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Caring for Orphaned Kittens

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Orphaned Kittens

Emergency (short-term) Kitten Formula

1 qt. whole goat’s milk
1 tsp. light Karo syrup
1 tbsp nonfat plain yogurt
1 egg yolk

Knox unflavored gelatin:
newborn, 1 wk, 1 pkg;
2nd week, 1.5-2 pkgs;
3rd week, 2.5-3 pkgs;
4th week, 4 pkgs

Put goat’s milk in saucepan, add gelatin in the amount above, depending on the kitten’s age. Heat goat’s milk/gelatin mixture just until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat. Mix in remaining ingredients and refrigerate. It will keep up to one week. Heat to skin test temperature and feed kittens.

Mona’s Homemade Goats Milk Formula

(long-term feeding for kittens not responding well to commercial food)

Mona Myers, a certified bird rehabilitator in Seattle who has in the past rescued orphan kittens, swears by this formula and prefers it to the ready-made products.
You might try her recipe if the kitten is not responding well to the commercial product.

Use tinned or powdered goats milk. (Either should be kept in the fridge when opened.) For a newborn or a kitten suffering from exposure, substitute Pedialyte for water to reconstitute the powdered goats milk. (Stick with the Pedialyte formula for the first week or so with a weak newborn, then switch to boiled water as the base.) Warm a measured amount of the liquid slightly and pour into a bowl. Using a flour sifter, sift the goats milk powder into the liquid, blending with a wire whisk. To every 8 oz of goats milk, whether tinned or reconstituted, add 1/3 dropper Avitron and 1/3 dropper Avimin (available in pet supply stores).

Finally, add 1/4 tsp acidophilus culture and 1/4 tablet (crushed) papaya enzyme (these last ingredients are found in health food stores; acidophilus culture must be refrigerated).
This formula is best after being refrigerated for at least an hour, but it can be warmed (in hot water or microwaved a few seconds in a dish, not in the nurser) and served immediately.


Heating Pad: Put in the cat bed or box beneath the kitten to keep warm. ALWAYS separate heating pad from kitten by at least one layer of towel or blanket. ALWAYS use the lowest setting of heat.
NEVER turn the heating pad higher than lowest setting.

Washcloth: Use for cleaning kitten or wiping its bottom. Use a fresh washcloth every time. Any soft clean rag will do.

Cotton Pads or Balls: Use for cleaning kitten or wiping its bottom. Use a fresh cotton pad or
ball every time. Any soft clean rag or pad will work. Disposable items are easier to manage. Dampen with warm water prior to using.

Blankets or Towels: Use one inside of the cat box and another to cover the cat box and keep the kitten warm.

Flea Comb: Use gently to groom the kitten and ensure no fleas are present.

Kitten Nursing Bottles: Use to feed the kitten. May be left in the cat box with the kitten. Make
sure the hole in the nipple is of adequate size – use a large-gauge needle heated over a flame to make it. Don’t use scissors or a knife – a hole too large can flood the lungs and kill the kitten. The bottle should not drip when help upside-down, but squirt easily when firmly squeezed. Have your vet double check the size. Bottles and nipples need to be sterilized (scrubbed and boiled) at least daily.

Kitten Formula: Use formula with the nursing bottle to feed the kitten. KMR, Just Born and
Mother’s Helper are available in both powder and liquid form. Once filled with formula must be
refrigerated when not using. Formula can grow bacteria that can be fatal to kittens.

Cat Bed or Box: Use as a warm, safe place shielded from direct light for the kitten to grow. A
cat carrier that is completely enclosed is the best option as it will not only contain the kitten, but protect the kitten from the outside world.

Approximate Age Guidelines

  • Birth: Should weighs 2 – 4 ounces
  • 1 – 3 days: Umbilical cord falls off
  • 7 days: Should weigh 4-8 ounces, eyes start to open
  • 7 – 10 days: Eyes open, start to hear sounds
  • 2 weeks: Tries to crawl, teeth are starting to form
  • 2 1/2 weeks: Learns to crawl, tries to stand
  • 3 weeks: Weighs about 10 oz, ears erect
  • 3 weeks: Can walk carefully, follow sound with eyes
  • 4 weeks: Should weigh about 14 ounces, runs in short bursts, ready for solid food (moistened), Heska
    vaccine if no mother’s milk had first three days, learning to play, may be introduced to litterbox
  • 4 – 5 weeks: Drinks water
  • 5 weeks: Should weigh about a pound
  • 6 weeks: First distemper shot, followed by two more, 3 week intervals
  • 8 weeks: Ready for spay/neuter (if 2 lbs) and to be adopted
  • 3 months: True eye color established

Once you find an abandoned kitten, the most important action you must take is a trip to a veterinarian’s office. If the kitten is lethargic or cool to the touch, you may have a life-threatening emergency (such as exposure or distemper). Kittens less than 5 weeks old cannot maintain or produce their own body heat so while you’re preparing for your trip to the veterinarian’s office, please keep the kitten warm. You can use a heating pad, set on low, wrapped in a towel. Leave room in the ‘nest’ for the kitten to crawl off if it becomes too warm. Alternatively, you may fill a sock with dry rice and microwave it until hot and then wrap this in a towel. Always ensure the heat source is separated from the kitten by at least one layer of towel or blanket to eliminate the possibility of thermal burns to the kitten’s delicate skin. In a pinch, simply hold the kitten next to your bare skin. Do NOT feed a chilled newborn – you will kill it. If the kitten seems over-warm and/or is breathing rapidly, it may be feverish or suffering from heat exhaustion or worse. Contact your vet or an emergency veterinary clinic immediately for advice if you can.

