Kittens are much more precocious than human babies and in a few months can fend for themselves. However, during the first month, and particularly the first three weeks, they need their mother’s care in order to survive. Sometimes it happens that a cat rejects a kitten, or she does not have enough milk to feed all of them, or she cannot take care of them because of a medical problem. Unfortunately, the most frequent cause of kittens being orphaned is that the unscrupulous owners of cats that have become pregnant accidentally take them away and abandon them to their fate, often wrapped in a bag or inside a box.
For abandoned or rejected newborn cats to survive requires:
- an appropriate environment
- good quantity and quality of nutrients
- a regular feeding schedule
- stimulus causing defecation and urination
The work will be much lighter if you get their mother or a substitute cat to take care of them, clean them and keep them warm, so you will only have to feed them. It is very common for a cat to adopt another kitten if it is the same size as her own. Caring for an orphaned cat is a time-consuming and demanding task, but it is very rewarding to see them grow up healthy and strong.
Milk for newborn cats
Whenever possible, newborn cats should be allowed to drink their mother’s milk for the first 12 hours, as this is when they obtain colostrum. This is a milk that looks watery and contains the antibodies that will protect the kitten against infectious diseases during the first 4 to 6 weeks of life. After the first 24 hours, babies are no longer able to absorb these antibodies in their intestine.
How to give it to them?
If the mother is not available, you will have to feed the kittens with a special bottle that you can get from Tiendanimal. It is important not to lay the kitten on its back, but on its abdomen with its head higher than its tail. This way it will be able to swallow the milk without choking. The hole in the nipple should allow the milk to come out slowly one drop at a time when you put it down. If a kitten is very weak and cannot suckle, you may want to have a veterinarian place a nasogastric tube and teach you how to use it so that you can feed it until it is stronger.
What milk can newborn cats drink?
The best milk you can give your cat is formulated specially for cats. It contains the exact nutrients the kitten needs to grow. It is best to avoid cow’s milk or use a lactose-free milk to avoid giving diarrhea. It is best to prepare a small amount, just for one or two days, so that it is always fresh. A recipe you can use if you are unexpectedly unable to buy formula milk is as follows: 90 ml condensed milk, 90 ml water, 120 ml whole natural yogurt (not skimmed), 3 egg yolks (do not add the egg whites). Keep it in the refrigerator and clean and disinfect the bottle well after each feeding. Before giving the ration to newborn cats, warm the milk to body temperature, approximately 38ºC, and shake it well as you would give it to a human baby.
How much milk should kittens drink?
The first week the kittens should drink every day about 13 ml of milk per 100 g of weight; in the second week it is increased to 17 ml, then they take 20 ml per day per 100 g of weight in the third week. These amounts are divided in equal doses 8 times a day. In general, it is better to give a little less than too much to avoid digestive disorders in the first weeks, especially in the first two or three days, when it is better to give less quantity in more feedings.
Healthy newborn cats weigh between 100 and 120 grams and should gain between 50 and 100 g per week. They should look plump and firm, be warm, calm and sleep most of the time. They are born with their eyes completely closed and open them only at 15 days of age. If they are sick you will notice a weak muscle tone, you will see them skinny and very dry and “stuck” to the body, they cry a lot because of hunger, cold or discomfort. If they do not receive assistance, they become comatose and die.
Care of newborn cats
In the first week of life, babies are not able to maintain their body temperature, so they need an environment between 30 and 32ºC (86 and 90ºF). It is not enough to cover them with a blanket; a heating pad or a bag or bottle with warm water or any other safe source of heat must be added. In the second week, the temperature can be lowered to 24ºC, and by the fourth week they can regulate their temperature even if the environment is colder.
Another important aspect is the stimulation of the anogenital area after each feeding. The mother licks the newborn cats in this area to stimulate defecation and urination, so it is necessary to replace her in this activity. The result is obtained by rubbing this area with a wet cotton swab and manually stimulating with a gentle downward massage on the abdomen. After the third week the kittens no longer need this stimulation to evacuate. Once a week the whole body should be cleaned with a warm wet cloth, simulating the mother’s licking.
At around 20-25 days of age, kittens can start eating from a dish. You can give them a food para kitten ground and moistened with lukewarm water to form a paste. When you see that the newborn cats are feeding well on their own, you can start decreasing the amount of milk until they are completely weaned at 6 to 8 weeks of age.
From the third week kittens learn to relate to other living beings. At this time it is good to pet them a lot, to accustom them to contact with people or other pets so that later they will be sociable adults with a stable temperament.
Finally, consult with your veterinarian to deworm the newborn cats in the second or third week, depending on how they are evolving and what dewormer you use. Between 6 and 8 weeks you can give the kittens up for adoption to their new homes, if you have not become so attached to them that you decide to keep them.