Kitten Care


The most important factor in successfully bottle-feeding kittens is hygiene. Kittens fed on their mother’s milk acquire antibodies protecting them from many infections; hand-reared infants have no such protection, so all feeding utensils must be sterilized each time they are used. Fresh food should be made up each day.

The equipment needed is simple. A small medicinal dropper with a rubber bulb, and a plastic syringe with a short length of 2mm plastic tubing replacing the needle, have both proved useful feeding aids. With the correct technique, it is possible to pass the fine plastic tubing directly into the kitten’s stomach, enabling it to be fed even if it seems unable to suck normally. This should be done only after proper instruction from a vet, as the tubing can be passed down the trachea by mistake, with fatal results. Alternatively, you can use a child’s toy baby bottle. However, the best feeding aid is, perhaps, the specially designed kitten bottle now available from veterinary suppliers and pet stores; its teat is modelled on that of a nursing queen.

The initial basic diet can consist of proprietary milk powder or evaporated milk made up to double the normal human concentration, or a special feline milk substitute, if available. You need to feed the kittens every two hours for the first three weeks, although four-hourly feeds are usually adequate at night after the first few days. The amount taken at each feed varies widely, and it is best to gauge this by the kitten’s behaviour. As a guide, however, 3 to 5ml (up to 1 teaspoonful) per feed will be ample at first, rising to about 7ml after one week and 10ml at three weeks. At this point, a little baby cereal or dissolved meat jelly (from any good-quality canned cat food) can be mixed in, leading to weaning as with normally-reared kittens.


Mother’s Milk Milk
per day
0-3 YES 0 0
3-4 YES 3 0 ½-1
4-5 YES 3 1 1-2
5-6 YES 2 2 2-3
6-8 YES 2 2 3
8-12 Maybe 2-3 2 3-4
12-16 NO 2 2 6-8
16-24 NO 1 2 9-12
over 24 NO 0 2 c12

Milk feeds refer to proprietary kitten milk, baby milk or evaporated milk made up as described in the text with cereal added after the first day; ‘meat’ feeds refers to cooked minced or chopped fish, raw scraped meat, etc., and/or canned cat food (for kittens). The size of feeds is approximate; generally, feed to appetite; from complete weaning, feed about 60 to 75 g per kg body weight (1 to 1.25 oz per lb) per day.


At three weeks, a kitten cannot balance steadily or take food from a saucer, so offer the first feeds from a teaspoon. Support the kitten with one hand, its feet on the floor or your knee, while bringing the spoon to its mouth. Do not hold it with legs dangling, or it will feel insecure. Within a few days the kitten will begin to enjoy its extra feeds, and by four weeks will be able to stand and take food from a saucer.


With a dropper syringe or feeding bottle, first warm the food to about 38 ºC. Hold the kitten in the palm of one hand while placing the feeder tube or teat in its mouth. Squeeze the milk out gently and the kitten (whose natural instinct is to suck) will soon get the idea. It is important not to hurry the kitten.


Help the kitten to urinate and defecate. Gently stroke its lower abdomen to stimulate urination. Bowel movement can be helped by gently massaging the anus with cotton wool moistened with medicinal liquid paraffin. If you suspect constipation after four days, consult your vet.


A kitten pen to accommodate the kittens in a confined area while allowing plenty of human contact, can be bought or built from wire mesh on a wooden frame. Its walls should be about 75 cm. tall, so the kittens cannot escape. (Once they are able to climb, however, a roof may be needed). Within the pen are the kittening box for sleeping, a litter tray, feeding bowls, toys and so on. (Cats and kittens are instinctively extremely clean and will automatically use a litter tray which should be cleaned daily).


Kittens must be kept warm in a cosy, blanket-lined box. An infra-red dull emitter or a thermostatically-controlled under-bed heating pad can be used, but a blanket-wrapped hot-water bottle has the advantage of simulating the natural mother’s body for the kittens to snuggle up to. The temperature in the box should be 27 to 30 º at first, reducing gradually to 21º at six weeks.

Kittens entirely hand-raised will need help with their toilet, as maternal licking normally stimulates urination and defecation. The very first faeces may take some time to be passed, but there is no need for veterinary help unless they are delayed more than four days. If any areas of skin become sore with a rash, soothe them with a mild antiseptic cream safe for feline use.

The kittens should be encouraged to play and once they have been vaccinated they should be be in contact with other cats.

For information regarding Pet Behaviour of Dogs and Cats the following is a good web site: