If you've found an abandoned litter or a single kitty who needs your help, it's important to understand how to care for orphaned kittens. The decisions you make are crucial to these kitties' survival.
Essential Care Tips for Orphan Kittens
It is very important to keep young kittens from becoming chilled. As soon as you find the orphans, put them under your clothes so the heat from your body will keep them warm. Kittens generally get the heat they need from their mother and each other as they lay close together. Once you have taken the orphans home, keep them in a warm room. Although having an incubator would be ideal, a cat carrier or a box can be prepared as a substitute. Bedding should be soft, warm and absorbent and should be changed as often as needed. Make sure that the bedding does not have any loose threads or strings since these can present a strangulation risk to the kittens. Several great bedding choices include:
- Synthetic fleece
- Disposable diapers
Once the box is thoroughly lined, lay a heating pad beneath it, and set it on the lowest temperature setting. Place the pad so that it only heats half of the bottom of the box. This way, the kittens will instinctively move to the unheated half if they become too warm. Kittens that are less than one week old should be kept in temperatures of 88 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. The second week, the temperature can be lowered to 85 degrees. From two to four weeks old, slowly reduce the temperature to 80 degrees. Once the kittens have reached five weeks old, they can be in a room where the temperature is 75 degrees.
During the first 48 hours of life, kittens receive antibodies from their mother's milk that are very important to their immune system. This special milk, called colostrum, is only secreted by the mother for the first few days before it is replaced by regular milk. Kittens that do not receive colostrum for the first few days have a very fragile immune system.An excellent website that provides detailed information on bottle feeding kittens is 2nd Chance. This website includes information on:
- How to bottle feed
- How much to feed
- How often to feed
- Burping the Kitten
- Normal Weight Gain
- Problems with feeding
Stimulating the Elimination Process
Until they are four weeks old, kittens are not able to go to the bathroom on their own. It is a simple process to stimulate the kitten's elimination system. After each feeding, take a sterile cotton ball, or a soft tissue moistened with warm water and gently massage the kitten's genital and anal area. The massage will stimulate the elimination process.
Make sure to rub the area gently to prevent chafing. Once the kitten has gone to the bathroom, clean the area gently.
After you have fed and cleaned the kittens, use a soft towelette or paper towel that is barely damp with warm water. Use short, gentle strokes of the towel to wash the entire kitten. The strokes should emulate the mother's tongue as she would have washed the kittens. Doing this gives the kittens a nice feeling of well-being as they enjoy the attention and have their fur cleaned. It also teaches them how to clean their fur as they get older.
Another important aspect of raising orphan kittens is providing the love and emotional closeness they need. Kittens need to feel the warmth of your skin as they snuggle and cuddle against you. Pet and hold them as often as possible.
Many cat experts believe that kittens that are hand raised show greater affection and loyalty for their caretakers and are more intelligent.
Alternative: Finding a Foster Mother Cat
Sometimes a person that finds orphaned kittens is fortunate to find a foster mother cat. Generally, a foster queen will accept kittens that are about the same size as her own. Although she will nurse the foster kittens, she will not be able to care completely for all the kittens if there are two full litters. You will need to help with supplemental feeding using a bottle.
If you do not know anyone with a queen that is suitable as a foster mother, try calling local veterinarians, shelters or rescue groups in your area. Someone there may be able to help you locate a nursing queen that will accept the orphans.
Although caring for orphan kittens can be very demanding, the rewards of raising the kittens to the age of adoption are many. You may even end up adding the little furry felines to your own family.