Copyright 1996, 97 - Gary Wescom
10 March, 1996
This paper is about raising orphaned kittens for adoption. The objective of hand raising orphaned kittens is to give them the opportunity for happy, healthy lives. The greatest chance for survival for hand raised kittens comes from being well loved companions and pets. We enable this by allowing those behaviors that make cats desirable companions to develop. They should be raised to trust humans. They should be taught to associate humans with food, comfort, and companionship. The kittens must become normal, happy cats, but cats that like being with people.
This paper contains information that will be useful to people attempting to raise very young orphaned kittens. It is a compilation of knowledge and experience gained while hand raising orphaned kittens. As such, it should not be considered a comprehensive text on the subject of raising kittens but rather a source of information specific to raising orphaned kittens. It is intended as a supplement to more general cat raising information that is available from other sources.
This text is oriented towards raising kittens for adoption into urban or suburban households. The information provided should be useful to those who are raising orphaned kittens to keep. The socialization techniques describe may not be suitable for rural or farm settings though. Farm cats must remain wary of predators and dogs so should probably receive relatively little socialization but this is a guess that is not based upon any actual experience. Hand raised kittens have ended up on farms and ranches but have universally been kept as protected house pets. Farmers and ranchers enjoy playful, loving companions as much as urban and suburban people.
The information contained here was gained through the practical experiences of untrained volunteers, not veterinary professionals. In any case where procedures or methods described here conflict with those recommended by veterinarians, the professional's words must be heeded.
This text concentrates upon the methods and problems of hand raising orphaned kittens. Additional general kitten and cat care books could be very useful. Quite a wide range of material is available in book stores and libraries. A couple that have proven helpful are:
The Complete Book of Cat Care, Katrin Behrend and Monika Wegler. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1991. This is a good book on general cat care.
The Home Pet Vet Guide - Cats, Martin I. Green. Ballentine Books, New York, 1980. This is a very complete book of cat health care.
To be placed in human hands before its natural weaning age means that a kitten has lost its mother. A human taking over for a kitten's natural mother must accept absolutely every aspect of raising it until it is adopted. This life and death responsibility for another creature is not something to be taken lightly. Everyone raising kittens on a regular basis eventually experiences the pain of losing a kitten to disease or accident.
The needs of a kitten are very much like those of a human baby. They must be bottle fed, bathed, kept warm, protected, and loved. For the first two weeks or so, you may even be up in the middle of the night with them. Just about the time that they have developed enough to be fun companions, you will lose them to their permanent owners.
In spite of the worry and work associated with raising kittens by hand, the rewards make it worthwhile. The first, and probably most important, is the knowledge that without human help, a litter of kittens might have perished, lonely and hungry. Second, few things in life can match the feelings that holding a warm, clean, purring kitten evoke. A litter of kittens almost completely defines "cute".
There is also a tremendous difference between raising kittens and human babies or Canine puppies. Kittens are often litter box trained by only 2 to 4 weeks old. After that, little training other than to avoid curtain climbing and using potted plants for litter boxes is necessary. Most of the training techniques employed when hand raising kittens are usually considered to be "spoiling" them. The primary ingredients in a kitten training program are cuddling and play, neither of which are particularly stressful to a human!
There are three phases of kitten raising. The first phase is from birth to about 2 weeks when kittens are basically helpless. A kitten is born with its eyes and ears closed. By about the end of the second week, its eyes are open and tracking objects around them. Also, around that same time, its ears begin opening. During this phase, kittens require almost continuous care. Their digestive and urinary tracks are not fully developed so are especially susceptible to problems in those areas.
The second phase is from about 2 weeks to about 4 weeks when kittens are beginning to explore their new world but still require bottle feeding. It is during this phase that the kittens begin to sleep through the night. Though bottle feeding, bathing, and litter box training are needed, the focus of kitten raising activities shifts from hour-by-hour care to cuddling and socializing.
The third phase is from about 4 weeks to adoption during which the kittens needs are primarily for love and supervision. This is often the "payoff" phase for kitten raisers. Kittens in this phase are playful, friendly, fuzzy balls of fun. Kittens begin to display their adult personalities during this phase.
The duration's given above for each phase are only approximate. Every litter and every kitten is different. It is often difficult to determine the actual age of kittens received for hand raising. They may have been found abandoned and in questionable health. Their rate of development, prior to rescue, may have been impacted by poor nutrition or environment. A practical kitten raising schedule must adapt to the actual needs of the kittens. Kitten care during each phase will be described in more detail in later sections.
Hand raising kittens is not particularly expensive but does require a time commitment. Depending upon the age of the kittens, a commitment of up to 4 to 6 hours a day is required. Fortunately, once into the second phase of development and later , this time decreases greatly.
Just as with human babies, there is paraphernalia that must be collected and maintained for kitten raising. The actual list of required supplies will described later. This list contains items such as a cage, litter boxes, kitten nursing formula, bottles and nipples, kitten chow, blankets, towels, and toys.
The kitten cage will be placed in a prominent position in the house rather than in some back room. Even after kittens are sleeping through the night, they are kept near household activity as part of their socialization. It should be expected that, for the stay of the kittens, part of the living room or family room will be cluttered with kitten things.
There is quite a bit of similarity between the requirements for a household in which kittens will be raised and one in which human babies will be raised. Kittens must be kept warm and safe. Kittens create clutter and mess. Normal household schedules and activities are modified to meet the needs of the kittens.
The ideal household for raising kittens is simply an ordinary home. The normal clutter and hubbub of a family home provides the proper stimulation for kitten development. Having adult cats and dogs is actually an advantage for socializing kittens. Kittens should be protected from overt hazards but allowed their little adventures.
Adding objects such as baskets of varied sizes and shapes to play areas can help keep kittens entertained and provide an even richer environment. Kitten development appears to be improved in environments that provide them with lots of opportunity to explore and manipulate things around them.
Arguably the most important aspect of hand raising kittens is their socialization. A kitten that does not relate to humans well may eventually be abandoned or left with the local animal control agency. How adult cats relate to humans depends on the socialization they receive as kittens. The most critical time for kitten socialization is from the age of two weeks to an age of about six to eight weeks. The human who hand raises kittens takes on the responsibility of assuring adequate socialization.
A normal active household with plenty of everyday foot traffic and confusion is a good environment for socializing kittens. Ideally, kittens should spend their active periods playing in close proximity to household residents and visitors. Kittens should not be protected from normal household activity other than to assure their safety.
The presence of other animals in the household is very important. Contact with other cats is especially helpful in developing a kitten's social skills. Socialization with adult cats and siblings tends to improve a cat's ability to adjust to new animals and people in the household. Providing daily contact with a dog will allow a kitten to be adopted into a household in which a dog already resides.
From birth to an age of about two weeks, kittens do not move around very much and must be constantly kept warm and clean. Hospital operating room cleanliness is not necessary but normal human baby raising cleanliness levels are.
