How to Take Care of Kittens

Four Methods:Helping Your Female Cat Give Birth and Care for Newborns (0 to 4 Weeks)Caring for Orphan Kittens (0 to 4 Weeks)Weaning and Socializing Your Kittens (4-8 Weeks)Taking Care of an Adopted Kitten (8 Weeks and Beyond)

Having young kittens in the house is an exciting time, but it's not just a matter of feeding and cleaning up after them. The way you interact with the kittens at a young age shapes how friendly they become as adult cats. When raising newborn kittens, if everything goes well, their mother will do the hard work. Sadly, the unexpected can happen and you may be left hand-rearing the offspring, either because the mother is unable to care for them herself, or she has rejected them. This guide helps you understand the needs of growing kittens in terms of health care, feeding, and socialization.

Method 1
Helping Your Female Cat Give Birth and Care for Newborns (0 to 4 Weeks)

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    Provide a quiet place for the birth. Your female cat will chose a place where she feels safe to give birth. By all means, provide a large cardboard box, turn it on its side and line it with warm, dry bedding–but don't be disappointed if she has other ideas. Instinct tells her to find a quiet concealed spot, such as under a bed, behind a sofa, or inside a kitchen cabinet.[1]
    • To learn more about helping your cat give birth, see this article.
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    Do not disturb during the birth and first two days. The first 48 hours is a crucial time for the mother to bond with her kittens, so try not to disturb her. If she gives birth under your bed, leave her there. Moving the newborn kittens will distress the mother and in the worst scenario could cause her to reject them. Once she is firmly bonded, at around four or five days, if you feel it's necessary to move the kittens, do it then.[2]
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    Leave food, water, and cat litter in the room. The mother won't want to leave her kittens for long in the first two weeks of their life. Always put food and water within stretching distance of her nest, and if possible, offer a litter tray in the same room so that she can stay within sight and sound of the kittens.
    • If food is in another room, some mothers chose to starve rather than leave their newborn kittens to find it.[3]
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    Feed the mother extra food. She needs the extra calories to make milk for her kittens.[4]
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    Let Mom do most of the clean-ups. Instinct helps the mother to keep the nest clean. The newborn kittens do not urinate or defecate on their own, so the mother has to lick their bottoms before and after feeding to stimulate elimination. This way she keeps the nest clean. Try to disturb the nest as little as possible.
    • If the bedding becomes soiled, wait until Mom hops out for a toilet break herself to take out the dirty bedding and pop in clean.[5]
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    Check that the kittens are all nursing. If the mother cat is present, the kittens should nurse from her immediately after the last kitten is born. Newborn kittens will spend most of their time sleeping, waking up to nurse every two to three hours. If they do not appear to be nursing, or one kitten is being pushed away from the mother cat by its siblings, supplement with bottle feeding as described in Part 2.
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    Consider spaying the mother cat. Having your mother cat spayed (removing her womb) after the kittens are done nursing is highly recommended by veterinarians and humane organizations. This helps prevent the suffering of unwanted kittens, and can also have some health benefits for the spayed cat.[6]
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    Start to think about deworming the kittens. This can happen as early as two weeks if necessary. Consult a veterinarian for proper medication and dosing.[7]

Method 2
Caring for Orphan Kittens (0 to 4 Weeks)

