Orphaned Kittens

orphanWhen you find an Orphaned Kitten:

1. Nursing mom: Kittens under 5-6 weeks should not be put on a nursing mom unless both moms have been tested for FeLV & FIV. Kittens can pass diseases to the nursing mom and the nursing mom can pass diseases to the kittens.

2. Original mom is best: A mom cat will still produce milk to feed her kittens after being spayed. Mom's milk is the best for the kittens. They get immunities from mom's milk.

3. Bottle feeding: When bottle-feeding kittens, use a different bottle for each litter if you have more than one litter. Also, change your clothes to prevent upper respiratory infections (URIs) and other diseases from passing from litter to litter.

4. Supplementing a litter of 6 kittens or more with a mom: If you have a mom with a litter of 6 or more kittens, watch them carefully around 3-4 weeks of age. Mom may not have enough milk for the entire litter and all the kittens will suffer. You may need to supplement the feedings with KMR.


Determining the Age of a Kitten:

  • Umbilical cord attached: They are 3 days or younger.
  • Eyes: They begin to open at 7-8 days and all eyes should be open by day 10. Their eyes generally change from blue to blue/gray then yellow/green between 6 1/2 to 7 weeks of age but can vary kitten-to-kitten and litter-to-litter. In one litter, kittens can be conceived 4-5 days apart. This also contributes to the different days the eyes open.
  • Ears: Their ears stand up at 3-1/2 weeks of age.
  • Teeth: Another way to age the kittens is by the teeth. The following is from the Cornell Book of Cats. The ages are when the teeth break the skin or 'eruption of the teeth' happens, or when they break the surface.

Baby teeth:

Center (4) Incisors (front teeth between the canines) 2-3 weeks
Outer Incisors (still between the canines) 3-4 weeks
Canines 3-4 weeks
Upper molars (called a premolar) 2 months (8 weeks)
Lower molars (called a premolar) 4-5 weeks

Adult teeth:

Center (4) Incisors (front teeth between the canines) 3-1/2 to 4 months (14-16 weeks)
Outer Incisors (still beaten the canines) 4 to 4-1/2 months (16-18 weeks)
Canines 5 months
Upper molars (called a premolar) 4-1/2 to 6 months (depending on tooth)
Lower molars (called a premolar) 5-6 months for all
Upper molar in back, no baby tooth, just the molar at 4-5 months
  • Mobility: They are unstable on their feet until they are around 4 weeks of age and can run pretty well by 5 weeks. If you see kittens running around a yard, they are at least 5-6 weeks old.
  • Eating: They generally are eating on their own between 5 and 6 weeks of age. Some will eat as young as 4 weeks and some will take as long as 8 weeks to stop the bottle if you are bottle feeding. The older kittens who refuse to leave the bottle are generally needing the one-on-one affection they are receiving.

Care 911:

  • If you find a chilled kitten: If you find a chilled kitten, warm it up before trying to feed the kitten. Hold the kitten close to you to get warmth into the body. Give it warmed sugar water in the mouth. You can also rub Karo Syrup on the gums. The syrup will inter the body quickly through the gums. Also, if the kitten is dehydrated, give it lactated ringers (fluids) via sub-Q (can be done by a vet).
  • If you find an over warmed kitten: If you find an over warmed kitten, cool it down before trying to feed the kitten. Put in cool water to lower the body temperature. Administer room temperature water into the mouth. Then, give the kitten room-temperature sugar water or Karo Syrup and lactated ringers (fluids) sub-Q as listed in #1.
  • If a kitten doesn't eat on his own after Karo Syrup: A kitten who is still doesn't eat may need a dose of antibiotics. They often get an imbalance in their intestines and need to correct the bacteria. They should eat within 12 hours of the first dose. Continue through the entire dose of drugs.

