I found a newborn kitten... now what?

Thank you for wanting to help a kitten in need! Here are some tips to help keep the kitten safe and healthy until you are able to get her into the hands of an experienced bottle feeder. 

Is the kitten truly an orphan?

Each year, many kittens are orphaned by people who have the best intentions. If you have found kittens all alone, it doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't being taken care of by their mama. After all, she has to leave to find food, right? And she can't very well take a litter of kittens with her to hunt. If mama is nursing them and the environment is relatively safe, it's best for them to stay with her. Kittens who have truly been orphaned may show one or more of these signs: 

  • Cold and/or wet

  • Filthy or greasy

  • Very vocal and crying for food

  • Visibly injured or ill (eyes crusted shut, open wound, etc.)

  • Pale gums

  • An excessive amount of fleas

  • Maggots

Is the kitten experiencing a health emergency?

The kitten will need to see a veterinarian right away if she is lethargic, has open wounds, or if you see maggots in any orifice (nose, rectum, a wound, etc.)

Make sure the kitten is WARM

Kittens can't regulate their own body temperatures for the first few weeks of their lives and being too cold can be deadly for a newborn. You may instinctually want to feed hungry kittens right away, but it's important to get them warm first because a kitten won't be able to properly digest formula if they're cold. 

  • Give the kitten some sort of heat source to cuddle up to (electric heating pad, hot water bottle, or a sock filled with uncooked rice and microwaved)

  • Always put a layer of blankets between the kitten and the heat source so they don't get burned

  • Always leave some room where the kitten can move away from the heat source if they get too hot

  • Attempting to warm a kitten against your own skin may help temporarily until you can find a stronger heat source like the ones listed above, but the natural body temperature of a human is lower than that of a kitten, so it is not a good long term solution. 

Feed the kitten correctly

Again, don't feed the kitten until she is warm or she won't be able to properly digest the food. Once you're ready, feed the kitten the right kind of food and feed her in the right position. 

  • Feed the kitten a formula that is made specifically for kittens. You can find this at most pet stores and even in some chain stores like Wal-mart. It will probably be called KMR (for Kitten Milk Replacement). DO NOT use a product called 'Cat-sip' which is a treat for cats and will not meet the nutritional needs of a kitten. 

  • DO NOT feed the kitten cow's milk, which will cause diarrhea

  • In a pinch you can use goat's milk, though we wouldn't suggest feeding goat's milk long term since it doesn't have as much fat as the formula

  • If you buy a bottle feeding kit, know that most come with nipples that DO NOT already have holes cut into them. You will have to cut the hole with scissors, a needle, or a razor. The hole should be small enough so that the milk doesn't pour out when you turn the bottle over, but large enough so that the milk slowly drips out without you squeezing the bottle. 

  • Feed kittens in a position that is close to how they would nurse from their mom -- belly down. Never feed a kitten on her back because it can cause the milk to go into her lungs instead of her belly which can cause pneumonia or drowning. 

  • Refrigerate unused formula between meals and discard any unused formula after 24 hours to avoid bacterial growth. 

Help the kitten potty

Before or after each meal, use a tissue, unscented baby wipe, or clean cloth to gently rub the kitten's genital and anal area to help them use the bathroom. The kitten should pee at every meal but may poop only once per day. 

  • The pee should be clear or light yellow. Dark or strongly smelling pee may be signs of dehydration or an infection (both will require medical care)

  • A healthy kitten's poop will be brown and about the texture of toothpaste

  • A kitten who is transitioning from mama's milk to formula may not poop for a few days. It's fine as long as her belly isn't distended and if she is not straining to try to poop. 

Finally, give lots of love!

It's hard for kittens to be newly separated from the warmth and love of their feline mama. Whether you only have the kittens for a few hours until you're able to get them to a rescue or whether you are raising them through weaning, it's important to give lots of love and cuddles. Pro tip: kittens love being softly groomed with a new, clean toothbrush! 

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