After two weeks though, kittens are much less fragile. They will be getting into everything that they can reach. They are small enough that they will be getting into the dirt in potted plants and the dust under furniture. Getting dirty and being given a bath is a normal part of being a kitten. Ordinary household housekeeping procedures are all that are required for kitten health.
Even though kittens come with their own fur coats, they must be kept warm. The temperature around newborns should be kept at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). This kind of environment can be maintained using a small heat lamp at about 3 or 4 feet from the kittens. In cooler climates, placing an electric "Hot Rock" that is normally used in reptile cages under the kitten's bedding can provide them with a warm spot to snuggle up to.
NOTE: young kittens are not able to recognize when they are overheated. They don't move away from heat sources that might harm them. All heat sources must be checked to make sure they will not raise kitten body temperature above about 96 to 98 degrees F (36 degrees Celsius). Heating pads, heat lamps, and "Hot Rocks" may be adjusted using common lamp dimmers.
By about two weeks of age, simply covering their cage when the kittens are sleeping to prevent drafts is adequate. At least one warm blanket or pad should be laid near the kitten's cage for them to curl up on for short naps during the day.
Daytime play temperatures for kittens 2 weeks and older are simply those comfortable for humans or about 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 25 degrees Celsius). Very young kittens should be moved to a warm location if they are not actively playing.
Kittens should be protected from harm. This does not mean that no possibility for injury may exist, just that the probability is minimal. Poisonous chemicals should not be left where the kittens can reach them. Overt dangers such as automatic machinery or exposed electrical connections should not be accessible to kittens.
Kittens, like small children, are curious and tend to get into things they really are not supposed to. Fragile objects tend to not survive very long in the presence of kittens.
Potted plants are especially susceptible to kitten damage. Two methods have worked well at minimizing the hazard to plants from curious kittens. You may cover the dirt in the pots with stones, golf ball size or larger. Alternatively, you may cover the dirt with hardware cloth or small mesh chicken wire shields that you have cut to fit each pot. In any event, plant pots must be large and heavy enough that kittens will not be able to tip the pots over.
Small glass or pottery objects should be put away while kittens are around. One of the favorite pastimes of kittens is to gently push objects over the edge of a high place to watch them fall to the floor. Even when kittens are not intentionally pushing things over, they are blundering into things as they chase each other around.
Kittens rely upon their claws for traction much more than adult cats. Expensive fabrics, soft leather, and scratchable plastics should be protected from kitten claws. Even though these claws are tiny, they are sharp as little needles.
Human children do not automatically make good companions for very young kittens. Children, especially urban and suburban children, tend to relate to kittens as playmates or playthings. Very young kittens cannot differentiate between human adults and children. Accidents during play with children that cause pain or distress will negatively impact socialization with both adults and children.
A well socialized kitten at adoption age can adapt to an environment with young human children. Before that age, kittens should always be supervised when around children.
A good cage is a necessary part of hand raising kittens. It serves two important functions: keeping the kittens corralled when necessary and to protect them. The cage should be about 18 inches high by 18 inches deep by 36 inches wide (0.5 x 0.5 x 1.0 meter). The cage must be large enough to hold a litter of kittens, their bedding, and a litter box. It must be small enough that you can easily reach everything inside the cage.
A cage with a front opening door is best but a top opening door is acceptable. A front opening door, when left open, allows kittens to return to the cage when they want to rest or use their litter box.
When kittens are bedded down for the night, their cage should be covered to minimize drafts and to let them know that it is time to settle down. A warm blanket works well as a cage cover. Specially fitted cage covers are not necessary and have sometimes been more clumsy to use than an ordinary blanket.
Kittens quickly accept their cage as their place of sanctuary. Their cage becomes their den. They instinctively recognize that the cage not only keeps them in but keep the rest of the world out. Feral kittens should not be allowed to hide when sleeping but placed in their cage. From the safety of their cage, they become used to the sounds and activity of the household and the humans and other animals in it.
What kittens are fed changes as they grow. At birth, they are fed kitten formula and at about two to three weeks are introduced to solid foods. By an age of about six to eight weeks, they are on solid food exclusively.
FORMULA: KMR Milk Replacer for Kittens or direct equivalent. KMR should be used rather than cows milk as it is designed to very specifically for cats. Furthermore, its list of ingredients is very long and impressive. Cow's milk is sometimes erroneously thought to be a suitable substitute for natural cat's milk. Analysis of cow's milk shows too high a calcium-to-phosphorous ratio and too high a lactose level. Energy, protein, and fat levels are too low to sustain kitten growth. KMR is supplied by PetAg, Inc. 201 Keyes Ave., Hampshire, IL 60140. Alternatives to KMR are Havolac (Haver Co.) and Veta-Lac (Vet-A-Mix, Inc.)
If difficulty is encountered obtaining KMR, goat's milk may be substituted for short periods. If goats milk is not available, one of the cooked milk products in which the lactose has been broken down may be used. Human baby formula may be used at twice normal strength. You may add a few drops of Karo syrup to increase their food value for newborn kittens. Adding egg yolk will increase the protein and fat levels to more reasonable levels. This substitution should be for as short a period as practical though. Calcium and Phosphorous levels will still be two to four times too high.
Immediately after birth, kittens receive straight KMR or KMR with a few drops of Karo syrup. Karo syrup may be used as a formula additive when kittens are first received, especially if they are underfed. As they age, the KMR is fortified with cereal. Powdered Gerber Rice Cereal for Baby is added after the first week or two. At about three weeks, chicken baby food from a jar is gradually added to the mix.
SOLID FOOD: Up to an age of about three to four weeks, solid food given to kittens should be limited to human baby food, specifically chicken and turkey. The regular supermarket jars of baby food are just fine for kittens. At about four weeks, dry cat food will be mixed with the baby food to begin introducing the kittens to real cat food.
The dry cat food used must be specifically formulated for kittens. There are many acceptable brands and products. For reference, Hill's Science Diet, Feline Growth formulation is very good. This food is intended for kittens up to 1 year and Pregnant/Nursing cats. The key points are that the food be good quality specifically formulated for kittens.
From about five weeks and on you will be mixing canned cat food with the dry cat food. The kind of canned cat food used is not critical other than it should be cat food. Canned cat food is used to both get the kittens used to a varied diet and to increase the moisture content of their food. More comprehensive information about food may be found in the chapter on feeding.
Medical problems and treatments are discussed in the chapter on medical problems. The medications you may need are as follow:
Kaopectate Anti-Diarrheal Medication: For diarrhea. Plain, unflavored medication is preferred but flavored may be used. Kittens hate plain and flavored versions equally.
Vegetable cooking oil: For constipation. Vegetable oil is administered in very small doses so only a small quantity will ever be needed.
Metamucil: For constipation. Metamucil may be administered in other food as an alternative to vegetable oil.
Worm Medicine: Worm medicine is an antibiotic used to kill a range of blood, muscular, and intestinal parasites. Arrangements should be made with a veterinarian to obtain worm medicine for kittens whose background is not well known and trusted.
