What to do with Orphaned Kittens (pt 2)

If you missed our first blog on what to do if you find orphaned kittens, click here first to read part 1

What To Do Next – Determining their Age and Feeding Them

First things first, it’s important that you keep the kittens (and mom, if you have her) separated from your children and any family pets; the sooner you are able to get them to a vet for a check up, the better, however, it is still recommended to give mom (or the orphaned kittens) their own space for their own safety and a sense of security. Typically, a small spare bathroom or unused bathtub is the perfect place to set up shop.

Next, you need to establish a general idea of the kittens’ age.

  • A week or less: eyes are still closed, the ears will be almost flat against their head, they may still have a piece of their umbilical cord – very skinny and pink with minimal actual hair
  • 1-2 weeks old: some or all may have their eyes partially or fully open, no umbilical cord left, ears are still flat but not flush with their head; about the size of your hand or smaller, and sometimes with a little more fluff on their bodies
  • 3 weeks: all kittens’ eyes will be open, kittens will be fairly active, the ears have started standing upright more, and you may be able to see signs of teeth
  • 4-5 weeks: kittens’ eyes will no longer be a bright blue (unless that is breed specific) and they’ve begun to act like real kittens – interacting with one another, pouncing, running with more coordination, and can usually begin to eat gruel (wet food mixed with kitten formula or water). Kittens begin to show interest in the litterbox around this age (be sure to use non-clumping litter so that it does not clog their delicate digestive systems when their curiosity inevitably causes them to try eating the litter)
  • 6-7 weeks: kittens will begin acting very much like the kittens you are used to seeing and interacting with. It’s important to make sure any singletons or paired kittens (litters with only 1-2 kittens) are exposed to other animals and people so they learn proper socialization and manners
  • 8 weeks: kittens will no longer be nursing, are able to eat wet and dry kitten food, and are able to be adopted to forever homes

Once you have determined the kittens’ age, you can decide what they need to eat. NEVER GIVE KITTENS COWS MILK. Cows milk has zero nutritional value for kittens (and cats!) and will slowly starve the kittens to death and give them diarrhea, dehydrating them as well. If kittens have their mother, are nursing with no problems and are 4 weeks old or less, you do not need to worry about feeding them anything additional. 

When they begin to show interest in mom’s wet food, you may switch them to gruel. Gruel is a mixture of wet cat food and water. For more information on gruel feeding, you can watch this short but super helpful video created by Austin Pets Alive! here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFNcs3mCCUQ 

If the kittens are 4 weeks old or less, you will need to bottle-feed them every 2-3 hours. If pet or feed stores around you are closed when you find the kittens, you may use 100% goats milk as a fill-in until you are able to get to the store the next day to pick up the proper supplies. GOATS MILK ALONE WILL NOT SUSTAIN KITTENS – IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU USE KITTEN MILK REPLACEMENT FORMULA (KMR) AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Many pet stores, including Petsmart and Petco, have all the supplies and proper formula you will need. Be sure to follow the mixing and storage instructions on the formula. Once you begin the kittens on a formula (a very well trusted and widely used brand is “KMR”) it is important that you only feed them that one formula – do not mix or switch brands.

 Despite the adorable appeal, kittens should always be fed while lying on their stomachs, not on their backs, as they would were they nursing from their mother. A kitten drinking while turned upside down may aspirate (take liquid into their lungs) and suffocate rather easily. Kittens will need to be bottle-fed every 2-3 hours, even overnight, and syringe fed if they are having issues taking the bottle. It is important that kittens do not miss a feeding, as their systems are more delicate than you may think, and will fade fast. For a short, but extremely helpful tutorial on bottle feeding kittens, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lifzi3oOVo4 (This video also gives information on how and where to keep the kittens and stimulate them to use the bathroom, as well ).

Once the kitten has finished eating, you will need to help them use the bathroom. Never use a dry paper towel, toilet paper, or anything similar. The best method is with unscented baby wipes. Use the wipe to rub their bottoms in circles until it’s clear that they have peed and sometimes pooped. Make sure you clean them off well, as any left over mess will cause a skin infection. Never bathe kittens, though they can get quite messy. Kittens are unable to regulate their own body temperature, so bathing them can send their bodies into shock quickly. 

You may also use these baby wipes to clean up any milk around their faces, paws, chest, etc. 

Finally – Keep Those Kitties Warm

As mentioned above, kittens are unable to regulate their own body heat until around 6-8 weeks of age. Kittens require a constant source of heat to keep their bodies functioning properly. If you have found kittens that feel cold to the touch, it’s urgent that you place them on a heat source immediately. If you do not have a heating pad or snuggle safe disc, you may use a variety of other methods. Heating up rice in a tube sock or filling a water bottle are good options. Always be sure to place the heat source under a blanket – NEVER PLACE A KITTEN DIRECTLY ON TOP OF OR AGAINST A HEAT SOURCE. This can burn the kitten or cause him to overheat.

Kittens that are cold will not eat; you will need to warm them up before you attempt to feed them. A cold kitten will not digest food properly, nor will he eat properly, increasing his chances of choking. It’s equally important to make sure the formula you provide him is body-heat temperature and not cold (this also prevents the formula from clumping).

Kittens need a source of heat 24/7, as well as space to move away from the heat at their own discretion. If you do not have a heating pad WITHOUT an auto-shut off feature, it is important that you check their heat source regularly. A snuggle safe disc will last approximately 1-2 hours. A rice sock will last about half an hour, and a heated water bottle can last anywhere from 20-60 minutes depending on size and quality.

What You Will Need

Taking care of kittens is a big commitment that requires a very specific list of supplies. For a full list of supplies, check out the Best Friends Animal Society’s Bottle Baby Kitten Foster Handbook: http://bestfriends.org/resources/kitten-foster-manual

The basics include:

  • Kitten Milk Replacement Formula (KMR)
  • Kitten baby bottles and extra nipples
  • A heating pad with NO auto shut-off feature or a snuggle safe disc (available on Amazon)
  • Multiple baby blankets (fleece also works well) 


Note: All photos used are from Best Friends Animal Society 


Guest Post by: Sondra Davenport, Neonatal Kitten Expert


Urban Paw is an innovative pet products company providing pets with the best sleep possible. From cat huts, cat cuddlers and cat houses to dog mattresses, dog huts and dog houses, Urban Paw offers long lasting pet beds and stylish pet beds for dogs and cats. Affordable pet beds designed for comfort and style, Urban Paw is dedicated to helping cat rescues and dog rescues raise funds and awareness for animals in need.