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Newborn Kittens! How do I take care of them?

If you’ve ever watched a cat in labor you’ve probably noticed that they tend to get very picky about where they will deliver their kittens. Clarissa Engstrom, DVM, says that cats are one of the few species with a unique ability to stop labor and move to another spot when they perceive danger. This is one reason that, when your cat is in labor,  you might find a newborn kitten or two in an odd spot or that appear to be abandoned. Mother cats do this instinctively in an effort to protect the litter, and the mother will return for the babies to move them to a safer spot.

Blind, Deaf and Vulnerable
Did you know that kittens are born blind and deaf? It’s true, yet can find their mother and start nursing just after birth. And even though the are able to find their mother with two of their senses undeveloped the first days of life are precarious for newborn kittens.  They don’t open their eyes until they are two weeks old, and they are susceptible to infection and catching cold. The first week is the only time they will absorb colostrum, which provides antibodies that are essential for the kittens’ immunity, from their mother’s milk.

Keep Newborn Kittens Warm
One of the most important things for a newborn kitten is staying warm.  If there is no mother cat, a box with a heating pad under half the changeable bedding is a good way to go. Place the kittens where they can feel both cozy and cooler spots so they can move themselves off of the heat if they are getting too warm. For the first week they need a temperature of approximately 85°-90°F going down to 80°-85°F the second week and then 70°-75°F the third week. Kittens begin crawling between 16-20 days old. After the first three weeks they will start to regulate their own body temperature and be more mobile.

Bottle-Feeding Newborn Kittens
If you are bottle-feeding newborn kittens and need to make a hole in the nipple of the pet nurser, Dr. Engstrom recommends using a 20 gauge needle, heating it until it is red hot on the end and, and  piercing the top of the nipple. Then run it under hot water and clean the rubber well with a Q-tip. Many vets agree that powdered formula is a good choice for kittens, since you can easily adjust the amount of the formula. If your kittens are getting constipated you can use a little more of the powder and if they are having troubles with diarrhea then use more water. Start feeding by simply squeezing a drop of the formula onto the tip of the bottle before gently introducing it into the kitten’s mouth at a 45°angle. The kitten will lay flat on its stomach and head tilted up just as if it where feeding from its mother.

Weaning Newborn Kittens
For the first two to three days of a kitten’s life they need to eat every two to three hours, and for the next few days about five times a day. When they are six days old you can cut down to four times a day. Between two and three weeks of age, kittens eat three times a day. You can then start to introduce wet kitten food by mixing it with formula and placing in a shallow dish. Don’t worry if they step in it or get it on their fur since they will lick it off. That’s just one of the fun things about being a kitten.


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