Feeding Kittens

Bottle Babies

All kittens must eat 5% of their body weight at each feeding. All kittens must be weighed before and after feeding!

 

Feeding instructions:
  • Gather kittens’ feeding chart, daily care sheet and some warm towels.

  • Warm formula up in the microwave until it is warmer than body temperature but not hot; test by dropping a few drops on the inside of your wrist. Stir or shake to eliminate any hot spots. Kitten must be kept warm during feeding -- wrap in towel or blanket, preferably on heating pad set to Low.

  • Feed kitten upright or on belly in a prone position, NOT on its back like a human infant!

  • Try the bottle first. Some kittens take awhile to latch on, so be patient! If kitten does not gain its 5% via the bottle, proceed w/ syringe feeding. Only use 1mL syringe.

  • Watch for formula coming out of kitten’s nose or a rasping “wet” cough. This is called aspiration – it means the kitten has ingested formula into its lungs and is in danger of “drowning”. If one of your kittens is aspirating, you need to do two things:

    1. Immediately email foster@pvastx.org.

    2. Wait for about an hour to make sure all of the formula has come out of the kitten’s nose and then continue feeding.

  • Weigh kitten periodically throughout the feeding process – the kitten is only done eating when it has gained its 5%.

  • Thoroughly clean off any formula on kitten’s fur and dry kitten off. (Formula will stick and is very hard to remove if it dries and is also painful for the kitten!)

  • Weigh and record after-food weight!

 

­After each meal, stimulate the kitten with cotton ball or ­alcohol-free baby wipe to help with urine/stool bowel movement. The kitten will not always have to go, but it is crucial that this step is performed after every feeding. Failure to stimulate orphan kittens can lead to serious illness and/or death.

 

Syringe Gruelies

Bottle babies should be switched to syringe gruel when they reach 3.5-4 weeks old (when all 4 canine teeth begin to grow in). Instead of KMR, kittens will now eat premium (only available at pet stores) canned kitten food mixed w/ water and blended to a smooth paste.

 

It is important to note that the syringe gruel phase is, essentially, nothing more than a layover between nursing (formula or mama’s milk), and weaning (eating independently).  So, at this stage, you should make sure your kittens always have access to kibble, gruel, (canned food w/ water), and a bowl of water, as eventually they will decide to try it on their own!

 

Until that magical day, though, you will need to step in! Remember that just because you see your kittens eating on their own, this does not mean that they’re eating enough on their own to maintain their health. Too often, fosters assume that because they’ve witnessed their kittens eating kibble or gruel from a bowl, those kittens don’t need to be syringe fed anymore. This is not the case – and failure to follow the steps outlined above can lead to serious illness and/or death of kittens.

 

Again, kittens must eat 5% of their body weight at each feeding. Kittens must be weighed before and after feeding.

 

How to make syringe gruel:

You will need a blender! Blend approximately one can of food with 1/3 to 1/2 can water (double, triple, etc as needed). Your syringe gruel should be about the consistency of a milkshake, and you should be able to easily draw it up into a syringe.

 

Feeding instructions:
  • ­First, give your kitten the opportunity to eat independently! Offer kitten warmed up gruel and kibble in separate plates or shallow bowls. If the kitten shows no interest after a while, proceed with syringe feeding.

  • With a syringe in your dominant hand, use your non-dominant index finger and thumb to grip the kitten’s head at their temples. Tilt kitten’s head back at about a 45-degree angle, using your palm to gently guide the kitten into a seated position.

  • Draw warmed syringe gruel (microwave to a bit above lukewarm temp -- no more than a few seconds at a time) into 10mL syringe.

  • Insert syringe into side of kitten’s mouth. Do not put syringe directly in front of kitten’s mouth (even if they try to position themselves this way!) as kitten could very easily choke.

  • ­ Slowly plunge syringe gruel into kitten’s mouth, removing the syringe every few seconds to allow them to swallow.

  • Weigh kitten periodically throughout feeding process – the kitten is only done eating when they have gained their 5%!

  • ­ Always thoroughly clean off any gruel on the kitten’s fur. Dry kitten off well.

 

Gruelies

This is the last stage of kitten rearing!

 

When your kittens begin eating enough gruel and kibble on their own to gain weight consistently every day, you’re well on your way to throwing those syringes out! Don’t get too excited yet, though – your kittens will still need to be syringe fed if they’re not able to eat 5% of their body weight on their own. The switch from syringe gruel to gruel/kibble is not a magical “aha!” moment on your kitten’s part – it’s a process you’ll both need to work through very thoughtfully!

