Important Tips for Feeding Newborn Kittens

Mychelle Blake
Contributor: Christy Rakoczy
A woman bottle feeding a tiny two week old kitten

Feeding newborn kittens is different from feeding adult cats. If you've recently adopted newborn kittens, or you are thinking of adopting kittens, you need to know how to care properly for and nourish these adorable pets. There is a lot you need to know to make sure your kittens grow into beautiful cats, but here are some tips.

Advice on Feeding Newborn Kittens

Similar to a newborn baby, a newborn kitten is very fragile and vulnerable. Their bodies are just beginning to develop, and thus the proper nutrition is vital to their survival. Considering that they are lacking a mother cat, you have to become their surrogate mother. Although feeding newborn kittens should only take about ten to twenty minutes each time, you will need to do this several times a day. Further, you will have to bottle feed your newborn kitten.

What to Feed Newborn Kittens

Take the cooled bottle and fill it with a kitten milk replacement formula that can be purchased at a pet store or online. Only use a product made for kittens like KMR Kitten Milk Replacer, Just Born or Breeder's Choice. Do not feed standard cow's milk from the grocery store.

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How Much to Feed Newborn Kittens

You'll need to know the weight of the kittens in order to determine how much to feed.

Feeding a kitten

Sterilize Your Bottle Before Feeding

The first thing you'll need is a small pet bottle that you will use to feed formula to the kittens. You can pick up kitten/puppy bottles at your local pet supply store, or order them online. It's important to note that you must sterilize these bottles before you use them.

  • Newborn kittens are extremely susceptible to infections and germs, thus you want to ensure the safest possible environment for your pet.
  • Sterilize both the bottle and the nipple in boiling water. This should take about five minutes.
  • Allow both pieces to cool properly. You do not want to burn your newborn.
  • Your last step after sterilizing is to lay out a large towel, a rougher textured cloth and a bowl of warm water on the table next to a chair. The water temperature should be about 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Feed Newborn Kittens

At first it will seem like a lot of steps, but once you're familiar with the routine your feedings should go like clockwork.

  1. Fill the bottle according to the feeding guidelines and then set the bottle in the bowl of warm water to take the chill off of it.
  2. Test the temperature before giving to the kittens by dropping some on your arm, just as you would with feeding a human baby. The temperature should be warm on your skin but not boiling hot, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Carefully observe how much milk it takes to fill the kitten. Some kittens may take a little more or less formula than the guidelines recommend. You want to see a slightly rounded tummy after feeding and a kitten that now seems content. After a couple of feedings, you will begin to get a feel for how much your newborn wants.
  4. You may or may not have to cut a slight sliver in the nipple to adjust the flow as needed. You can either cut a tiny "x" in the tip of the nipple with scissors, or use a heated needle to poke a hole into the top of the nipple.
  5. To feed, sit in a chair and place the towel on your lap.
  6. Place your kitten face down on your lap. This is important because when feeding newborn kittens, you must ensure your kitten is warm before you begin to feed it. If your kitten is cold when you feed it, this might cause a serious digestive problem.
  7. Do not lift the kitten's head, but place the nipple of the bottle in its mouth instead.
  8. Your kitten should begin nursing right away. If it does not nurse, make sure the nipple is working properly.
  9. You might also try gently stroking the back of your kitten if it seems it is reluctant to begin nursing. However, it should begin nursing soon.
  10. Let the kitten nurse for as long as it wants the formula, but do not try to force the kitten to take more than it wants. When the kitten begins "bubbling" formula around the nipple, this means he's full.

Other Steps to Take When Feeding

You might have to burp your kitten.

  • Place one hand underneath the kitten's stomach, and pat his back gently. If he doesn't burp, he might not need to burp.
  • Afterward, your kitten has to be encouraged to defecate and urinate because newborns are unable to do this on their own. Take your roughened towel and wet it in the water. Gently rub your kitten underneath the tail. It may take a couple times of feeding before a kitten feels comfortable enough to eliminate wastes.

Tips for Feeding Newborn Kittens

Once you're used to feeding newborn kittens, you should feel comfortable with the process, but there are tips you can use to be more successful right away.

  • Buy extra nipples for your bottle. If you find you need to cut the nipple to facilitate feeding, it's good to have some spares on hand in case you cut too much.
  • You can test out how well your nipple will work by turning the filled bottle upside down to see if it drips. You should see one drop at a time come out. Any flow stronger than that and you've cut too much.
  • Using a smoothie shaker can make mixing the powdered formula much easier and prevent unmixed clumps from forming.
  • Use a kitten weight chart to keep track of your kitten's growth and use this to guide you with your feeding amounts.
  • Your kitten should gain about a 1/2 an ounce a day or about four grams per week. If your weight chart indicates your kitten is not gaining enough weight, contact your veterinarian immediately to discuss.
Newborn kittens sleeping on blanket

How Often to Feed Your Kittens

In the beginning, your kitten will need a little more than one ounce of formula each day. This should be split evenly throughout the day, into about ten or eleven feedings. Thus, you should feed the kitten about every two hours. After each feeding, allow your kitten to go back to sleep.

Important Tips for Feeding Newborn Kittens