Orphan Kittens Nutrition

Orphan Kittens Nutrition
Kittens may be fed by bottle or stomach tube. The stomach tube is faster, but many people enjoy bottle-feeding kittens. Your veterinarian or clinic staff can instruct you in either method.

Newborn kittens should be fed 6-8 times daily. The frequency should be gradually reduced to 3-4 times daily by 2-3 weeks of age. Kittens must be helped to urinate and defecate by gently stroking the genital area with a cottonball or tissue moistened with warm water after each feeding.
Constant crying and failure to gain weight indicates a problem. Call the doctor.

You can determine how much to feed an orphan kitten by considering its daily caloric requirements. The general total daily caloric requirements for kittens under 4 weeks of age are:

1st and 2nd wk of age 6 calories/ounce of body weight daily
3rd and 4th wk of age 8 calories/ounce of body weight daily

Example: You plan to feed a 1-week old, 2-ounce kitten 6 times daily. The kitten requires 6 calories/ounce body weight x 2-ounce kitten=12 total calories needed for 1 day. You plan to feed 6 times daily. Therefore, 12/6=2 calories are required each feeding. Your milk substitute contains 1 cal/ml. Therefore, you should feed 2 ml each feeding.

Solid foods should be introduced as a thin, pan-fed gruel at about 3-4 weeks of age. Over the next 2 weeks, the gruel should be gradually thickened, reaching normal, solid consistency when the kittens are 6-8 weeks of age.

Intake is limited by the size of the stomach, and excessive fluid intake must be avoided because a newborn kitten's kidneys are functionally immature and have a very limited capacity. Numerous feedings throughout the day, usually every four hours, will prevent overloading the digestive system and kidneys. The number of feedings can be decreased, and the intake per feeding can be increased accordingly, as the kitten matures.

The daily intake of food is based on the kitten's energy requirement. Caloric requirements for the newborn kitten are approximately 420 kilocalories per kilogram at birth, and by five to six weeks of age it needs only 240 to 275 kilocalories per kilogram. (A kilogram is 1000 grams, or 2.2 pounds. A kilocalorie, a term often shortened to calorie by the nonscientific community, is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree Celsius.) To calculate the daily amount of milk replacer required for the newborn follow these steps:

* Divide the kitten's weight in grams by 1,000 to determine the weight in kilograms.

* Multiply this number by 420 (kilocalories). The result provides you with the number of kilocalories needed daily to sustain the newborn kitten.

* Find the caloric concentration of the formula on the label. Divide the amount needed by the kitten by the caloric concentration of the milk replacer.

* Multiply the answer by the quantity of formula (in milliliters) that supplies the specified caloric concentration.

* Take the total for the day and divide it by the number of feedings per day.

Some milk replacers provide a feeding chart, which eliminates the need to do any calculations. If KMR is used, do not exceed five milliliters (one teaspoon) of formula per feeding of newborn kittens for the first week. Thereafter, slowly increase the amount per feeding.

Formula should not be fed to a weak and hypothermic kitten. Instead, a dilute (5 percent) dextrose solution (sugar water) and lactated Ringer's solution (a sterile, saltwater solution for injection) should be given orally as directed by a veterinarian. Also, the kitten's body temperature should be gradually increased in a warm environment (85 to 90F). Formula can be fed after the kitten's rectal temperature is over 94F.

When preparing formula, make up only enough for a forty-eight-hour period and divide it into individual feeding portions. These portions can be stored in the refrigerator. Before feeding, warm the formula to about 100. While warming the formula, sterilize the feeding utensils in boiling water for fifteen minutes to destroy harmful bacteria or viruses. All handlers should wash their hands before feeding or handling the kittens.

Kittens that did not receive colostrum (first milk from the mother) should be vaccinated against rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia at four weeks of age.

Special animal-feeding bottles are available at pet stores. These bottles have been designed to meet the needs of nursing kittens, but sometimes the nipple openings are too small. So, if the liquid doesn't drip slowly from the nipple, enlarge the hole slightly. Never force formula by squeezing the bottle while the nipple is in the kitten's mouth. The liquid may be aspirated (inhaled into the lungs), causing aspiration pneumonia, which could be fatal. A medicine dropper can also be used, although the volume will be greatly reduced, making feedings more tedious and time consuming.

The kitten should be fed in an upright position to avoid its aspirating any fluid into its lungs. Bottle-fed kittens must be burped after feeding because of the air they inhale during feeding. Stomach-tube feeding eliminates this step; however, other problems are associated with tube feeding, especially the danger of choking if fluid is directly dispensed into the lungs.

Despite the drawbacks, tube feeding is considered the most reliable method for feeding kittens unable to suckle or needing immediate nourishment. Tube-fed kittens should be housed in separate compartments to prevent them from sucking on each other's tails, ears, and feet. A small catheter (premature infant size or 5 French) and syringe work well for tube feeding. The catheter can be purchased in most drugstores and the syringe can be obtained from a veterinarian.