Care (non food related):

  • Very young need attention: If the kitten(s) do not have their eyes open, they are young and they should be held a minimum of three hours per day. Transfer what we know about monkeys in a cage without TLC, and you'll understand why the kittens need to be held. Without this affection, young kittens will often die. Hold them SEVERAL HOURS A DAY and you should have success with the kitten.
  • Clear Urine: Urine should be clear, not with mucous, blood or yellow. If there is blood or mucous, see a vet immediately. If the urine is yellow, the kitten is probably dehydrated. You may want to have lactated ringers (fluids) administered by sub-Q
  • Bathroom stimulation: Stimulation is required for the release of both stool & pee until 3-4 weeks of age. use rough material, not cotton, to resemble mom's tongue. Use a warmed, wet wash cloth or a rough paper towel. Make sure the towel is wet. Slowly massage the genitals until the kitten has peed and pooped. The stool should be softly formed, not runny. If the stool is runny, it is likely you are overfeeding the kitten or it has a parasite. It is better to feed more often and give less food each time than to overfeed a kitten. Potty them before and after each feeding.
  • Keep warm and away from drafts: Young kittens do not keep a steady body heat. Keep out of drafts. Also, heating pads are essential if the weather is under 75 degrees. Put the pad on low and cover with a towel. The kitten will move off the pad when warm enough, so allow enough room in their 'area' for them to move off the pad.
  • Sucking on each other: If the kittens suck on each others genitals, separate them immediately. This can be painful to the kittens and can cause sores as well as protruded genitals (which will calm down when separated) Once they stop sucking, you can put the kittens back together. This can take several days.
  • Litter box usage: When starting to use a litter box, if the kittens poop outside the box, pick it up and place it into the box for training. Most kittens train themselves with a litter box with a little nudge from us. If you have the kittens in a large area, you may wish to provide more than one box so 'accidents' don't happen.
  • Type of litter: Do not use clumping litter with kittens under 4 months. Litter can get into the eyes and cause infections. Kittens also tend to eat the litter when young. You may wish to start out with a small container for the litter box with sides that are only 2 inches high. I use drawer dividers that are 6" x 9" x 2" high from Rubbermaid.
  • Keeping the kittens clean: While you are feeding the kittens, they will get food all over them, especially while you are weaning them. You need to clean them regularly to keep the food off them. They have sensitive skin and can get red, irritated skin if you leave KMR on their skin. A damp washcloth usually cleans them. You don't want them to get too wet and therefore get cold.
  • Parasites: Remove all fleas. I use a citrus based shampoo that doesn't kill the fleas, but slows them down. This also takes the dirt off them. A metal flea comb works great, too. Fleas can cause anemia in a kitten which can kill the kittens. Intestinal parasites can also kill the kitten. if you suspect parasites, take the kitten to a vet for de-worming and stool check. Drontal is a fairly new de-wormer that will kill both tapeworm and roundworm. It can be used on fairly young kittens.
Note: All kittens should be treated at sometime for roundworms, since 95% will have roundworms from their moms. It should be routine with your vet to de-worm for roundworms.

Care (food related):

  • Feeding all kittens: Food should be warmed to room temperature prior to feeding any kitten under 4 months of age. This includes mother's milk replacement. You should only put as much milk in the bottle that will be used at this feeding. After the feeding is over, throw out all remaining milk and clean the bottle and nipple. Re-using milk can cause bacteria in the kittens stomachs, which can make them stop eating. If kittens DO get a bacteria in the stomach (and stop eating), a dose of amoxicillin should fight the bacteria within 12 hours. Use the entire dose of the drug.
  • How much to feed and how often: 8cc per ounce of weight per day, do not overfeed. Feedings should be every 3-4 hours when the kittens are young and should be round the clock. The stool should be soft formed, not runny. If the stool is runny, it is likely you are overfeeding the kitten or it has a parasite. It is better to feed more often and give less food each time than to overfeed a kitten.
  • Position to feed from a bottle: Kittens should eat on it's stomach, in the position one would feed a horse, lamb or cow. Do not put them on their backs and feed like a human baby. This can lead to the formula going into the air pipes which can cause pneumonia and can kill them.
  • How the kittens should suck the bottle: Kitten should suck the bottle, not be forced down the throat. If the kitten is sucking, the ears move and the mouth creates a suction around the bottle. This prevents the food from going down the air pipes which can cause pneumonia. If the milk comes out of the mouth or nose, the hole is too big and you need to replace the nipple with one with a smaller opening.
  • Weaning kittens: Weaning kittens can be frustrating, especially if they don't want to give up the bottle and the special attention you are giving them. Start by mixing baby food (meats like chicken or turkey) or wet food mixed with KMR. You can also puree dry food in a blender and add with KMR.
  • Water dishes: Kittens should start drinking water on their own at 4-5 weeks of age. Don't get frustrated when they are only playing or walking in it. One day, you will see them drinking.