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    Feed the kittens a milk replacement. Powdered cat milk replacer (such as Cimicat) can be purchased from the vet clinic, major pet stores, or on the Internet. Another good milk replacer is KMR. This is the cat equivalent of infant formula, with the same composition as queen's (mother's) milk. The milk replacer has guidelines as to how much to feed in each meal.
    • Do not feed cow's milk to the kitten as the lactose is likely to upset the kitten's stomach. If you have no milk replacement and a hungry kitten, offer some cooled boiled water in a dropper or syringe until you can get to the vet clinic or pet store. The water keeps the kitten hydrated and won't upset her tummy.[8]
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    Use a kitten feeding bottle with a specially designed kitten teat. You can purchase this at a vet clinic, a major pet store, or on the Internet. In an emergency use an eyedropper or a small syringe to drip the milk replacement into the kitten's mouth.[9]
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    Burp the kittens after each meal. You do this much as you would a baby: hold the kitten up straight against your shoulder, or place one hand under its belly. Gently pat and rub its back.[10]
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    Stimulate the kittens to eliminate. Before and after each feed, wipe the kitten's bottom with a paper towel or gauze pad soaked in warm water. This stimulates the kitten to go to the toilet, which otherwise she would not do.[11] Hold the kitten over a litter box and use the towel to rub the kitten's genitals and anal region after every meal. Continue to do this until the urination and defecation is over (when nothing else is coming out).
    • Rub in just one direction–rubbing back and forth is irritating.
    • Cotton balls or pads are not recommended because they shed.[12]
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    Look for signs of healthy elimination. Urine should be pale yellow and odorless, and stools should be yellowish-brown, formed in tiny logs. Dark, pungent urine is a sign of dehydration; green stool may be a sign of over-feeding, while white stool could indicate malabsorption, a serious problem. Call your vet if you have any concerns.
    • If the kitten does not urinate for 12 hours, take her to the vet's immediately.
    • Most kittens poop once a day, but individual schedules vary. Take her to the vet's if she hasn't pooped in more than two days.[13]
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    Follow the kittens' meal times. In the first two weeks of life the kitten feeds every two to three hours around the clock. The kitten will tell you she is hungry by crying and wriggling around as if hunting for a nipple. A full kitten often falls asleep while suckling and has a rounded belly. After two weeks, the feeds can be stretched out to to every three to four hours, with a gap of six hours overnight.[14]
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    Keep the kittens warm with a covered heating pad. Neonatal kittens (under two weeks of age) cannot regulate their body temperature and usually keep warm by snuggling up to their mother. You can simulate this situation by keeping them on a heated pad designed for puppies or kittens. Avoid putting them in direct contact with the pad: if the kitten is in direct contact with the heat pad, she might be at risk of either local burns or overheating. However, these pads usually come in a fleece cover so it shouldn't be a problem, except for when you remove the cover for washing, in which case substitute a towel.
    • As the kitten gets older (over two weeks), she is able to move away from the heat if she gets too hot.[15]
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    Never feed a cold kitten. If a kitten's body feels cold, you need to warm her up gradually. A kitten is cold if her ears and/or the pads of her feet feel chilly to the touch. Put your finger in her mouth: if it feels cold, the kitten's body temperature is too low, which can be life-threatening. Warm her up slowly by wrapping her in a fleece blanket and holding her next to your body, rubbing her gently with your hands for one to two hours.[16]
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    Learn more about taking care of orphaned kittens. You can start with this article. Contact a veterinarian for information and suggestions. Your vet can also provide vaccinations against common diseases and deworm the kittens.
    • Orphaned kittens may be dewormed starting at two weeks, and, depending on their situation, can be vaccinated starting anywhere from two to eight weeks. They may have weaker immune systems because, unlike other kittens, they don't get the antibodies from their mother's milk.[17]

Method 3
Weaning and Socializing Your Kittens (4-8 Weeks)

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    Start to leave out extra kitten food. If Mom's around, the weaning process (switching from mother's milk to solid food) happens naturally from about four weeks. At this point, Mom gets tired of the kittens chewing on her teats and starts to spend time apart from them. In turn, the hungry kittens investigate food options around them and usually discover Mom's food.
    • As the kittens start to take mouthfuls of her food, they begin the weaning process.[18]
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    Provide water. Kittens do not need water until they start weaning, roughly around four weeks old. Any kitten above this age, however, should have constant access to a full water bowl. Change this water whenever it gets dirty (as it tends to if kittens step and/or poop in the bowl).[19]
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    Put down kitten food for hand-reared kittens. If you've been bottle-feeding the kittens yourself, the weaning process is similar. It sometimes helps to put some milk-replacer in a saucer and put your finger just beneath the surface to teach the kitten to lap first. Then, it's a matter of mashing up some wet kitten food with the milk-replacer to make a porridge for the kitten to lap. As she gets the hang of that you can thicken up the porridge until she's happily taking most of her calories in solid form.[20]
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    Socialize your kittens by introducing them to new things. Socialization is crucial during the three-to-nine-week window. From three weeks of age, handle the kittens as much as possible everyday. Introduce them to different sights and sounds, such as the vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, men with beards, children . . . anything you can think of. During this six-week window the kitten is most open to new experiences, and what she encounters now she will accept without question as an adult, making her into a happy, well-adjusted and sociable cat.[21]
    • Use cat toys, balls, string, or other objects to play with them, but don't use objects small enough for them to swallow. (Note that kittens and cats may eat string or yarn if left unsupervised, so only allow this in your interactive play. It's a potential choking hazard.)
    • Don't teach your kittens that human fingers and hands are toys, or the kitten may continue to bite and scratch them as an adult.
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    Provide non-clumping litter. Choose a spot for the litter box carefully, as once used to it, the kittens will probably continue to use that spot. If litter-training the kittens yourself, simply place the kittens there after each meal, or whenever a kitten starts to crouch and scratch the floor in preparation for pooping. Clean the litter box at least once a day, or the kittens may stop using it.
    • Choose a box with low sides so it's easy for the kittens to get in and out.[22]
    • Avoid clumping litter, as kittens may eat the clumps, which could potentially harm their digestion.[23]
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    Keep the cat inside until it has all its shots. Once your veterinarian allows it, you can let the cat outside to explore. Make sure you keep a close watch on it until you're sure it knows to return home.
    • Let the kitten outside when it's a bit hungry. Entice it back in by calling its name and showing it food. This will remind your kitten that while outdoors is fun, its final destination will always be your home.
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    Give kittens away responsibly. If selling or giving away the kittens, you should wait until they are at least eight weeks old, but twelve weeks old is preferred. Take them to a vet and start their shots before they leave you. Always follow-up with the new owners to make sure the kitten is getting her shots and is scheduled to be spayed or neutered. Exchange phone numbers with the new owners so you can confirm your kitten is in good hands, or in case the owners want to return her (at least you can help her find another home).