Before passing the tube down the kitten's esophagus, carefully mark the tube for the proper length. This is done by measuring the tube from the last rib, behind which the stomach is located, to the opening of the mouth. Tape can be used to mark the section of catheter that reaches to the mouth. This mark indicates the point at which the tube reaches the correct position in the kitten's stomach.

Lubricate the tube with warm water or formula before inserting it into the kitten's throat while the kitten is in an upright position, with its head tilted slightly up, insert the tube along the roof of the mouth. If the kitten begins to gag or you feel resistance, remove the tube and try again. Continue to pass the tube until you reach the mark on the tube. After administering a small amount of warm water to make sure the tube is in the right location, slowly administer the formula over a two-minute period. Each week, remeasure the distance from the last rib to the tip of the mouth and re-mark the tube; the length will increase as the kitten grows.

A kitten has received an adequate supply of food when its abdomen feels full, but not distended. Within three weeks, kittens can learn to drink fluid from a dish. The weaning process can be started when they are three to four weeks old by adding small amounts of commercial cat food to the formula.

Feeding problems usually encountered by inexperienced handlers are overfeeding or underfeeding. A sure sign of overfeeding is diarrhea. The intensity of the problem is indicated by the color and consistency of the stool. The color can range from yellowish to grayish. A grayish diarrheic stool indicates a more severe problem and may signal impending dehydration. Failure to gain weight, excessive crying, listlessness, and shivering occur when a kitten is underfed. The best criteria by which to determine if the kitten is being properly fed are: a steady weight gain of ten grams, or one-third of an ounce, per day-and a normal stool (firm and yellowish). The number of stools is usually the same as the number of feedings per day.


Normally, kittens will have a couple of firm, yellowish stools per day if they are being properly fed. Also after each feeding, you will need to gently massage and stimulate the anal and genital area with a sterile cotton ball or piece of gauze dipped in warm water. This will cause the kitten to urinate and have bowel movements, and it is very important that you continue to do this for the kitten until it is definitely using the litterbox on its own, even though most kittens can control their own bowel movements at about 10 days old. The skin area is very delicate and may become raw or sore from your efforts. If this happens, apply a tiny dab of Preparation H ointment to the affected area after each stimulation. Keep in mind that your kitten will probably not have a bowel movement every feeding, and sometimes even skip a day. This should be fine as long as the kitten is growing, eating well, not showing any signs of distress, and urinating.

Young kittens must be protected from disease!! ALWAYS wash your hands before and after handling the kittens, and ALWAYS clean and sterilize your bottles, nipples, brushes, or tube feeders in boiling water after each use!! If your kittens did not receive their mother's colostrum (the watery milk the queen produces in the first couple of days after giving birth), your kittens are at an even higher risk as they did not receive the antibodies present in the colostrum. In that case, be sure to keep them separated from any other animals, also.


What does a loose and/or yellow stool mean? This may indicate a mild case of overfeeding. Try diluting the formula strength with liquid, unflavored Pedialyte by about 1/3 until the stool returns to normal, then gradually bring the formula back to full strength.

What does a loose and/or greenish color stool mean? This would be indicative that the food is moving too quickly through the kitten's system, and the bile is not being absorbed, and is probably attributed to moderate overfeeding. Cut the formula back with the Pedialyte or bottled water, and check with your vet first to see if they recommend using 2 to 3 drops of Kaopectate every four hours until this problem clears up.

What about stools that look like cottage cheese? Either the formula strength is too rich, there is severe overfeeding, or the kitten may have a bacterial infection. Check with your veterinarian who may recommend that you cut the formula in half with bottled water and/or Pedialyte liquid, and start the kitten on antibiotics. If the kitten is seriously dehydrated, fluids can be given under the skin.

Constipated or straining kittens? In this case, you would want to increase the strength of the formula, and feed slightly smaller amounts, but feed more frequently. If the kitten has a swollen abdomen and hasn't passed a bowel movement in over a day, you may want to try mineral oil given by mouth (3 drops per ounce of body weight). You may want to discuss with your vet whether or not a warm, soap-water enema can or should be given.


Cow's milk is sometimes erroneously thought to be a substitute for queen's milk However, analysis of cow's milk shows that the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio and lactose levels are too high, and the energy, protein, and fat levels are too low to sustain a growing kitten. Adding egg yolk (cooked over steam while stirring) (creating enriched cow's milk) increases the protein and fat to more reasonable levels, but the calcium level remains four times greater and the phosphorous level two times greater than in queen's milk. Enriched milk is an unsuitable substitute for the long term, though it can be used temporarily until a more appropriate milk replacer is obtained.

Commercial human baby formula, made up at twice the recommended concentration, can be used on a short-term basis for kittens. The percentage of nutrients in baby formula is similar to that of cow's milk, except that the lactose level is lower. However, baby formula provides less than 50 percent of the protein and fat that growing kittens require.

The best substitutes are commercial products such as KMR (PetAg, Inc.), Havolac (Haver Co.), or Veta-Lac (Vet-A-Mix, Inc.), which have been specifically formulated to closely match the nutrients found in queen's milk.