What to feed:

Goats milk or KMR should be used on young kittens. Regular milk (whole, low-fat and non-fat) is not recommended! There are some home made remedies which work, too.

Goats milk: Most grocery stores carry goats milk, and it is available in condensed form to keep in the cupboard.
KMR: Available from a pet store, your vet or a feed store.

KMR is available in both mixed and dry version. The dry is more economical. There is a trick to mixing the water. Get a small container with a secure lid. Add some KMR powder and then add 1/10 the amount of total water needed. Shake until mixed. You should have a thick, smooth liquid. Dilute the liquid with the remaining 9/10 of the water.

Notes: A cat that needs to be forced may need a 12-24 hours of antibiotics to 'kick in' the stomach. A kitten that has gone a long time without food may have it's stomach shut down. This will result in the milk curdling inside the kitten if the stomach is not functioning. This will kill the kitten. The best thing to do is to give the kitten warmed sugar water or rub Karo Syrup on the gums. Warmed sugar water is water that is saturated with regular white table sugar. Warm up a bit of water and add as much sugar that will be absorbed by the water. Karo Syrup on the gums will be absorbed into the system through the gums. Karo Syrup is easier to digest and is the best for the kitten, but if you are in a jam and don't have Karo Syrup, use regular white sugar.

Single kitten syndrome:

Single kittens tend to be biters. This can be helped by putting in a stuffed toy for the kitten to snuggle up to. You may also wish to find another single kitten to merge with this kitten. It is a health risk to merge them together for either kitten, but it can be really hard to break the habit of biting with a young kitten.

Why some kittens are abandoned:

  • Abandonment at birth
  • Moms tends to leave some kittens behind at birth if she feels she can not care for, protect or have enough milk for the entire litter. This is usually done within the first 24 hours.
  • Abandonment after the first week: If the mom has kicked just one out of the litter, there is probably something congenitally wrong with him/her and you will probably loose the kitten. Mom cats can sense if there is something wrong with a kitten.
  • Caught while moving them: If the mom is in the middle of moving her litter when you find 1-2 kittens, you have a choice. You can let her come back and retrieve her kitten or you can take it/them and care for them until they are adopted. Unlike other creatures (like birds) cats will take their young back after being touched by a human.

    A kitten may need hand raising because the mother has died, become ill, rejected the kittens or abandoned them. In the case of feral cats, the kittens may have been taken from the mother for taming. Kittens should not be taken from the mother before 5 to 6 weeks of age if possible. (For wild kittens you may want to take them away from the mother at 4 weeks to tame them. As they get older, taming gets progressively harder.) The longer the mother cat is able to feed the kittens the better since young kittens need mother's milk for best nutrition as well as important antibodies. This passive immunity usually lasts until the kittens are 6-14 weeks of age. Since orphans have no such protection, they are especially vulnerable to disease. First try finding a foster feline mother; breeders, veterinarians and animal shelters may know of nursing cats in your area. Try calling any "cat people" that you know for leads as well. Cats will very often feed kittens other than their own. If you must feed them yourself before weaning age, you must devote considerable energy and weeks of constant care if the kitten is to have a good chance at survival. The younger the kitten, the more fragile it is. Very young kittens may not survive without a mother no matter how good the care.