Once you see that your kittens are gaining around 5% of their body weight on a daily basis, for at least 5 days, you can begin to weigh them twice a day, instead of every time they eat. NEVER go more than 24 hours without weighing your kittens – weight loss is the number one reason kittens pass away in foster care!

 

Kittens with Moms

Usually the easiest group of them all! Mom does most of the work, most of the time, but fosters with kitty families still need to be prepared to supplement the kittens if the kittens are not adequately gaining weight by nursing/eating on their own. We expect fosters with nursing families to be willing and able to supplement the kittens up to 2x/day, whether with a bottle or with syringe gruel. If your kittens are struggling, please reach out so that we can train you to supplement!



More Resources

Bottle Feeding Orphaned Kittens (3 min. video)

Syringe-Feeding Tutorial (4 min. video)

Kitten and Puppy Bottle Feeding Problems and Solutions (7 min. video)

Harmful Non-Productive Suckling in Orphaned Neonatal Kittens (7 min. video)

Transitioning Kittens and Puppies to Solid Food (10 min. video)

Supplementing Protocol for Nursing Kittens

Thank you so much for fostering a nursing mom and kittens with PVAS. We truly appreciate you! 

 

When it comes to nutrition for neonatal kittens, mom’s milk is best! And your kittens are the lucky ones who arrive at PVAS with a mom. They’re getting extra immune support and nutrition that orphans don’t get. What’s more, nursing kittens cause mom to produce hormones that stimulate milk production. It’s a virtuous cycle!

 

You’ve heard it before: WEIGH, WEIGH, WEIGH! Well, in the case of nursing kittens, weighing too frequently can make it seem like a kitten needs to be supplemented when in fact she does not. What matters is a kitten’s weight gain (or loss) over a 24-hour period (this is different than with orphans!). If your nursing kittens are healthy, they only need to be weighed once a day. 

 

We want to do all we can to encourage kittens to nurse. Supplementing can disrupt the virtuous cycle, causing moms to not produce enough milk, and kittens who are bottle/syringe fed are at risk of aspirating formula (see below). Nevertheless, there are certain instances when it may be necessary to supplement nursing kittens to give them a boost until they are gaining weight on their own, such as upper respiratory infections, insufficient milk production from mom, too much competition from siblings at the milk bar, and premature birth (kittens weighing under 70 g). As a general rule, it’s time to start thinking about supplementing if you see that a kitten has lost weight over a 24 hour period. But because we want to avoid supplementing if at all possible, always contact your mentor before beginning to supplement!

 

You’ll remember from training that you can give your mom a day or so alone with her kittens before weighing them for the first time. Moms produce colostrum for roughly 24 to 48 hours before they begin producing milk, and It is essential for kittens to nurse at this stage because of the immune support that colostrum provides. You may see a slight weight loss (a couple grams) the first day or two. This is normal and no reason to panic. However, if you are concerned that a kitten is losing too much weight or have any other questions, email your mentor!

 

The goal of supplementing is right in the name. It is intended to give the kitten a boost until the kitten begins gaining weight from nursing, not to replace nursing. We therefore generally only supplement twice a day and discontinue supplementing once the kitten begins to gain weight again. 

 

We supplement kittens with PetAg powdered KMR© formula (kitten milk replacer). Because an abrupt switch from the mother’s milk to KMR© formula can be hard on the kitten’s digestive system, we start supplementing with a ratio that is more dilute than what the label calls for:
 

Ratio of water to KMR©                    Time

8 to 1                                                  2 feedings

4 to 1                                                  2 feedings

2 to 1                                                  Until kitten is gaining weight from nursing or can be syringe fed gruel, as the case may be

 

How to make formula:

Feed PetAg KMR® powdered formula from bottle and/or oral syringe. Mix powdered formula (unless otherwise advised) with water at the correct ratio (see table above). Shake well or blend to dissolve lumps! Store mixed formula in the fridge for up to 48 hrs. 

 

All kittens must eat 5% of their body weight at each feeding. All kittens must be weighed before and after feeding!

 

Feeding instructions:

  1. Warm formula up in the microwave until it is warmer than body temperature but not hot. Make sure to stir or shake to eliminate any hot spots. The kitten also needs to be kept warm during feeding and should be wrapped up in a towel or blanket, and preferably on a heat source like a heating pad set to Low.

  2. Feed kitten upright or on belly in a prone position, NOT on his/her back like a human infant!

  3. Gather kittens’ feeding charts and some warm towels.

  4. Bottle‐feed the kitten first. Some kittens take a while to latch on, so be patient! If kitten does not gain its 5% via the bottle, proceed w/ syringe feeding. Only use 1mL syringe.
     

