How to Feed and Care for Newborn Kittens
Having new babies in the house is a big responsibility, no matter the species. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to keep a litter of newborn kittens healthy and happy, keep reading! We’re going to discuss common health concerns and how to avoid them, even if mama is no longer around.
Common Health Concerns
The 3 most common issues with newborn kittens are:
1. Low body temperature
2. Low blood sugar
Newborn kittens need to be kept warm, especially if the mama isn’t present to keep them warm with her body heat. A heating pad on the lowest setting and wrapped with several soft towels works nicely. If you don’t have a heating pad, no worries, you can fill a few water bottles with some warm water and place them next to the kittens as a nice substitute. Make sure your heat source isn’t too hot - the kittens can be easily burned. Also, make sure the kittens can move away from the heat if they get too warm.
Don’t attempt to take the kittens’ temperatures orally or rectally, just check them frequently and make sure they are all equally warm to the touch. You’ll become familiar with their normal temperatures.
Blood Sugar and Feeding Concerns
To maintain stable blood sugar levels, newborn kittens need to be fed about every 2 hours, day and night. If they’re nursing well, their bellies should become somewhat round and they should sleep well between feedings.
If bottle feeding, be sure to use a commercially prepared formula for kittens and feed the kittens in an upright position. It’s extremely important to feed them a nutritionally balanced commercially-prepared formula, this is no time to consult with Google. Also, mama should be on a commercially prepared kitten food as she’s going to need the extra calories while she’s nursing.
To ensure that each kitten is being fed and growing appropriately, it’s a good idea to come up with some sort of system to identify each kitten separately. Try using different colored yard “collars”). Weigh each kitten daily using a kitchen scale. They should gain at least a very small amount of weight every day. Not gaining or losing weight is one of the first signs that something is wrong and the kitten should be examined by your vet.
After they eat, if mama isn’t present, the kittens will need to be stimulated to poop and pee (the mama normally does this by licking them). A cotton ball or tissue dipped in warm water and squeezed out can be used to lightly stroke them along their lower abdomen and onto the genitalia. Be sure to hold them in an upright position while doing this in case there’s any vomiting.
Kittens can become dehydrated for many reasons. The most common are not nursing or being fed frequently enough, intestinal parasites causing vomiting or diarrhea, or being fed a non-commercially prepared formula.
To check for dehydration, look for subtle changes in skin turgor or elasticity. This means that the kitten’s skin doesn’t “bounce back” normally when pinched. Be sure to check this frequently to get an idea of what their normal skin turgor looks like. A good place to check is right below the back of the neck near the shoulder blades.
Another good way to check if the kittens are well-hydrated is to simply lift the upper lip and check their gums. They should be pink and moist. Again, it’s a good idea to check this frequently and become familiar with what’s normal (before you’re faced with any sort of potential issue).
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