Method 4
Taking Care of an Adopted Kitten (8 Weeks and Beyond)

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    Ask the breeder or shelter for a blanket that smells like the kitten's mother and siblings. These smells help to give the kitten comfort while she settles into her new home.[24]
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    Ask what kind of food the kitten's been eating. Provide this for the first few days so that you don't make too many changes at once.[25] When the kitten has settled in, this is your chance to change her food to one of your choosing, though do it gradually: replace a small quantity of her former food with the new food, increasing the amount slowly over the course of a week.[26]
    • If the kitten is eating dry kibble, leave a bowl out all day. If she is eating wet food, give her small meals every six hours.[27]
    • Continue to feed kitten food, not adult cat food, until one year of age.[28]
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    Provide water. Kittens above four weeks of age need water, so clean water should always be available.
    • Cats tend to be more interested in water that is not next to their food bowl. Encourage drinking by placing water bowls in different spots through the house.
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    Introduce the kitten to your house slowly. Expose the kitten to just one room initially: the whole house will be too overwhelming on the first day. Set up a bed (preferably one that has sides and a roof so the kitten feels safe in a nest), with food and water in one corner of the room, and a litter tray in the opposite corner. Show the kitten where her facilities are, and then leave her to rest. It's been a big day for the little kitten so let her adjust and sleep for a few hours.[29]
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    Give the kitten as much attention as you can. Spend as much time as possible grooming, playing, fussing and interacting with the kitten. This helps her to grow into a well-socialized, friendly adult.[30]
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    Keep the kitten and your possessions safe. Keep electrical cords and devices out of the kitten's reach to avoid her chewing on them. Child locks may be a wise investment for low cabinets if you have a particularly inquisitive kitten.
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    Plan a vet visit. At nine weeks old the kitten can have her first vaccination. This is the ideal time for a vet to examine her, worm her and start vaccinations. The basic kitten vaccine includes protection against cat flu and infectious enteritis. There is also the option to vaccinate against feline leukemia.[31]


  • Introduce the kittens to your household slowly. Kittens under two weeks old should be kept out of reach of other pets, except for the mother cat if present, and handled only when necessary.[32] Older kittens should be left in the nest and approached by only one person at a time, until they are calm and no longer hiding from people.
  • When introducing a kitten to another pet, hold the kitten in your arms and have another person hold the other animal. Allow the other animal to sniff or lick the kitten, then let the kitten hide if it wants to.
  • Always wash hands with soap and water (and no other products) before and after handling a kitten under eight weeks old. Before this age, a kitten, especially one from a rescue shelter, is likely to have diseases it could transmit to you, and a weak immune system that can pick up bacteria from unclean hands.
  • When you pick up any cat be sure to support all of its feet. Eventually you will learn how each individual cat prefers to be held, but initially the four-foot support rule keeps cats and kittens calmer and less likely to scratch and panic.
  • Provide a scratching post. Cats love to use their claws, and you'd probably rather have a torn-up scratching post than a shredded couch. You may instead want to throw in an old piece of carpet in their play area or staple it to an upright board.
  • Don't ever hit your cat. This can scare your cat, and maybe even injure her. Use positive reinforcement instead to encourage good behavior. Give treats and praise your cat whenever she does something good, like using the scratching post.
  • If you let your kittens go outside, only do so within an area surrounded by a high fence, and keep them supervised. Be aware of the weather, as you don't want your kittens to become soaked, cold or scared.
  • Try to use dangly toys, it'll help them learn how to hunt.
  • Wait until your cat is a bit older to sleep in your bed she/he may not be comfortable with it and want to stay in their bed.
  • Keep in mind that kittens are born blind. Make sure that the immediate surroundings are safe so the kittens won't hurt themselves by bumping into edgy objects or falling.
  • Be careful your kitten(s) may scratch the wallpaper if you have it in your house.Put something so that the kitten(s) do not scratch your wallpaper.
  • Try and create a new activity for your kitten once in a while, so that they wouldn't get bored doing the same thing every day.
  • If your cat meows at you and rubs on you a lot, she is probably hungry and needs to be fed. It's important that they get fed.
  • Do everything carefully at first, especially with a very young kitten.


  • Kittens will play with nearly everything. Make sure that sharp or easy-to-swallow items are kept away from them.
  • The information in this article should never replace professional advice from a veterinarian. When in doubt, call your vet!
  • If you are allergic to cats, or kittens, it is strongly recommended not to live with them. Living with cats may make your allergies worse or lead to asthma.

Things You'll Need

  • Litter box
  • Bag of non-clumping litter
  • Cat toys
  • Water and food bowls
  • Kitten formula
  • Kitten feeding bottle (alternatively, a dropper or syringe)
  • Kitten food (wet and/or dry)
  • Paper towels
  • Cat bed
  • Hairbrush (if it's a long-haired kitten)
  • Scratching post
  • Fresh, clean water

Sources and Citations

  1. Reproduction in the Dog and Cat. Christianseen. Publisher: Bailliere Tindall.
  2. Reproduction in the Dog and Cat. Christianseen. Publisher: Bailliere Tindall.
  3. Reproduction in the Dog and Cat. Christianseen. Publisher: Bailliere Tindall.

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Article Info

Categories: Feline Health