How to Feed a Newborn Kitten

Two Parts:Preparing to Feed a Newborn KittenFeeding the Kitten

Ideally, kittens should stay near and nurse from their mother cat for up to eight weeks prior to being separated and/or adopted. In the case of a rescue, death of the natural mother, or when circumstances cause cat mothers to reject one or more of her litter, human intervention is necessary. There are many things to consider if you find yourself needing to feed a newborn kitten. Careful consideration and preparation will make bottle feeding a kitten a soothing and comfortable experience, and help result in a happy, healthy pet.

Part 1
Preparing to Feed a Newborn Kitten

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    Try to find a nursing mother feline (queen). Consult with local veterinarians and shelters to find out if there is a nursing mother cat who may be able to take on the kitten. Mother's milk is best for any baby mammal, and prior to attempting to bottle feed a kitten with supplemental formulas, it is recommended to seek out nursing cat that could take the place of the absent or unable mother.[1]
    • Be aware that even if you find a cat able to nurse the young kitten, she may not accept the kitten. Always remain present when the nursing cat interacts with your kitten; there is a risk that a queen might attempt to murder a kitten that she rejects.
    • If you are lucky enough to find a foster mother, attempt to disguise the smell of the new kitten. Try stroking the foster mother's own kittens and then stroke your own kitten. This will help transfer the smell of the mother's own litter to your newborn kitten. A queen (the cat) is more likely to reject the kitten if it smells totally unfamiliar, so by "disguising" your kitten's scent, you're increasing the chance the queen will accept her.
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    Get milk. A newborn kitten can only digest milk, and more specifically the milk from a female cat. Feeding the wrong sort of milk, such as cow's milk, can have short-term and long-term effects, including diarrhea, dehydration, nutritional deficiencies and long-term health problems due to poor growth. You can purchase kitten milk replacement formula (KMR) at your local pet food store, vet's office, and even online. Reputable brands in the United States include Cimicat and Just Born kitten milk, but you can also consult your local vet for advice on a formula that he or she recommends and that is available where you live.[2][3]
    • Kitten milk replacement milk comes in a tub or drum and is a dry powder or liquid. You use it in much the same way you use infant formula, in that you follow the directions on the packaging which guides you as to how many scoops to use to how much water.
    • Be aware that milk sold in cartons as "cat milk" is NOT suitable. This is cow's milk with the lactose removed and is designed to make bovine milk accessible to adult cats (to fulfill our need to feed them milk, rather than any physiological need of the cats themselves.) It is not suitable for use in kittens.
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    Have a backup plan if you can't have replacement milk right away. The ideal milk is to use replacement queen's milk. If you do not have any, then use boiled water to feed the kitten and purchase some replacement milk immediately. If the kitten seems very hungry, then you can add one teaspoon of glucose powder to one cup of boiled water. However, you should only do for one feeding. Do not repeat.[4]
    • Another alternative as a stop gap until you can get some replacement milk is to use rice water, meaning the water that you cook rice in. Cook some white rice in water and strain off the liquid. This has a little starch (energy) in it and is non-laxative, and can be a temporary solution.
    • Giving water in the interim will stop the kitten getting dehydrated, and is a better compromise than feeding something (like cow's milk) which could upset her tummy and make her ill.
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    Plan your time. Remember that the younger the kitten, the higher the kitten's metabolism and the more often she needs to be fed (due to her tiny stomach). This means that you, or someone else in your household or a friend or neighbor, needs to be around all day until the kitten is old enough to begin switching over to solids.
    • A newborn kitten, technically a kitten under two weeks of age, needs feeding attention day and night until she is old enough to begin the process of switching to solids.
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    Know that you can wean an orphan kitten early. Weaning means to get the kitten off milk and introduce solids slowly. You can do this once the kitten reaches four weeks of age, when your kitten is no longer a newborn. You can tell when your kitten is no longer a newborn and is ready to be weaned and be fed solids when she starts biting at the nipple of the bottle.[5]
    • To wean your kitten from milk, place a small amount of food in her dish. If she doesn't seem ready or willing to eat it, you can add a few tablespoons of milk replacement formula or water to soften the food and encourage her interest. Make sure to always have solid food out so that your kitten can approach it when she feels ready and wants to. Over time, reduce the amount of milk you offer as you increase the amount of solids.
    • Most kittens can handle a diet of solids by seven weeks of age.
    • A kitten aged between six to 10 weeks old needs to be fed six to eight meals a day, while a kitten aged 10 weeks to six or seven months needs four meals a day and a kitten up to nine months needs three meals a day. Note that it's not until adulthood that two meals a day for a cat is acceptable.