This pamphlet contains basic emergency information – Please check out this information in addition to staying in contact with your veterinarian. The veterinarian will be able to give you a good estimate of the kitten’s age as well as information on how to properly care for the kitten in your home.

DO’s and DON’Ts

  • Do wash your hands with antibacterial soap before and after handling the kitten.
  • Do stimulate to eliminate. Newborns can’t go to the bathroom on their own, causing pain and death if left too long. You should help the kitten at least empty its bladder before proceeding with warming, feeding or even the trip to the veterinarian. Using a damp washcloth, tissues, or cotton, gently stroke the kitten’s behind for a count of 60 seconds. A good schedule is immediately before and 15 minutes after feeding.
  • Do expect the kitten to excrete waste at least several times a day. If the kitten is not urinating at least every 2 to 3 hours, the kitten may be dehydrated and you need to check with your vet ASAP. Gently pull at the loose skin on the back of the kitten’s neck or shoulders. If the skin springs back, the kitten is fine. If the skin reluctantly returns or does not return at all, the kitten is deydrated and needs immediate liquids under the skin. Dark colored urine indicates dehydration. Stool should be mustard-colored and a toothpaste consistency. It should be produced at least once daily.
  • Do clean kittens with a clean, damp washcloth or cotton pad regularly. If fleas are present, gently use a flea comb to remove them and continue to wash the kitten without any soap but warm water instead. When you wash the kitten, immediately warm it up by rubbing in a towel and placing it on a heat source. Do not bathe kittens younger than 8 weeks old with soap. Gentle wiping with a damp towel will do. Over 8 weeks of age may be washed with an extremely mild baby shampoo or kitten shampoo without any additives. Do not get the shampoo in the kitten’s eyes, ears, or mouth.
  • Do keep the kitten in a warm area surrounded by a warm blanket and/or towel and heat source in the cat carrier.
  • Do feed the kitten every 2-3 hours every day (including evenings!) until the kitten is several weeks old or your vet has okayed delaying the feeding period. Once the kitten is 5 weeks old, you may provide it with a very small dish of high quality kitten food and water. This will allow the kitten to become familiar with kitten food while still bottle feeding.
  • Change the food several times daily to keep it fresh.
  • Do contact your veterinarian if the kitten suffers from diarrhea, fatigue, lethargy or vomiting.
  • Do disinfect the bottle and nipple by putting them in boiling water for about twenty minutes at least once daily. Wash the bottle and nipple prior to boiling.
  • Do ensure the kitten formula is at room temperature so that the kitten may digest it more easily. Microwaves may break down the proteins in the formula, so warm up the formula under hot water when possible. If you do use a microwave, use very short heating times (less than 15 sec.), and shake well prior to testing the warmth to avoid missing a hot pocket of fluid in the bottle. Test on your wrist.
  • Don’t feed a kitten on it’s back. Lay the kitten belly-down on a towel on your lap to imitate the posture it would have nursing from it’s mother. If the kitten hesitates to suckle, squeeze a drop of formula into the mouth and wait for the kitten to swallow before GENTLY squeezing another. Keep it coming at a natural rate without squirting it down the throat.
  • Once the kitten is suckling, keep a gentle tugging motion to encourage him to continue. If formula bubbles out of the nostrils, PULL BACK immediately – you are drowning the kitten. Hold it upside-down until choking stops.
  • Do feed until the tummy is full but not distended and it settles down.
  • Do rub the kitten all over with your hand gently but briskly after feeding until you get a burp. If that doesn’t work, put the kitten over your shoulder (like a human baby) and gently pat on the back or side.
  • Do vaccinate the kitten as soon as your vet recommends since kitten formula doesn’t carry the antibodies that the mother’s milk carries.
  • Do be mindful of the kitten’s area. Make sure there are no drafts that could chill the kitten or small toys that could become fatal if swallowed.
  • Do cuddle! A kitten who hasn’t opened his eyes needs at least three hours of cuddling. Hold him to your chest to feel your heartbeat.

Age in Weeks/Feedings per day (approximate!)

1 week old – needs 6 feedings per day
2 weeks old – needs 6 feedings per day
3 weeks old – needs 4 feedings per day
4 weeks old – needs 3 feedings per day


  • Don’t feed a kitten until it is warm because a kitten’s body cannot digest food when its body is cold. This can kill the kitten.
  • Don’t neglect to stimulate to eliminate.
  • Don’t allow the kitten to get cold.
  • Don’t feed the kitten cow’s milk. Only use a high quality kitten formula. Don’t change formulas quickly as this can result in diarrhea. Do not force feed the kitten.
  • Don’t use an eyedropper or syringe. The kitten should be able to nurse on its own. If the kitten
    is unable to nurse, try putting a little bit of Karo (corn syrup) or slightly warmed Pedialyte on its lips. If the kitten does not nurse, take it to the vet immediately.
  • Don’t put the kitten in an area where it could interact with larger animals or children. Kittens are very fragile and something as innocent as playtime could be fatal.
  • Mortality rates for newborns are often over 50%. Never blame yourself if you lose a kitten.