Watch for formula coming out of kitten’s nose or a rasping “wet” cough. This is called aspiration, which means the kitten has ingested formula into her lungs and is in danger of “drowning.” If one of your kittens is aspirating, you need to do two things:

a. Immediately email foster@pvastx.org.

b. Wait for about an hour to make sure all of the formula has come out of the kitten’s nose and then continue feeding. 

  1. Weigh kitten periodically throughout the feeding process – the kitten is only done eating when they have gained 5%.

  2. Thoroughly clean off any formula on kitten’s fur and dry kitten off. (Formula will stick and is very hard to remove if it dries and is also painful for the kitten!)

  3. Weigh and record after‐food weight.
     

Bottle Feeding Orphaned Kittens (3 min. video)

Syringe-Feeding Tutorial (4 min. video)

Kitten and Puppy Bottle Feeding Problems and Solutions (7 min. video)

 

Neonatal Kitten, Pregnant & Nursing Moms Frequently Asked Questions

Neonatal Kitten FAQs

I work full-time. Can I still foster neonatal kittens?

Yes! Orphans in the neonatal program need to be weighed and fed every 2 to 3 hours during the day (bottle babies) or every 4 to 6 hours during the day (syringe gruel kittens and independent eaters). You must be able to keep up this schedule to foster neonatal orphans!

If this doesn’t work with your schedule, you can still foster pregnant and nursing moms! Kittens with a mom need to be weighed, and potentially supplemented with bottle or syringe feedings, twice a day. If a nursing kitten ends up needing to be supplemented more than twice a day, we would transfer her to another foster. You can also foster cats and kittens over ~8 weeks old. They do not usually need to be hand-fed and therefore do not need to be weighed and fed on a neonatal schedule.

 

My kids are really excited to bottle feed kittens. Can they co-foster with me?

All fosters must be at least 18 years old.  Any adults who will help bottle or syringe feed and/or medicate kittens will need to take the online training and virtual feeding practice so that they are also fully-trained fosters. While kids can't help feed or medicate, they can always help with other tasks, especially socialization!

 

I would like to only foster one neonatal kitten. Is that possible?

In short, no, probably not. We almost always require kittens to be fostered in groups of at least two to ensure that kittens learn appropriate behavior from each other and become well-socialized cats. If a kitten does not have biological siblings, we will find one or more buddies around the same size. If either or both of the kittens are coming to foster from the shelter environment, you will need to observe the 10 to 14 day isolation period before combining them.

To be an appropriate match, kittens must be within about 1-2 weeks of age, and similar weight. Unfortunately, this means your resident kitty will not make a good replacement for a same-age buddy! If you do not have the ability to take on a second kitten, we will place your foster kitten with another foster that does have that ability once everyone is past their quarantine.

Labor and Delivery FAQs

My mom cat is giving birth outside of the nesting box. What do I do?

It's ok to just let her have them where she wants to. If it's not in a safe place or if the kittens are at risk of getting cold (for example, because she is giving birth on a hard surface), you can try moving the kittens over to the nesting box during breaks between kittens. Moms will often continue giving birth in the nesting box when you do this, although she may decide to move them back. You can also just move the heating pad over to the location she chooses.

 

How do I know when my mom cat is done giving birth?

Generally, it’s just a matter of waiting and seeing. Although kittens are usually born every 10 minutes to 1 hour, moms can take longer breaks between kittens to recover and care for the present kittens before continuing the labor process. They can even go up to a day between kittens, but this is very uncommon. As long as mom is not actively pushing, is resting comfortably, is alert when roused or is caring for kittens actively, and has pink gums, then there is generally no need to be concerned.

If she has had contractions and has been actively pushing for 30 minutes without producing a kitten or if she appears in distress (see the next question, “What specifically do you mean by ‘in distress?’”), please call the Foster Team at 956-330-3206.

What specifically do you mean by "in distress?"

Signs of distress or problems that warrant a call to the emergency line include having contractions and actively pushing for 30 minutes without producing a kitten, stopping pushing despite having contractions, contractions becoming weaker, mom feeling hot to the touch/running a fever, extreme weakness to the point of being unable to lift her head or stand, a kitten stuck in the birth canal, extremely foul-smelling discharge, large amounts of pooling blood, or pale gums. You should also alert the clinic if mom has gone 48 hours without eating or drinking. It is helpful for the clinic to know her personality (whether she is friendly, scared, etc.), what food you have been feeding (brand(s) as well as wet, dry, or both), and where you are keeping her and what parts of your home she has access to. If you see any of these signs of distress, please call the foster team at 956-330-3206.
 