As soon as you find an orphaned kitten it must be protected from becoming chilled. Place it under your clothes next to your skin. Most of the young kitten's energy is needed for growth and yelling for more food, so there's not a lot left over for heat generation. Normally the mother cat and litter mates would provide a good deal of warmth. During their first week, kittens should be kept between 88 and 92 degrees F. For the next 2 weeks they still need temperatures of 80 degrees or so. When they reach 5 weeks or so they can tolerate a lower room temperature. If possible, take the kitten to a veterinarian to be checked out for dehydration and general condition. Kittens can become dehydrated very quickly without a mom and may need fluids under the skin. Kittens that are dehydrated from lack of fluids or diarrhea will have very little energy or appetite, so this is important to take care of immediately. Stools should be checked for worms and parasites. The vet can supply a lot of advice on hand raising kittens as well as needed supplies so don't skip this step. When you get the kitten home you must continue to provide warmth. Find a place in your home that is warm, draft-free and isolated. Feeding can be done with an eyedropper or a nursing bottle (available at the vet or pet store). If using the eyedropper be careful not to force feed the kitten. Let the baby suck the kitten formula (never cow's milk) at its own pace, otherwise you can fill the baby's lungs with formula and cause pneumonia. If the baby is old enough to suckle, the bottle method is best. All utensils should be sterilized before each feeding. To feed your kitten, place it stomach down on a towel or other textured surface to which it can cling. Open its mouth gently with the tip of your finger, then slip the nipple between its jaws. To prevent air from entering the kitten's stomach, hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle, keeping a light pull on the bottle to encourage vigorous sucking. If a suckling kitten aspirates formula into its lungs, immediately hold it upside down until the choking subsides. If the kitten is not strong enough to suckle, seek veterinary assistance ASAP.

Formula should be warmed to body temperature and fed to small kittens every 3-4 hours. As they get older every 6-8 hours will be enough. Check the package for recommended feeding amounts and feedings per day. A kitten needs approximately 8 cc’s of formula per ounce of body weight per day. The kitten's age determines the number of daily feedings it should receive.

When a kitten has had enough formula, bubbles will form around its mouth, and its tummy will be rounded. After each meal, burp the kitten by holding it upright against you shoulder and patting it lightly on the back.

Do not overfeed kittens, as this can bring on diarrhea as well as other problems.





4 ounces
7 ounces
10 ounces
13 ounces
1 pound

32 cc
56 cc
80 cc
104 cc
128 cc


For kittens with a lack of appetite or anemia, "Pet-Tinic" vitamin/mineral supplement (available at the vet and pet food stores) will stimulate appetite and rebuild systems. Follow the directions on the bottle for dosage and give direct by dropper or add to food. Kittens should be weighed frequently to ensure that they are growing properly. You'll soon know if your orphans are thriving because they will grow at an incredible rate.


The kitten's natural mother takes care of both ends of her baby. By licking the kitten's abdomen, she stimulates the bowels and bladder and tidies up the resulting mess. A surrogate cat mom should gently rub the kitten's abdomen and bottom with a cotton ball or pad or tissues moistened with warm water. This stimulates the discharge of waste and keeps babies clean. Be careful to rub only enough to get them to expel waste materials. Keep the area clean and watch for chafing which might indicate that you are rubbing too hard or not cleaning well enough. When you feed and clean the kittens, wash their fur all over with a barely damp towelette using short stokes as the mother would use. This cleans their fur, teaches them to clean their fur, and gives them a feeling of attention and well-being. If the kittens have diarrhea and become caked with stool, it is easier on their skin to wash them in warm water. The kitten's instinctive need to suckle (frustrated by the lack of the mother's breast) may cause the kitten to suckle its litter mate's ears, tail or genitals, causing irritations to develop. Try to satisfy this oral need by caressing each kitten's mouth with your finger or a soft cloth.


