A Pet Parent's Guide to Caring for a Kitten

There's a lot to know if you're caring for a kitten, especially if the mother isn't nearby. Below, our Edgewater vets explain how to take care of a newborn to 6-week-old kitten without a mother, what can go wrong, and when to take them to the vet.

How to Take Care of a Kitten

While kittens are adorable and lovable household pets, they do have some very specific needs that must be met. These requirements vary according to the stage of life, and if something goes wrong or is overlooked, it can hurt their overall health and longevity. We'll discuss how to care for your new furry friend during their kitten years in this section.

Caring for a Newborn Kitten

Between the ages of 0 and 4 weeks, your tiny feline companion is considered a newborn. They are still developing their ability to meow, walk, and even regulate their body temperature at this stage. If their mother is present, she will be able to assist them with the majority of the tasks, including feeding. All you would need to do is ensure the mother's health and that she and the baby are kept warm and safe. Assure that the floor of their crate/area is blanketed and that they have a warm bed to sleep in. However, if the kitten is motherless, the first thing you should do is take it to a veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be able to assess the kitten's health and inform you of any special requirements.

Warmth is Vital

If the kitten is not mothered, you will need to take additional measures to keep them warm, such as placing a heating disk in the crate or placing a heating pad on low heat underneath a blanket in their cage. Additionally, you should construct a small nest of blankets for the kitten's comfort. You must check the heating pad for excessive heat with your hands and provide a comfortable area in your kitten's cage/crate that does not contain a heating item for them to go to if they become too warm.

You should continue to provide a heating source for your kitten until they reach approximately 6 weeks of age. If kittens become too cold, they will contract hypothermia; therefore, their area should be kept at 85 degrees Fahrenheit or 29 degrees Celsius.

Feeding Your Newborn Kitten

Naturally, when caring for a newborn kitten without a mother, you will need to feed and nourish them. You will need to bottle feed your kitten every 2-4 hours with special kitten formula. Because each kitten is unique, your veterinarian can advise you on the best formula to use, the proper amount to feed, and how frequently you should feed your kitten. To grow healthily, kittens must gain approximately 12 ounces (14 grams) per day or 4 ounces (113 grams) per week. Never give your cat cow milk and always use the same formula. Additionally, for your cat to digest food properly, it must be kept warm.

Caring for a Slightly Older Kitten

When the kitten is between 6 and 10 weeks old, it should gradually stop receiving bottle feedings and begin receiving high protein meals approximately three to four times daily. To begin, pour the kitten formula into a food bowl and add a bit of softened hard food or canned kitten to help ease them into the process.

Around this time, their motor skills begin to develop and they develop a sense of adventure. That means you'll need to monitor them closely to ensure they don't get themselves into mischief. Between the ages of 2 and 4 months, they will require extensive supervision and hands-on bonding playtime.

When your kitten is between 4 and 6 months old, he or she will begin to enter adolescence. This is when they are most mischievous and may require some behavioral modification; this is an excellent time to speak with your veterinarian about spaying or neutering your kitten. Spaying and neutering puppies and kittens before they reach the age of six to eight months can help prevent the establishment of certain undesirable behaviors.

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 allow your vet 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?

When caring for a kitten, there are numerous signs to look for at various stages of the kitten's life that may indicate a problem or even a veterinary emergency. If you notice any of the following signs in your kitten, contact your veterinarian immediately to schedule an appointment.

Here is what you need to keep an eye out for in a newborn kitten:

  • Delay 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 Animal General to book an examination for your tiny bundle of joy!