My mom cat just had kittens and is panting. Is that normal?

Yes, it is common to see some panting for a few days after a mom gives birth. There is no reason to be concerned unless you notice panting in combination with other issues (see previous question, “What specifically do you mean by ‘in distress?’”).
 

My mom cat had kittens but still looks pregnant. Are there more kittens in there?

Cats can still look pregnant for some time after they have given birth, so it’s hard to know for sure whether she has finished giving birth or is taking a break. Moms can even go up to a day between kittens, but this is very uncommon. As long as mom is not actively pushing, is resting comfortably, is alert when roused or is caring for kittens actively, and has pink gums, then there is generally no need to be concerned.

If she has had contractions and been actively pushing for 30 minutes without producing a kitten or if she appears in distress (see question, “What specifically do you mean by ‘in distress?’”), please call the foster team at 956-330-3206. If you believe that your mom has not delivered all of her but is not in distress or showing signs of contractions, please email us at foster@pvastx.org.
 

My mom cat just gave birth/is giving birth, but the kittens aren't nursing. What do I do?

It can sometimes take a little time for kittens to find their way to the “milk bar,” especially if mom is still in labor and is changing positions frequently. Once mom appears to be done, or if she is taking a break, the kittens should find their way to her and start rooting around for a nipple. It’s a good idea to leave them alone for the most part and just check in on them occasionally. They usually figure things out, but their weights will let us know if they don’t. If you notice that a kitten frequently seems lost or heads in the wrong direction, you can go ahead and weigh him to get a baseline weight, try to put him next to a nipple when you catch him going the wrong direction, and email your mentor for further instructions.

My mom cat keeps moving her kittens. Is that ok?

Yes, it is common for moms to move their kittens to a place they consider safe. You can try to move the kittens back to the nest or set up multiple nests to give mom options. Ultimately, though, she’s going to put them where she wants them. You will need to move the heating pad to the location she picks to ensure that the kittens have a heat source at all times. Sometimes moms split their kittens up into two groups in two different locations. If your mom does this, please let your mentor know, and we can lend you an extra heating pad.

How do I know if my mom cat is stimulating her kittens to go to the bathroom?

Moms stimulate their kittens to go to the bathroom by licking their backside since kittens are unable to eliminate on their own. They do this instinctively. Occasionally it can take a couple days for first-time moms’ maternal instincts to kick in, but there’s generally nothing to worry about unless you notice that the kittens’ bedding is soiled or smells. If you do notice soiling, please send a picture to your mentor for further instructions since soiling can also be an indicator that the kittens have diarrhea.

 
 

Kitten Growth Chart and Information

Each age range comes with its own challenges and rewards. Here is a short summary for each group:

 

Bottle Babies (Newborns-4 Weeks)

Orphaned bottle babies are one of our most urgent foster needs. They require the most care since they must be fed every 2-3 hours during the day with one longer period overnight up to 4-5 hours. They do not take up a lot of space at this age and it is incredibly rewarding watching them grow into mini cats!

 

Bottle baby-specific supplies

In addition to the supplies required for all neonatal litters, you will also need a few extras if you foster bottle babies. Please be sure to have the following items:

  • PetAg KMR powder. During peak kitten season, this can sometimes be hard to find, so let us know if you need some!

  • 1 cc syringes to supplement (we will provide you with these)

  • Nipple and baby bottle

  • Unscented baby wipes

Bottle babies are small and don't need a lot of space. They are happy with a cat carrier or tote (with a heating pad inside!).

 

Syringe Gruelies and Gruelies (4-8 Weeks)

These kittens are fed every 4-6 hours during the day with one longer period overnight up to 8 hours. Even if kittens are eating consistently on their own, they still need to be weighed and given fresh food at these intervals. These kittens are such fun to care for since they are learning how to play, eat, and all the ways to be a cat.

Quarantine

All kittens coming from the shelter must go through a 10-14 day quarantine period apart from all foster animals and resident pets. Even if the kittens look healthy, we need to make sure they are not incubating any illnesses. We strongly recommend quarantining in an easy-to-sanitize area such as a bathroom.

Single kitten syndrome

In our experience, kittens do better in pairs or groups. If you offer to foster a single kitten, we will look for a buddy in the same age and weight range once the quarantine period is over. We understand not everyone can take large litters, so if you are unable to take a pair, we can send you kittens who are not able to have buddies due to medical reason or kittens who need to complete quarantine. Once quarantine is done, we will do our best to match them to a kitten their age and free you up to continue to take more single kittens!

 

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