There are a lot of things to consider when caring for a newborn kitten, especially if it doesn't have a mother. Today, our Los Angeles veterinarians discuss how to care for a baby kitten without a mother, what can go wrong, and when you should take them to the veterinarian for the first time.

How to Care For a Kitten

Kittens are adorable and lovable household pets, but they have specific requirements that must be met. These requirements vary by stage of life, and if something goes wrong or is overlooked, it can have a negative impact on their overall health and longevity. We discuss how to care for your new furry friend during their kitten years in this article.

Caring for a Newborn Kitten

When a kitten is between the ages of 0 and 4, it is considered a newborn because it is still learning to meow, walk, and regulate its body temperature. If they have a mother, she will be able to take care of the majority of the work, including feeding. All you have to do is ensure that the mother is healthy and that they are in a warm and secure environment. Make sure their crate/area has a blanket on the floor and a warm bed for them to sleep in. If the kitten has no mother, the first thing you should do is take them to the veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be able to assess the kitten's health and advise you on their needs.

Keep Your Newborn Kitten Warm

If the kitten does not have a mother, you will need to do more to keep them warm by using a heating disk in the crate or a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their cage. You should also make a small nest out of blankets for the kitten to sleep in. It's critical to check that the heating pad isn't too hot by touching it with your hands and to provide a comfortable place in your kitten's cage/crate that isn't heated where they can go if they get too hot.

You should continue to provide your kitten with a heating source until they are about 6 weeks old because if kittens get too cold they will catch hypothermia, for this reason, their area should be kept at 85oF or 29oC. 

Feeding Your Newborn Kitten

Another note on how to care for a newborn 6-week-old kitten without a mother is to feed them and provide them with proper nutrition. You will have to bottle feed your kitten a special kitten formula every 2-4 hours. Every kitten is different, your veterinarian will be able to inform you of the best formula to use, how much to feed them and how frequently you should be feeding your kitten. In order for kittens to grow healthily, they will need to gain approximately ½ ounce (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) a week. Never give your cat cow milk and always make sure you are feeding them the same formula. And, in order for your kitty to digest food properly they will have to be kept warm.

As Your Kitten Grows Older

When the kitten you're caring for is around 5/6 to 10 weeks old, you should wean them off of their mother's milk and begin feeding them high-protein meals 3 to 4 times a day. To begin, pour the formula into a food bowl and, if desired, add a little softened hard food or canned soft food to aid in the process. Because their motor skills are improving, they will become more adventurous at this stage, and you will need to keep a close eye on them to ensure they do not get themselves into trouble. As they are between the ages of 2 and 4, they will require a lot of supervision and hands-on bonding playtime.

Your kitten will start entering their adolescent days when they are 4 - 6 months old. This is when they are generally very troublesome and might require some behavioral modification, this is also when you should start considering having them spayed or neutered before they reach the 6 - 8 month mark.

Preventive Care For Your Kitten

During the first week in your care, regardless of how old your kitten is, you should take them to their first veterinary appointment. Your veterinarian will examine your kitten's health and advise you on their nutritional requirements. This also gives you the opportunity to ask any questions you might have about your new family member's care.

Making sure your kitten gets routine preventive care is essential, including wellness exams, routine vaccinations, and parasite prevention.

Regular wellness exams give your vet the opportunity to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten including their dietary requirements. Your vet will also be able to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are easier and more affordable to treat.

You also need to make sure your kitten gets all of its vaccinations and parasite prevention on schedule. Your kitten should come in for their first round of shots when they are 6 to 8 weeks old, and you should have them spayed or neutered when they are 5 to 6 months old. This prevents any serious diseases or conditions from arising in the first place.

What Can Go Wrong?

There are many things to keep an eye out for when caring for a kitten at every stage of its life that could indicate a problem or even a veterinary emergency. If your kitten exhibits any of the symptoms listed below, contact your veterinarian right away to schedule an appointment.

Here is what you need to keep an eye out for in a newborn kitten:

  • Delays or difficulties in motor skills or coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Refusing food (especially if being bottle-fed)
  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting

When your kitten is 4 weeks old or older you still need to keep an eye out for the signs above in addition to these behavioral signs:

  • Litter box usage/ not using the litter box
  • Signs of play biting or aggression
  • Fears and other concerning behaviors that should be managed when they are still young

If you have any more questions or concerns about caring for a baby kitten or notice your kitty displaying any of the signs above contact our Los Angeles vets today, we will be happy to help.