Amoxicillan Drops (optional): Amoxi-Drops are an antibiotic used to treat upper respiratory infections and diseases that cause kittens to become lethargic and weak. If needed at all, these drops will be needed immediately. Delaying application by only a few hours can be fatal to kittens. Arrangements should be made with a veterinarian to obtain this medication on short notice. It is normally supplied only by prescription.
Ear Mite Medicine: Ear Mite medication is used to kill a kind of parasite that likes the inside of kittens' ears. This medication is commonly found in pet supply stores and is usually available from your vet.
Two litter boxes should be available to the kittens. A small litter box should be placed in the cage with the kittens as soon as they begin moving around on their own. This litter box should contain plain clay litter. Keeping a litter box available, even when they are in their cage, will speed their litter box training.
Another litter box should be available to the kittens when they are outside their cage. This box will be used quite a bit by kittens after about four weeks of age. This box may be shared with permanent household cats. Sharing a litter box between permanent and transient cats does present some risk that the permanent cats could pick up a disease or parasite from the kittens. There is rarely a comparable risk to the kittens.
Cotton Balls: For urinary and bowel stimulation.
Eye Droppers: For administering medication.
Facial Tissues: General cleanup.
Vaseline: Used to prevent skin chapping around anal area.
Old Towels: Used as general purpose padding. Towels are handy because they are absorbent and are easy to clean.
Old Blankets: Used as cage covers and sleeping pads. Kittens prefer soft fuzzy blankets over knit blankets.
Baby Shampoo: For bathing kittens. Cat shampoos should be used after kittens are about 2 months old.
Bottles and Nipples: Pet sized bottles (4 fluid oz.) and nipples. Always look for sources for additional nipples. Kittens get their first teeth at about 2 weeks of age and tend to chew through nipples fairly rapidly.
Water and Food Dishes: Small heavy bowls for placing water and dry kitten food near kitten play areas. Medium sized plate that does not tip easily for serving canned cat food to kittens.
Flea Comb: Wire toothed flea comb for checking kittens for fleas. This is a standard item available in pet stores.
Kitten Toys: Kids and kittens like to play with toys. Pet toys are available in pet stores. Kittens, however, are not picky about their toys and are happy with just about anything they can bat around and chew on. Kitten raiser's become used to little pieces of plastic or cardboard laying around in kitten play areas.
Squirt Bottle: Punishing kittens does not work and makes them fear humans. Instead of punishment, kittens are squirted with a little water to warn them away from destructive activities such as curtain climbing. This should be a bottle that will shoot a stream of water 10 or 15 feet.
One of the first questions asked about kittens is their age. The table provided below may be of assistance answering those questions. The rate of development of each litter and each kitten varies greatly. A poor environment or poor care could have retarded their growth. All of these factors tend to make exact age determination difficult.
Knowing the exact age of a litter of kittens is less important than might be expected. The care given each kitten depends upon its individual needs, not its physical age. Each kitten's needs is usually apparent within a few hours of arrival.
Newborn kittens have a rectal temperature of about 92 degrees to 96 degrees Fahrenheit. By about one week old, rectal temperature is about 98 degrees F.
Cats, like humans, grow a set of baby teeth and a set of adult teeth. Their baby teeth (or more properly, milk teeth) begin breaking through at around two weeks of age. Their adult teeth begin coming in at around four to six months of age.
It is impractical to assign an exact schedule for kitten development. Kittens grow at different rates. Things such as learning to use a litter box or no longer demanding to be bottle fed vary tremendously. Each kitten should be encouraged to progress at its own rate.
Care should be taken to not place too much emphasis on physical development concerns. Kitten development rates are variable, even within a single litter. It is not unusual for the smallest kitten in a litter to become the biggest, boldest adult. Physical development rate and size are much less important than a kitten's social skills when adoption time comes.
At what age a kitten is ready for adoption depends upon how prospective owners are found. In an ideal situation, a kitten would be raised by their natural mother in a clean, loving household and given out for adoption at about 12 weeks of age. For hand raised kittens, the adoption age is often as young as 6 to 8 weeks.
Hand raised kittens are seldom sold. Having invested weeks of effort and love in a litter of kittens, those people who raise them are usually pretty choosy about who their kittens are given to. A kitten is normally handed over to only people who appear to understand the responsibility they are taking on when they accept the younger kitten.
Another factor that effects adoption age is that 6 to 8 week old kittens are cuter and easier to find homes for than older kittens. Fortunately, after about 6 weeks of age, kittens are pretty resilient and will thrive in just about any environment. Because they still appear very young and fragile, however, their new owners often give them care and attention that they might otherwise not. The bonding that occurs between new owners and their kittens during this time may very well be more valuable to the kitten than additional rearing time.
Kittens, like human babies, do little more than eat and sleep when they are first born. They require almost constant care. Very young kittens must be bottle fed and even burped. Though their care may be tiresome, well cared for kittens will often be sleeping through the night at only two weeks of age. Kittens are often ready to go without a bottle and are often housebroken by about a month from birth.
Feeding times are important socialization times for kittens. During feeding, kittens learn to associate human scents and contact with security, food, and comfort. This is the time that young kittens receive most of the physical contact that is so critical to their nervous system development. Kittens should be fondled, stroked, and cuddled often and feeding time is a convenient time for this.
Kitten weights should be logged every day for the first two or three weeks. A lack of steady weight increase can be an early warning sign of a health problem. Likewise, a normal weight increase will provide confidence that kittens are doing well.
In the following paragraphs, feeding amounts are listed in Cubic Centimeters (CC). The quantities for each feeding are so small when kittens are very young that using fluid ounces as a measure would be too cumbersome.
1 fluid ounce = about 30 CC
Kittens are fed KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer). Most adult cats are lactose intolerant to one degree or another. While some kittens have been successfully raised on cow's milk, this practice should be avoided. Diarrhea or vomiting may result from cow's milk feeding, which in turn poses a serious possibility for dehydration.
Bottle feeding kittens in not difficult. You simply hold a kitten upright by its head and shoulders against the center of your chest. The kitten will normally latch on to your shirt with its front claws and push back against your hand and tilt its head back a little. You then tease the nipple into the kitten's mouth and keep the bottle straight out in front of its nose.
While nursing is instinctive in kittens, using a bottle is not. A kitten is expecting something warm and furry in front of its nose when it feeds. You may find that a kitten will attempt take the nipple at the side of its mouth and chew rather than suck. Slide the nipple around to the front of the kitten's mouth. Occasionally, squeezing a couple drops of formula into the kitten's mouth may give it a hint about what it is supposed to do.
If a kitten appears to be having difficulty feeding because it is too agitated, it is often helpful to take a few seconds to hold it near your face while you make purring sounds and stroke it. A kitten will often have a look of pure ecstasy on its little face when stroked against its human "momma's" cheek.
Once a kitten settles down and begins sucking well, you will often notice that its ears will wiggle. This is from motion of its jaw muscles. Most kittens will chew on the nipple for a minute or so and then settle down to nursing.
