There's a lot to know if you're caring for a kitten, especially if the mother isn't nearby. Below, our Rochester vets explain how to take care of a newborn kitten without a mother, what can go wrong, and when to take them to the vet.

How to Take Care of a Baby Kitten

Although they make wonderful family pets, kittens have some very specific requirements that must be met. Every stage of their life has different needs, and if something is neglected or done incorrectly, it can affect their general health and longevity. Here, we discuss how to take care of your new pet while they are still kittens.

Caring for a Newborn Kitten

Your kitten friend is regarded as a newborn if she is under four weeks old. They are still learning how to walk, meow, and even control their body temperature at this point. The majority of the work, including feeding, can be done by their mother if she is there. Making sure the mother is healthy and that they are in a warm, secure environment would be all that is required. Make sure they have a warm bed to sleep on and that the floor of their crate or area is covered with a blanket. However, the first thing you should do is take the kitten to the veterinarian if it does not have a mother. Your veterinarian will be able to assess the kitten's health and let you know what it needs.

Warmth is Vital

If the kitten doesn't have a mother you will have to do more to help keep them warm by using something such as putting a heating disk in the crate or putting a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their cage. Additionally, you ought to construct a cozy little nest out of blankets for the kitten to sleep in. Make sure the heating pad isn't too warm by touching it with your hands, and provide a cozy area in your kitten's cage or crate without a heating device so they can retreat there if it becomes too warm.

Because hypothermia can occur in kittens who are too cold, you should continue to provide a heating source for them until they are about 6 weeks old. Their environment should be kept at 85 °F or 29 °C.

Feeding Your Newborn Kitten

Of course, when caring for a newborn kitten without a mother you will need to feed them and provide them with proper nutrition. Every 2-4 hours, you will need to bottle-feed your kitten a special kitten formula. 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. Kittens must gain roughly 12 ounces (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) per week in order to grow healthily. 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.

Caring for a 6-Week-Old Kitten Without a Mother

When the kitten you are caring for is around 6 - 10 weeks old they should gradually stop bottle feeding and begin eating high protein meals about 3 to 4 times a day. You can start this by pouring the kitten formula into a food bowl and possibly adding a bit of softened hard food or canned kitten to help ease them into the process.

Around this time their motor skills will begin improving and they will start becoming adventurous. That means you will need to keep a close eye on them to make sure they don't get themselves into trouble. They will require a lot of supervision and hands-on bonding playtime between the ages of 2 -4 months.  

Once your kitten is about 4 - 6 months old they will start entering their adolescence. This is when they are generally very mischievous and might require some behavioral modification, this is the ideal time to speak to your vet about having your kitten spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering before 6 - 8 months of age can help to avoid some undesirable behaviors being established.

Preventive Care For Your Kitten

No matter how old your kitten is you should take them for their first veterinary appointment during the first week they are in your care. Your veterinarian will evaluate the health of your kitten as well as inform you of their dietary needs. This also provides you with the opportunity to ask any questions you may have in regards to the care of your new family member.

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 look out for when caring for a kitten at every stage of its life that could indicate a problem or even a veterinary emergency. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your kitten, 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

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you caring for a motherless kitten? Call our experienced vets at Stoney Pointe Pet Hospital to book an examination for your tiny bundle of joy!