Abandoned kittens will need to be cleaned and rid of fleas soon after they are found. Flea anemia can hamper any attempt to save the kitten and fleas carry tape worm eggs. A veterinarian will carry flea treatments suitable for use on kittens. Always check the manufacturer's instructions for use on kittens. Revolution and Capstar have been found to be safe and effective in quick kill of fleas while not harming even day old kittens. After you have rid the kitten of fleas, bathe the kitten in gentle soap or surgical soap if flea sores are present making sure to prevent chilling the kitten. DRY THE KITTEN IMMEDIATELY. One to 3 week old kittens can be dried carefully with a hair dryer. Be careful to avoid blowing in their faces. Older kittens are frequently frightened by the blowing and noise, so towel dry them as best you can and place them in a warm place such as a baby blanket. You may also try putting the towel-dried kitten in a pet carrier and aiming the blow-dryer into the carrier where the warm air will gently circulate to dry the kitten.


If necessary, you may begin weaning the kitten at 4 weeks of age. Start by feeding it KMR (kitten replacement milk) in a bowl. Then gradually introduce solid food. Strained chicken baby food or Friskies turkey kitten food in cans works well. Or you can moisten dry kitten food with formula or water. Don't expect the kitten to be weaned overnight. As it eats more often from the bowl, reduce the bottle feedings. Young kittens cannot chew dry kitten food without moistening. Check instructions on the container. Try to buy high quality food for the kittens (from the vet or pet food stores). Much of what is sold in supermarkets may not help your kitten thrive. Changes in diet or certain foods can cause diarrhea, so keep an eye on stools. Diarrhea can be life-threatening to a young kitten. Unflavored Pedialyte for infants can replace electrolytes lost because of diarrhea and can be substituted for drinking water until the kitten has recovered. You may need to add it to the moist food or feed it using an eyedropper.


The 4 week mark is a good time to introduce the kitten to the litter box too. Place the kitten in the box after each meal. You may have to take the kitten's paw and show it how to scratch in the litter. Usually the kitten will catch on quickly.


Besides food and warmth the kitten needs emotional closeness. Pet it frequently and let it snuggle against your warm skin. Some experts believe that hand-raised kittens show higher intelligence, greater loyalty and deeper affection for their owners. Cat trainers also recommend lots of handling for kittens and swear that this makes them easier to train. Some experts argue that no adequate parental substitute for the natural mother cat exists.


At birth, a kitten should weigh 2 to 4 ounces. By the end of its first week it should double in body weight. The kitten should open its eyes at about 8 days. The eyes will stay blue for about 2 more weeks (true eye color will not appear until the kitten is about 3 months old.) At 2 weeks the ears will start to stand up. At about 3 weeks the kitten will try to walk. At 4 weeks kittens start to play with each other and develop teeth. Check with your veterinarian as to the timing of the needed vaccinations. The kitten should be ready for adoption at 8 weeks, and can be spayed or neutered at that time if in good health.


Orphaned kittens are especially vulnerable to diseases. At the first sign of any abnormal behavior or loss of appetite, take them to the veterinarian. Colds, like upper respiratory infections, are caused by various viruses and claim many kittens each year. Some of these same viruses, or an organism known as Chlamydia, can also cause permanent damage to a kitten's eyes. If bacteria invade the infected eye the organisms can puncture the tough covering, resulting in blindness. Even a lesser infection can leave the eyeball badly scarred. Diarrhea can result from disease, food changes, worms, or overfeeding. The resulting dehydration can be deadly. Unflavored Pedialyte for infants can replace essential electrolytes. Distemper is also a chronic danger to young cats, especially those who did not have the advantage of the mother cat's antibodies. It is airborne, very contagious, and often a killer.


Caring for an orphaned kitten can be difficult and even the most conscientious foster parent may lose a little one. If a kitten dies, the substitute parent should not blame himself or herself. Nor should you accept all the credit if the kitten thrives. A kitten is most likely to die at birth, in its first week, or while weaning. But, armed with common sense and an ability to care (as well as accurate information), you have a good chance of raising a motherless waif to the adoption age - or beyond.
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