Newborn kittens may not suck well and using a large dropper may be necessary to achieve adequate feeding quantities. Even these very young kittens should be encouraged to suckle though. Squirting formula into kitten mouths may be quicker than teaching them to suckle but runs a much higher risk of formula getting into young kitten lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia.
After feeding, a gentle attempt at burping each kitten should be made. Simply hold the kitten head up and gently pat its back. An alternative to back patting is to very gently massage the kitten's belly or simply lifting its fore-legs a little. Never apply heavy pressure to a kitten's belly immediately after feeding. Kittens will get by just fine even if never burped. Like human babies though, air swallowed during nursing can cause some formula to be spit-up, reducing feeding quantities.
Kitten formula should normally be warmed to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) before feeding. Formula should not be fed to weak and hypothermic kittens. A chilled kitten should be gradually warmed to a more normal temperature. Feeding may begin once the kitten's rectal temperature is above about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius).
Kittens are usually somewhat slower to learn how to lap water from a bowl than to eat solid food. This is not a problem as long as sufficient wet cat food is mixed with their dry cat food and a bowl of water is always available to them. If there is any doubt that the kittens are getting sufficient moisture, simply bottle feed them a KMR/water mix. A trick that may work for especially warm and dry weather is to provide a second water bowl with a wash cloth in it that the kittens can lick or suck on as needed.
You can help kittens learn to lap from a bowl by starting them off lapping formula squirted onto a small dish. This allows them to learn to lap liquids without the frightening experience of dipping their noses under water. Once they are used to lapping liquids from a flat dish, they adapt to a bowl quickly.
At birth, a kitten weighs about 3 ounces. Over its first week, its weight will normally double to about 6 or 7 ounces. Newborn kittens are fed 6 or more times a day; that is as often as every 3 hours.
Each kitten's rate of development will be different. The amount of each feeding depends upon the kitten's weight. Extra care and attention should be given to slower developers as these often become the more affectionate pets as adults. Listed below are approximate feeding quantities for kitten weights. The actual goal will be to feed the kittens as much as they will take. The numbers below are simply for reference.
In general, feeding quantities are large enough that eye droppers are not quite large enough for kitten feeding. Some drug stores carry larger droppers with a capacity of several CCs. These may be used. Regular pet nurser bottles of 50 CC capacity may be used but obviously determining how much a kitten has taken is more difficult.
Before each feeding, a kitten's belly should be massaged lightly to stimulate proper digestive track operation. This is taken care of fairly easily since the kittens should be stimulated for urination and bowel movements when they are awakened for feeding. See the section on litter box training for information on this subject. In general, kittens should be handled and massaged frequently to make up for the lack of grooming and bathing normally supplied by their mothers.
Kittens should be encouraged to suckle during feeding. Suckling is an instinctive action. Kittens that do not get adequate suckling time during feeding may suck on litter mates and cause them distress or skin irritation.
Feeding for one week old kittens is very much like the first except that the kittens are beginning to move around a little and will begin opening their eyes. The description for first week feeding applies to the second week except that feeding quantities will be increased and feeding frequency may be reduced depending upon feeding volumes. Kittens that feed well may not need to be feed more than four times a day while light feeders may have to be fed more often.
This week begins a transition from intensive kitten care to a more fun time. Feeding generally reduces to about 4 times a day with occasional extra feedings for kittens that didn't take very much during a regular feeding. Kittens, starting at about two weeks, should be encouraged to suckle and begin using a pet nurser bottle. This stage will last only about two to three weeks so if the kitten's suckling needs are to be met, it must be during this time.
Even more than in the first two weeks, feeding quantities should be simply as much as the kittens will take. Kittens that are feeding well have a definite pear shape, with belly somewhat distended, after each feeding. After feeding, kittens should be allowed to settle down and rest. They will normally nap for a minimum of an hour or two.
Three week old kittens are beginning to scamper and play a little. They are aware of humans as individuals and recognize their human "momma." Tenderness and cuddling during feeding is very important for kitten nervous system development and socialization. The kittens are normally sleeping through the night if fed late in the evening and early in the morning. They are fed about every four hours during the rest of the day.
In this week, Gerber Rice Cereal is added to the KMR. The rice cereal adds bulk to the KMR and helps the kittens transition to solid food in the coming weeks. The rice cereal also tends to help reduce mild, chronic diarrhea that some kittens experience while bottle fed.
This week and during subsequent weeks, complaining kittens should immediately and gently be placed on the sand in their litter box. Three week old kittens may begin using the litter box in their cage if placed upon it at the right time. They are like younger kittens in that they are still most active around feeding time. While they may not accomplish anything useful while on the sand, they become familiar with the litter box, its smells, and that they can yell for help getting there.
Four week old kittens are typically fed 4 times a day. As with the previous week, feeding quantities are whatever the kittens will take. During this week, small amounts of chicken baby food are blended with the KMR, rice cereal formula. The baby food meat accustoms the kittens to the scent of meat and adds protein to the mix.
Occasionally during the week, small quantities of baby food meat can be placed in kitten mouths just prior to receiving their bottle feeding. By the end of the week they should be actively lapping baby food meat from a finger held near their mouths prior to regular feeding.
Starting at about 5 weeks of age, kittens begin changing over to a solid food diet. This is done gradually. At about 5 weeks old, the four or more bottles of formula a day is reduced to two. In the morning, the kittens receive baby food chicken meat with a few pellets of dry cat food mixed in. Mid-morning, they are given a bottle. They receive the baby food again in the evening and another bottle at bed time. Extra partial bottle feedings may be given with the solid food if the kittens seem more comfortable with that combination. During the transition to solid food, you will have to make sure that the kittens are receiving sufficient fluids so they do not become dehydrated.
Over the following days and weeks, the kittens are switched from baby food and formula to solid food. The solid food should be mixture of dry pellets and canned cat food. A small bowel of dry cat food may be left for the kittens to nibble on whenever they want. A small bowl of water should also be available to them at all times. Some litters have made the complete transition by seven weeks of age but there is no reason to rush this. Kittens lose interest in the bottle fairly quickly on their own. Occasionally an individual kitten will want to be bottle fed once or twice a day after its litter mates have completely given up the bottle. This is usually because the kitten wants the contact and comfort of bottle feeding and is not a sign of a problem.
There doesn't appear to be any likelihood of retarding a kitten's development by bottle feeding it for as many weeks as it wants. The introduction of solid food, however, should begin at about 4 or 5 weeks of age at the latest to provide the kittens with sufficient nutrients for proper bone and muscle development. Kittens are generally off baby food and on solid food exclusively by about 7 or 8 weeks of age.
Hand raised kittens are probably not going to receive as much bathing as kittens raised by their natural mothers. Mother cats groom their kittens almost continuously for the first two or three weeks. This activity serves purposes beyond simple cleanliness.
A mother cats tongue, in the process of cleaning kitten fur, provides a sensory stimulation that is vital to kitten nervous system development. The mother licks her kittens to trigger urination and bowel movement and ingests the results to keep the nesting area clean. The mother cat's saliva contains antibiotics that help protect her kittens from infections. Though we can't groom kittens the way their mother could have, we must attempt to provide kittens with the things her efforts would have.