Part 2
Feeding the Kitten

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    Gather equipment. To feed your newborn kitten you will need some sort of feeding device. If possible, you should use bottle and teat set specifically designed for use with kittens, such as the Catac bottle and teat set. The bottle itself is very small, and it has an open end at the top so the you can place a thumb over it to control the flow of milk if it is dripping too fast from the teat and overwhelming the kitten. The teat is long and narrow, which is ideal to fit inside the mouth of a newborn kitten. This allows the kitten to suckle, as if from her mother.
    • If you do not have a feeding set, then the next best option is a syringe, which you can use to drip the milk into the kitten's mouth. However, the kitten cannot suckle from a syringe, so try and buy a feeder at the earliest opportunity.
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    Sterilize the equipment. It is crucial to keep all your equipment sterile. Simply washing everything is insufficient. Consider using a steam sterilizer (as for a baby's bottles) or immerse the equipment in a dilution of Milton sterilizing fluid in a bowl.[6]
    • You can purchase Milton sterilizing fluid from drug stores, usually find in the baby aisle. Follow the directions on the packaging. If you do opt to sterilize your cat feeding equipment with the Milton fluid, be sure to rinse everything off with boiled water prior to use in order to wash away any residue of the sterilizing solution.
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    Make and heat the milk. If using liquid formula, open the can and measure the required amount according to the packaging. If using powder formula, follow the directions on the packaging regarding how many scoops and how much water to use. Always follow the directions closely because too concentrated a milk could cause stomach upset, while too strong a milk lacks nutrition for your kitten.
    • Always make the milk up fresh for each feed. The milk does not contain preservatives and newborn kittens have weak immune systems, so any bacterial contamination of milk that stands around could be disastrous for the kitten's health.
    • Do not put the formula in the microwave; this will cause bubbles of very hot or very cold formula to form in the bottle. Instead, put the formula in a container and put that into the hot water.
    • Make sure the milk is at the correct temperature - neither cold nor hot. Ideally, the milk should be at body temperature, so when you place a few drops of it onto the back of your hand, it feels about the same temperature as your skin. If it is too hot, the milk could burn your kitten's mouth.
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    Check your kitten's body temperature. When you are ready to feed the kitten, make sure she is warm. To some degree, a kitten's rate of digestion depends on her temperature. If she is cool, her digestion is sluggish and the milk will sit in her stomach and ferment. Newborns usually snuggle close to mum and tend to run quite hot. The ideal temperature is 96-100 degrees F for the first three weeks of life.[7]
    • Try to keep your kitten at this temperature by using a heat pad underneath a well insulated nest. If you don't have a heat pad, then use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to prevent direct contact with the hot bottle which could cause burns. Replenish the hot water bottle as often as needed to keep it warm.[8]
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    Feed the kitten. Sit in a comfortable chair with a towel folded on your lap. Position the kitten similarly to the way he would nurse from his mother, with her head straight, feet down, and stomach resting. When attempting to feed your kitten for the first time, get a drip of milk on the end of the syringe or teat. Hold it very close to the kitten's mouth. Her sense of smell is strong, and she will likely smell the milk and try put her mouth against it.[9]
    • If using a teat, at this point give her a bit of help by wriggling the teat into her open mouth. Nature should then take over and she starts to suck.
    • If using a syringe, gently press on the plunger to release a drop into her mouth. Let her swallow between drops. Never flood her mouth with milk as she may well breath the milk, get milk in the lungs and develop pneumonia, which is usually fatal in young kittens. Just take your time and go slowly.[10]
    • The kitten's posture is very important. Never feed a kitten on her back like a human baby and always make sure sure the kitten is resting on something when feeding. Make sure that the head is not raised as this could cause aspiration, the inhaling of formula into the lungs, which is serious and can even be fatal.[11]
