk, their eliminations will not be very often, so don’t worry if nothing happens, just keep at it every feeding so that when it is time to go your hand with a wipe is there to mop it up. Mother cats also clean their kittens after nursing, so after feeding, use a baby wipe to clean the kittens to get them used to this.

When they reach three weeks of age – as a marker, kittens open their eyes at about 10- to 14-days old – you should already be introducing them to kitten food and water. They will not be likely to take to it all at once. They will begin their investigation of solid food by trying a moistened kibble, licking it, and trying to dip their face in the water – with a sneeze if water gets in! All that is normal. Some kittens take to solid food faster than others. But placing the food and water there encourages them to try it out. If you have an adult cat living under the same roof, they will be learning through observing how the adults eat and drink. Once they start eating, you can reduce the milk feeding slowly, and replace the resultant reduction in moisture by adding water to their solid food. If you are not sure how much water is enough, see our article on water intake for cats for the formula.

The youngest kitten Andy and I have ever cared for was already three- to four-weeks old, so my writing on hand-rearing orphans is recording more from Aswat’s experience than my own, coupled with research. I have cared for kittens and puppies before but the mother was also around with me so my care was more centred on making sure the mother gets ample nutrition and care so that she can care for the little ones well. Aswat has hand-reared almost all kinds of animals before – including baby hamsters, as well as baby orphaned birds. So if you do have any questions on hand-rearing he would be really the best guy to ask! Contact us if you have any questions. Enjoy being milky!

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