When kittens become dirty, we must bath them. We must make a conscious effort to fondle and stroke kittens frequently. Until kittens are using a litter box on their own, they must be manually stimulated to urinate and have bowel movements. We must keep their environment clean so they are not likely to become sick before their immune systems are fully developed.
Giving a kitten a bath is a very pleasant activity compared with bathing adult cats. Kittens seem to expect to be bathed. Adult cats often seem to consider bathing a form of torture.
Kittens are small enough that they may be given a quick rinse by simply holding them under a faucet that is gently flowing warm water. Kitten body temperature is slightly higher than humans so a water temperature should be slightly above luke warm. Simply hold the kitten, head up, by the scruff of the neck and shoulders with one hand and gently wash it with the other. Do not hold the kitten's head under the running water. This frightens the kitten and could get water into its lungs. Wash its face and head with a wash cloth. Kittens seem to enjoy the warm water and the stroking.
If holding kittens under a running faucet is impractical, they may be bathed in a tub or dishpan holding an inch or two of warm water. Avoid dunking small kittens in their bath water. Hold a kitten over the tub with one hand. Cup your other hand and use it to lift and pour water over the kitten.
It is especially important to use mild shampoos and soaps because it is difficult to thoroughly rinse them from a kitten's fur. Even small amounts of the wrong chemicals left on a kitten's skin after bathing can cause it considerable irritation and discomfort. Do not use adult cat shampoo or Flea and Tick shampoo on young kittens. Baby shampoo has been used very successfully.
Kittens must not be allowed to become chilled after a bath. They have very low body mass so can become chilled very quickly. As soon as the kitten is rinsed, water should be lightly wrung from its fur by gently stroking it from head to tail a few times. It should then immediately be wrapped in a warm fluffy towel and lightly blotted to remove most of the moisture from its fur. It should be kept warm until completely dry.
A hand held hair dryer on its lowest heat setting may be used if desired. Do not hold the dryer any closer than a few inches from the kitten and do not blow directly onto the its face or head. Hold one hand over the kitten's head while directing warm air over the its body. Kittens that are dried this way from one or two weeks old seem to enjoy the feel of the warm air from the hair dryer. Some enjoy the hair dryer even as adults.
Newborn kittens must be physically stimulated for both urination and bowel movements. Holding the kitten in your hand, gently stroke its anus and genital area using a cotton ball or a tissue. Wipe away urine and fecal matter. Rub a little Vaseline around the anal area to prevent chapping.
It is sometimes helpful to moisten the cotton balls or tissues in warm water to better simulate a mother cat's tongue.
Note: While stroking to stimulate urination or bowel movement, the kitten's belly area should be messaged. This helps stimulate peristaltic action in the kitten's bowels and its digestion.
By about the third week, kittens will begin using the litter box. They may still occasionally need stimulation but will fairly quickly switch to using the litter if placed upon it. For obvious reasons, any attempt to use the litter box should be encouraged.
At first, a kitten's attempts to use the litter box will be fairly messy. Some kittens will need to have their feet and rear ends bathed with just about every litter box attempt. They gradually learn to stay clean while using the litter box but you can expect about a week of having kitten feces tracked around the cage.
At around the fourth or fifth week, kittens are often 100% litter box trained. There will still be occasional accidents in which a kitten will be playing and not notice that it needs to use the litter box until it is too late. For the most part, all that is needed from you is to be alert for kittens in need of quick transport to the litter box.
Given the opportunity, kittens will begin using a litter box as soon as they are physically able. The conditions that allow this to occur are easy to establish. A kitten sized litter box should be available in the kitten's cage. Delivering distressed or complaining kittens to this litter box will fairly quickly train them to cry for help reaching it.
Kittens identify a litter box by its odor. The kittens should be stimulated for bowel movements and urination into their litter box. Allowing resident cats to use that litter box for a while before placing it in kitten service might be of use in establishing a properly identifiable odor. Later, the kittens will be able to recognize both litter boxes and typical litter products even when clean but a little odor helps when they are younger.
You may safely assume that a kitten that stops playing and begins to complain wants to either be fed or use the litter box. Placing a distressed kitten in the litter box doesn't seem to offend it. If it continues complaining and ignores the litter box, you may then assume that was not what was on the kitten's mind.
Occasionally a kitten will be lazy and avoid a long trek to the litter box by sneaking to a convenient hidden corner. The "mess" should be cleaned up so as to not give "odor sanction" for this activity. Any kittens that appear to be sneaking to one of these spots should be quickly carried to the litter box. A kitten is usually in this lazy phase for only about a week.
Do not punish kittens who don't use the litter box. In general, punishment does not work with cats. A kitten that is not using the litter box all of the time should be watched and when seen heading for a "potty" area, immediately transported to the litter box. Carrying kittens to the litter box does not make them lazy. It appears to reinforce their natural desire to use a litter box.
Domestic cats are very much like their wild cousins. The 38 species of cats in the world, including our house cats, are all similar in behavior and needs. The domestic cat differs from them in only one really significant way: they can live in close proximity to each other and us. How this difference came to be will probably never be known with certainty but we can examine the clues we do have and speculate as to their meaning.
First, the earliest paintings of domestic cats were found in North Africa. North Africa is also home to the African Wildcat, a cat that similar to domestic cats in size and appearance. That leads us to speculate that the African Wildcat is the ancestor to our house pets.
We can speculate as to how an African Wildcat can become a domestic cat. Adult wild cats cannot comfortably live in close proximity to each other or to us. Cats claim and defend hunting territories. The size of these territories depends upon how much food is available in them with larger territories needed when food is scarce.
Kittens, of all cat species, must remain close to their mothers and litter mates if they are to survive. All that is necessary for wild cats to become domestic cats is to simply not mature mentally to adulthood. The brains of our domestic cats are, in fact, different than wild cats. Domestic cats have smaller adult brain size as compared to potential brain size than any other cat. This probably means that domestic cats avoid maturing to full adult cat brain configuration by simply having skulls too small for their potential brain size.
Both cats and rats learned to live in our homes and granaries. The rats came to eat our grain. The cats came to eat the rats. Wild cats adapted to domestic life to take advantage of a lucrative food source. Cats became our friends because they protected our food supplies. They became household pets because they adapted to living close by remaining kittenish. Being playful and affectionate is a natural part of being a domestic cat.
It is not difficult to imagine that individual wild cats have slightly different tolerances for remaining in close proximity to each other and humans. Cats that remained close to human habitations would also tend to breed together. Through a few generations of normal breeding, a community of cats could have emerged that were essentially domesticated cats. Such a change could easily have happened in less than a decade.
Though the above description of the origin of domestic cats is speculation, it should always be remembered that our house cats are much more like the wild cats species than different. Most of kitten and cat behavior is based in the needs of wild cats. Mother nature has given them a need to hunt and to establish and defend territories. Those needs are expressed in the complex and entertaining variety of cat behaviors we enjoy.