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    Feed the correct amount. Cimicat and other KMRs come with a guide to how much to feed and how often on the pack. Follow the instructions on the package. Here are some general guidelines about how much to feed your kitten in the first few weeks of her life and how often:[12] .
    • One to three days: 2.5ml of KMR every two hours
    • Four to seven days: 5ml of KMR 10 to 12 feeds a day
    • Six to 10 days: 5 to 7.5ml KMR 10 feeds a day
    • 11 to 14 days: 10 to 12.5ml KMR every three hours
    • 15 to 21 days: 10 ml eight times daily
    • 21 days and beyond: 7.5 to 25 ml, three to four times daily, in addition to introducing solid food
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    Watch for signals. When learning how and practicing to bottle feed a kitten, keep in mind that overfeeding or feeding improperly can cause problems with respiration. Observe your kitten during feedings to ensure that no milk is coming through the nose or the stomach does not feel distended.
    • In terms of quantity, if you have a greedy kitten and she keeps sucking even though she's exceeded the recommended amount, look at her tummy. If her belly is tight and distended, then stop feeding. This is a sign that her stomach is full but that she just hasn't realized it yet. Do not overfeed.[13]
    • If your kitten takes less than the recommended amount, don't panic. This may be the kitten's individual preference. If you are worried she hasn't taken enough, rather than push her to take more and risk flooding her lungs, stop, let her rest and try again an hour or so later. [14]
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    Remain calm and relaxed. It is important to remain patient and calm while bottle feeding a kitten to ensure that the kitten is at ease. In addition, allow the kitten to take his time while bottle feeding to avoid overeating or problems with digestion.
    • Encourage and stimulate burping by holding the kitten with his back resting against your body and gently rubbing his stomach. In the queen and kitten relationship, the mother will groom the kitten to help him pass wind and stools. Don't be surprised by either result – it's a good sign![15]
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    Clean your kitten's bottom. Immediately after each feed the mother cat licks her kittens' anus and genital areas, to encourage them to urinate and defecate. The mother actually laps up their excretions, which is nature's way of avoiding a soiled nest which could attract predators. Without the mother, however, you need to step in. Use damp cotton wool and wipe it over the anal area in a licking motion. As the kitten relieves herself, wipe it away with the cotton wool. Finish with a clean piece of cotton wool to clean up her bottom, and then you are done until the next feed.[16][17]
    • This is an important step in feeding your kitten successfully. If you do not mimic the mother's stimulation of her kitten's elimination, your kitten will not empty her bladder and bowels and can become very ill.
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    Return the kitten to her warm bed or box to rest. Continue with the regular feeding schedule every day for the coming weeks until weaning onto solids is appropriate. At this time, speak to your vet about an appropriate weaning diet.
    • Add solid foods such as soft, canned foods and hard foods to the diet when the kitten is around four weeks old. Some kittens will bottle feed for up to eight weeks and this progress should be communicated with a veterinary professional.


  • Weigh your kitten every day for the first two weeks. You can use a food scale, but be sure to cover it with a clean cloth or rag. Your kitten should gain about half an ounce every day in these first two weeks. Keep careful track of weight gain or loss over the course of feeding and consult with a vet if the kitten is losing or gaining weight too rapidly.[18]
  • It's best to leave kittens to their mother until they are at least 6 weeks old, although eight to 10 weeks is even kinder. Breeders recommend waiting until a kitten is 12 weeks old before finding it a new home. There can be complications from orphaning a kitten; kittens may become unsociable, develop health issues, and their overall development and well-being can be adversely affected.[19]
  • Consult a veterinarian if the kitten won't eat at all as this could be a sign of sickness.

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