Understanding this underlying concept in kitten and cat behavior can help in choosing appropriate methods for socializing kittens. Methods that are appropriate for other kinds of animals are typically not correct for kittens. Kittens, if given the opportunity, will develop into loving, playful pets. It is not necessary or desirable to try to make them into anything but normal happy cats. The following paragraphs describe ways of doing this.
In the past, very little has been written about hand raising kittens. Most "wisdom" about raising kittens came to us from rural farms. Sadly, perhaps, the world that even our parents knew as children does not exist. The family farm with the box of kittens in the kitchen, warmed by a wood burning stove is much more an icon than a reality. Kittens must be raised for the realities of the world as it is today.
Kittens today must become desirable companions to humans if they are to survive. In the past, unfriendly or unwanted cats were often simply put out of the house and fed at the back doorstep. The outdoor cat could wander and capture small prey to make up for any deficiencies in feeding by humans. This option is seldom available to urban cats. Suburban cats are not much better off. Today's population density, sanitation and fire protection laws, animal control laws, and automobile traffic all make it extremely difficult for cats to survive without direct human help.
Domestic cats are able to bond with others to form family units that share a common territory. We have taken advantage of that part of their character to include us in their families. Part of the job of kitten raisers is to make sure that they are willing to accept humans as family members. Simply making sure that their experiences with humans are good can accomplish that.
We must also help the kittens become individuals that are desirable as members of human families. Though this will depend, to a great extent, upon each cat's adult personality, we can give the kittens the confidence to interact well with humans. Cats that seek out humans for attention and affection are generally more desirable than those that are aloof and remote. This character in kittens can be enhanced by allowing them to explore and interact with others while they are in your care. Their waking time should be happy and adventurous.
Socializing kittens does not need to take on a Montessori Method school atmosphere though. Most of what is needed is simply warm, comfortable human contact. An example of a very good socializing activity is to simply allow the kittens to fall asleep on your lap while you are watching television or reading. Love them and keep them warm and safe. The capacity is already in the kittens to become great companions.
Newborn kittens do little other than eat and sleep. Their eyes and ears are closed and they are barely able to move. In spite of this lack of activity, socialization can begin immediately.
Newborn kittens need to have a mother. If practical, each kitten should be bottle fed by a single human that it can identify as "momma". Even though kittens are born blind and deaf, they have a good sense of smell. A consistent human scent will be comforting to kittens. As they grow up, they will tend to be comfortable with other human scents because of their similarity to "momma".
All kittens should be fondled frequently. Newborns and very young kittens should be stroked over every square inch of their bodies several times a day. This physical handling is necessary for nervous system development and socialization. A kitten that is raised without frequent physical contact with others will typically become a very neurotic, reclusive cat.
Primates and cats are the only critters verified to learn by observing others. The presence of well behaving adult cats can be a very good influence upon kittens. Seeing an adult cat using the litter box and eating from a bowl can provide kittens with cues that they are supposed to be doing these things also.
Kittens will also pick up cues as to how to play and how to interact with others from adult cats. Adult cats will often groom kittens, teaching them that it is OK to be close and friendly. Adult cats can help by exercising and entertaining kittens.
For adult cats, territory is "Job Number One". Adult cats should be monitored while around kittens, at least until the adult cat's behavior is well known. The instinctive response of some adult male cats is to kill kittens that are in their territory. This instinct is usually not strong enough that kittens are killed or injured while humans are present. Kitten's should be protected from adult cats by placing them in their cage when unsupervised until they are at least 5 or 6 weeks old.
If an adult cat is displaying continued territorial stress, it should be given extra attention and love. This stress is often manifested as hissing at kittens and other household residents, acting sullen and reticent, or perhaps urinating or defecating outside of its litter box. Do not punish the cat. Punishment will only increase the stress that the cat is experiencing, compounding the problem. Remember that part of the territorial stress develops because the adult cat would like to enjoy the company of the kittens but its instincts are telling it not to. Your job is to make the cat as comfortable as possible with its dilemma.
Surprisingly, relatively little problem has been encountered socializing kittens with dogs. Dogs who are house pets and therefor come in contact with kittens seem to quite accepting and tolerant of kittens. Even dogs that regularly chase adult cats seem to accept kittens as "babies" to protected. While caution is always in order when introducing household pets and new kittens, dogs and kittens should not automatically be assumed to be enemies.
Kittens will attempt to communicate with you using cat signals. Most people are already familiar with how a cat signals anger or warning with hisses, yowls and gestures. Few people though seem to recognize the friendly signals. Knowing when these signals are occurring will let you know when kittens are complementing you. Knowing how to make these signals will allow you to return the favor.
The Cat Greeting: Two cats greet each other by touching noses. This is a quick, simple nose touch, not a drawn out ceremony. This gesture is often mistaken for an accidental nose bump while a kitten is sniffing a human. The kitten is, in fact, going out of its way to give a friendly hello. Kittens will enjoy receiving greetings from you at appropriate times but your technique will be different than theirs. When you give a Cat Greeting, you may use your fist instead of your face and an extended knuckle instead of your nose. Simply reach out and very gently tap your knuckle to a kitten nose.
Pride Membership: Two cats acknowledge each other as members of the same pride by rubbing cheeks. Cats have musk glands in their cheeks that they use to mark their territory. Two cats rub cheeks to mingle their scents, thus telling each other that they willing to share their territory with the other. When a kitten rubs its cheek against you, it is paying you a strong complement. You may return this gesture by gently rubbing the side of your closed fist against the kitten's cheek. Unlike the nose touch, this gesture may be repeated and prolonged without offending the kitten.
Grooming: Two cats who are members of the same pride will often groom each other. Cats consider this to be a very pleasurable experience but are very choosy about who they groom. While adult cats may groom just about any kittens they encounter, they will typically groom only adults that they like and trust. Frequently this grooming begins with gentle nipping or biting followed by licking. It would be easy for a human to mistake a kitten's initial nips with its teeth for an attack of some kind.
Allowing a kitten to groom you for a few seconds can help it form a bond with humans. The difficult part will be to identify a grooming activity as opposed to a playful attack. As long as a kitten does not appear to be trying to start a wrestling match with you and its nips are tolerably gentle, it may be worthwhile to wait to see if the "attack" turns into grooming. You may return the favor by simply petting it and scratching it behind the ears.
As a sidelight, an agitated or frightened kitten can sometimes be comforted by petting it using short, quick strokes that are similar to a momma cat's grooming licks. This kind of petting can sometimes have results when an open hand, slow petting stroke is not working.
Kittens will also communicate with you using their tails. There are five basic tail signals or modes that can give you a good indication of a kitten's mood at any given moment. These modes are:
1. FRIEND: Tail is straight up. This mode signals that a kitten is giving its attention to a friend.
2. CAT: Tail is carried back with an upward curve at the end. This mode signals that a kitten is just going about its cat business, doing normal cat stuff.
3. INTENSE: Tail is back with tip twitching from side-to-side. This mode signals that a kitten is really concentrating on something, usually something upon which it is about to pounce.
4. ANGRY: Tail is back and entire tail is twitching from side-to-side. This mode signals that a kitten doesn't like something that is going on around him.
5. FRIGHTENED: Tail is erect and bushed out. This mode signals that a kitten was startled by something.
Tail signals can be very helpful in understanding what kittens are feeling. Remember, though, every kitten is an individual and does not necessarily feel obligated to follow the above tail signal guidelines. It is often interesting to observe each kitten's version of these signals. Remember also that kittens sometimes like to wave their tails around just for the fun of it.
Very young kittens don't really do enough to have behavior problems. Once they reach about 3 weeks of age, they begin exploring their world and playing. Kittens raised as members of a litter typically adapt their behavior to get along well with their litter mates, other household animals, and humans.
It is very rare that really "Bad" kittens are born. Kittens with a genetically based behavior problem will normally be rejected by their mothers and don't survive to pass the "Bad" gene along. Kittens can, however, be taught to behave badly if a little common sense is not applied to their raising.
First of all, punishing kittens does not work. Never, ever cause a kitten or a cat pain! Causing a cat pain will make it fear humans. It will not associate the punishment with the behavior you are trying to change. Many behavior problems noticed in adult cats have been produced by well meaning people attempting to change kitten behavior.
There is a simple guideline for dealing with kittens that, if followed, will keep you out of trouble: Your job is to teach kittens to like being around humans. Whatever techniques you employ training kittens should not compromise that goal.
Fighting among litter mates is a major part of their play. This play consists of running attacks, biting, and wrestling. Often, during a play session, one kitten may appear to be more aggressive than the rest. Watching over several days, you will usually notice that a different kitten is the most aggressive at different times.
Kitten wrestling matches often involve squalling and complaining. Rescuing kittens that are squalling because of an attack is usually not necessary for the kitten's health. A rescue can, however, help teach the attacking kitten that if it bites too hard, its playmate will leave.
The lesson they must learn is that playing too rough or biting too hard will cause their friends to ignore them. Kittens often use an attack as a way to get attention and contact with others. Eventually they learn that attacks are not always welcome when the object of their attack moves away from them.
Hand biting and scratching in kittens is usually just part of play. It is their way to entice you into playing with them. That it is fairly normal behavior doesn't mean that it should be allowed to continue. Most people will not adopt a kitten that draws blood.
A little bit of hand "mouthing" is normal. At about 2 weeks, kittens may be teething and chewing on something gently may make their gums feel better. Kittens, like human babies, like to put things in their mouths. Very gently chewing a human hand may simply be part of the kitten's exploration of his world. Some times, however, a bite is a bite and not an "exploration".
The trick to handling this problem is to understand that the least desirable thing, from the kitten's perspective, is to have you ignore it following an attack. When the kitten attacks, set the kitten down and, if practical, move away from it. Cuffing the kitten or attempting to subdue it will simply encourage it to continue the attacks.
You may also verbalize your displeasure as an adult cat might. Squealing when bitten and hissing as you move away seems to reinforce the training. Of course, you might want to practice your squeals and hisses while visitors are not in the house. You may use sounds or not as you see fit. Training without sounds has been quite successful.
Occasionally, a kitten will seem to not want to use the litter box. In almost every case, this occurs simply because a kitten has not yet learned to seek out the litter box when needed. Kittens should be watched for any indication that they might be ready to urinate or have a bowel movement. A kitten will usually stop playing and begin complaining or perhaps wander off. When one is spotted, it should immediately be delivered to and set in the litter box. Delivering kittens to the litter box appears to reinforce their inherent desire to use the litter box. It does not make them lazy about going to the box on their own. See the section on litter box training for more information.
Kittens use their sense of smell to identify food and the litter box. Their litter box should have a "litter box odor" that kittens can identify easily. When younger, kittens should be stimulated to urinate and have bowel movements into their litter box. This is done by simply stimulating them while holding them over the litter box. When the litter box is cleaned, it should not be completely deodorized or the kittens may not recognize it.
Whenever a kitten urinates or has a bowel movement outside of the litter box, the mess must be cleaned up immediately. A cleaning chemical that leaves an odor different than kitten urine and feces should be used on the soiled area. Leaving the kitten odor in the soiled area will give "odor sanction" to those spots for future indiscretions.
DO NOT RUB THE KITTEN'S NOSE IN THE MESS! This is done with puppies while scolding them to let them know what they are in trouble about. A kitten will simply remember that you have shown it a spot that smells like a litter box. The kitten will not associate that smell or that location with any anger you may express - it will simply become frightened of you.
DO NOT SWAT THE KITTEN. Swatting kittens, as a training method, simply does not work. How a human could bring himself to hit a 2 or 3 inch tall kitten is difficult to imagine but a well meaning person might mistakenly think it is the correct thing to do. In kitten and cat logic, swatting or hitting means only one thing: Stay Away From Me! Hitting a cat will only teach it to fear you.
In very rare cases, slow litter box training may be an indication of some medical problem with the kitten. Obvious problems, such as diarrhea, should be eliminated as possibilities. In one case, a kitten's slow litter box training turned out to be due to blindness: the poor kitten simply had a hard time finding the litter box. He did learn how though and was completely on his own, finding and using it by the age of 6 weeks. Persistent litter box training problems should be referred to a Vet to check for physical problems.
Kitten raisers are not expected to be veterinarians but they should have some familiarity with common kitten health problems. The most likely problems to encounter are easily recognized and straightforward to handle. Young kittens have weak digestive systems and weak immune system response so Diarrhea, constipation, and upper-respiratory infections are common. Treatment for these problems and others are discussed below.
Household remedies, such as those described here, are adequate for achieving and maintaining good kitten health for most litters. Experienced kitten raisers generally need little help from professionals except for occasional prescriptions for antibiotics and consultation about unusual problems. Beginning kitten raisers should plan on more frequent contact with professionals, at least for the first litter or two.
Essentially all health problems encountered are over with by the time the kittens have been under the care of an experienced kitten raiser for about two week and are about four weeks old. Kittens develop so quickly that the physiologically deficiencies made them frail when they are first born are soon corrected. Past infancy, kittens are remarkably resilient.
Always remember that the advice presented here is from non-professionals. In any case in which a professional's opinion differs from that expressed here, the professional should be considered the final authority.
One of the more serious health problems for young kittens (0 to 4 weeks) is diarrhea. With young kittens, diarrhea can be fatal if not controlled within a matter of two or three days. The primary concern with diarrhea is dehydration.
It is common for kittens under the age of about 3 weeks to have very soft stools. This condition should not be confused with diarrhea. Kittens experiencing diarrhea will normally show some sort of obvious distress.
Serious cases of diarrhea should be referred to a vet. If a vet is not immediately available or the diarrhea appears to be fairly mild, the following remedy may be attempted.
Remedy: For one day only, administer two or three drops of regular formula Kaopectate Anti-Diarrheal medication after each loose bowel movement. Two or three doses should be adequate. The Kaopectate may take a day or two to take effect so do not over-administer.
The primary concern is to prevent dehydration. Extra effort should be made to get the kitten to take fluids. Monitor the kitten after the diarrhea is under control for constipation that may be induced by the Kaopectate.
Constipation is a fairly common problem in kittens. It is not likely to be fatal unless allowed to continue for several days. The major concern with constipation is the potential that it may be caused by a bowel blockage. A Blockage might be the result of a kitten swallowing an object such as a button. This kind of blockage is not very likely but should be considered if the kitten appears to be experiencing pain.
Especially with very young kittens, mild constipation may be an indication that additional stimulation is necessary rather than medication. Please review the "Litter Box" section of information on stimulation.
The remedy is fairly safe, simple and reliable but should not be applied unless constipation has been verified. Relief should be apparent within about 48 hours.
Remedy: For one dose only, administer a two or three drops of ordinary vegetable cooking oil with an eye dropper. Take care that the kitten does not inhale the oil and get it in its lungs. Feeding should be delayed for a few minutes after the oil is administered. It tends to upset the kitten's stomach.
Dehydration is a serious problem if allowed to persist. Dehydration can be the result of a number of problems including diarrhea. If dehydration is even suspected, immediate steps should be taken to get fluids into the kittens. If the cause of the dehydration is diarrhea, remedies should be applied for that problem.
Dehydration can be checked by lightly pinching up the skin on the back of the kitten's neck. The slower the skin slides back to normal, the more dehydrated the kitten is. You should try pinching healthy kittens to get a feel for this but normally the neck skin snaps back within a second or so.
Remedy: If there is any doubt that a kitten is dehydrated, get fluids into it. Formula feeding is a perfectly adequate method for re-hydrating kittens unless it triggers excessive diarrhea. In those rare cases where the kitten's formula causes diarrhea, it should be given water.
A very serious problem that is occasionally seen is one in which one or more kittens become increasingly lethargic and unresponsive. A kitten experiencing this problem will have very obvious symptoms that develop over several hours. It will be obvious that the kitten is sick and listless. This usually occurs only with kittens under three weeks of age and within a very few days of arriving.
The exact cause of this malady is not well known but is very serious. If not treated, a kitten can die within 12 to 24 hours. It is likely that this is a bacterial infection enabled by weakness resulting from a viral infection. There is a good probability that the problem is the result of weak immune system response in young kittens compounded by a lack of antibodies that should have been obtained from their mothers. Once treated, kittens appear to develop normally and have normal immune system response as adults.
Remedy: Treatment is simple and straightforward but requires the cooperation of a veterinarian. The treatment that has been effective is simply Amoxicillan Drops. Follow the veterinarian's instructions for dosage and administration methods. Response to the Amoxi-Drops is usually very dramatic with good recovery evidenced within 4 hours. If everything goes well, a treated kitten will recover almost fully within 12 to 24 hours, fast enough for there to be some doubt that the kitten was actually sick.
As with all antibiotics, once a single dose is given, a complete course of medication MUST be completed. We must assure that antibiotic resistant strains of cat diseases do not develop. If we shorten the application of antibiotics, it is possible that only the weaker strains will be killed and the stronger strains will survive. Application of antibiotics such as Amoxicillan must continue for at least 48 hours after all disease symptoms are gone.
Persistent coughing or coughing accompanied by sneezing is an indication that a kitten may have an upper respiratory infection. This is often contagious and fatal. It is normal to treat all of the kittens in a litter even if just one is showing symptoms.
An infrequent cough or sneeze is not unusual though as kittens are usually close to the floor and occasionally inhale lint and animal hair. Do not panic at the first cough or sniffle.
Remedy: Effected kittens should be seen by a veterinarian. Treatment will be essentially the same as described for Lethargic or Limp Kitten above. If possible, keep the entire litter isolated from other animals to minimize the spread of the disease.
Very young kittens can make a surprisingly loud noise. Until you become accustomed to this noise, it can be disconcerting. It sounds like an urgent plea for help and can jangle the nerves of the uninitiated. This loud cry tends to disappear at about the age of two to three weeks and is replaced with a much softer kitten mew.
This loud sound is common in orphaned kittens. It is probably a survival tactic that increases the likelihood that a lost kitten can be found by its mother. Another theory that has been presented is that this sound is loud enough that a litter of kittens can remind their mother to come back home and feed them. Experienced kitten raisers, while not actually enjoying the noise, accept it with a smile and an indication that their kittens have at least one part that works well.
This cry is used for just about everything the kitten is trying to communicate. It could be hungry, cold, or need to use the litter box. It can even be lonely and want to be held and fondled. It is also used to signal the kinds of discomfort associated with more serious problems. The difficulty, of course, is figuring out exactly what the kitten wants. Essentially the same cry is given when the kitten wants its to be stroked against it human "momma's" cheek and when it is experiencing intestinal cramps.
Very often, the best a kitten raiser can do is to simply try all the different things that a kitten may be asking for. Eventually, the kitten may be satisfied and settle down and sleep for a while. Remain calm and don't let the crying rattle you. If a kitten continues crying after all obvious problems have been taken care of, it is then possible that a vet should be consulted.
Fleas almost always accompany a new batch of kittens. If care is not exercised, kitten bedding and blankets will become infested with fleas. Unfortunately, flea sprays and powders should not be used on or around very young kittens so getting rid of their fleas is a little more difficult than with adult cats.
Remedy: Fleas may be removed from kittens using flea combs. Flea combs are available in pet stores. These combs have very closely spaced metal teeth. The space between the comb teeth is so small that fleas can be combed right out of the kittens' fur. The trick to using the comb is to immediately kill the fleas that it collects. Dipping the comb in a bowl of water with a little dish detergent in it will drown the fleas. Alternatively, you may simply crush them on the comb. Bathing kittens frequently also helps remove fleas.
Until their fleas are eliminated, the kittens' bedding materials should be machine washed in hot water frequently. Resident household pets should be monitored for fleas and normal treatment applied to them if necessary.
Ear Mites are small parasites that can take up residence in kitten ears. Though not life threatening, they can spread quickly through a litter of kittens and to other household pets. Curing a case of Ear Mites is not difficult but should not be delayed. Until the Ear Mite infestation is cured, bedding and blankets that kittens have contact with should be washed in hot water frequently.
Ear Mites are detected by looking for dark, dirty deposits in the ears of kittens. The ears of health kittens are clean and shiny inside. The mites excrete a dark waxy paste that looks like dirt. Ear Mites frequently cause the skin inside the kitten's ears, especially close to the skull, to become irritated and inflamed. An infested kitten will sometimes rub or scratch at its ears.
Remedy: Treatment is simple. Apply Ear Mite medication. This medication can be obtained from pet supply stores or your vet. Follow the instructions supplied with the medication. The infestation is usually cured by two or three applications of the medicated drops.