Monday, October 14, 2013

Raising Orphaned kittens Part 2: What to do, week by week


You've decided to raise the litter of orphaned kittens you found...

 You have all your supplies, you're ready to go, but just like caring for a 2 day old human infant is different than caring for a 9 month old human baby or two year old toddler, the age of your orphaned kittens is crucial to deciding how much to feed and how often.

0-7 days:

Feeding: 1/2 tablespoon formula every 2 - 3 hours with a kitten bottle.
If the mother, or a surrogate mother is available and healthy, the kittens should nurse vigorously and compete for nipples. Newborns can nurse up to 45 minutes at a time. When the mother cat settles down in the nest box, the kittens should bee-line to the nipples and begin to feed with minimal fussing. If the kittens wander excessively or cry excessively, there could be a milk supply issue. Check at least once daily to make sure all the kittens are nursing, if not more frequently.

Environment: Keep the nest box temperature at a toasty 85-90 degrees. The number one danger to newborn kittens is hypothermia, or a low body temperature. They cannot keep themselves warm on their own (thermoregulate).

Behavior & Training : By one week of age, the kittens should weigh 4 oz. (1/4 pound), and will be sleeping 90% of the time. They will eat the other 10% of the time. Handling should be minimal to allow babies to sleep and eat in their snug, warm nest.

1-2 Weeks of age:

Feeding: Bottle-feed formula every 2 - 3 hours until kittens are full but not bloated- usually kittens will eat at least 1/2 tablespoon of formula per feeding.

Environment: Keep the nest box temperature at a toasty 85-90 degrees.

Behavior & Training : Kittens at 2 weeks of age will weigh about 7 ounces (just shy of 1/2 pound) and have pink skin, and round bodies. If you pinch their skin gently, it should spring back into place quickly. Kittens should wiggle energetically when picked up, and should migrate towards its mother when placed back down. Healthy kittens rarely cry.

To tell whether kittens are male or female, look under the tail. Females will have two holes close together - the vulva is a vertical slit or teardrop below the anus. Males will have two holes farther apart - the opening for the penis is separated from the anus by a little bump (the scrotum) which may be difficult to see or feel at a young age. The best thing to do is find two kittens who look different under the tail and compare. By the time the kittens are ready for forever homes, it should be much more obvious, so don't despair if you can't tell this early what you have.

2-3 Weeks of age
Feeding: Bottle feed formula according to the manufacturer's instruction about every 2 - 3 hours until kittens are full but not bloated- usually kittens will eat at least 1/2 tablespoon of formula per feeding.

Environment: Floor temperature of the nest box can be a little cooler, now - about 75-80 degrees.

Behavior & Training : If there is a mother cat (queen), she will begin to spend more time out of the nest, though she won't wander far.

Kittens should weigh about 10 oz (about 2/3 pound). Their ears will start to stand up. Kittens will start to crawl around day 18 and can usually stand by day 21. Kittens will start to play with each other and explore their environment. Their baby teeth will start to come in (erupt) during this period.

The next six weeks are a critical socialization period. Kittens will learn how to act like a proper cat by watching their mother and interacting with their litter-mates. Additionally, human handling during this period is very important, too. Interaction with children may be too frightening, since even gentle children can be awkward with tiny kittens, so should be supervised closely while visiting. 

3-4 Weeks of age
Feeding: Bottle feed formula per manufacturer's instruction every 2 - 3 hours until kittens are full but not bloated- usually kittens will consume at least 1/2 tablespoon of formula per feeding. At this stage kittens may start lapping from a bowl.

Environment: Floor temperature of the nest box can be much closer to normal room temperature - 70-75 degrees from this point onward.

Behavior & Training: Kittens should weigh about 13 ounces (0.8 pounds). Their eye color will start fade from blue to the adult color, but may not reach its final color until 12-16 weeks of age. Kittens can now focus on the world with an ability similar to adults. They will start to groom themselves, though their mother will continue to do most of the serious cleaning.



4-5 Weeks of age
Feeding: By 4 weeks, your kittens should be eating and drinking from a saucer. Now is the time to start gradually weaning them. Introduce solid food by warming some pate-style canned food and mixing it with a small amount of water or formula to create a soupy gruel that they can lap at.

Without a mother cat to show them what to do, kittens will invariably walk, sit, play, slide in and track food everywhere. Offering gruel on the tip of a finger or wiping a little across a kitten's lips or teeth will help them associate the smell of food with eating behavior. Because it will take several meals before the kitten will end up with more food in its stomach than on its fur, you should continue to offer a decreased amount of formula by bottle-feeding - about 3 tablespoons (1-1/2 oz.) formula every 8 hours. This will simulate the weaning process.

This is a critical time to continue watching the kittens' weight. They should continue to gain weight through the transition from milk or formula to solid food.  If a surrogate mother or the actual mother is present, the kittens will continue to try to nurse, but she will become more and more agitated by this process. Just like small children who gain comfort from pacifiers or thumb-sucking, kittens will continue to perform nursing behavior even after they no longer gain any nutrition from it. Most cats will eventually grow out of this behavior, but it can persist long term in some cats.

Fresh water in a stable, shallow bowl.

Behavior & Training : This is the age that you can also start litter training. Make sure to provide a low sided box, as kittens are not very big. Use a low box with one inch or less of litter. As mentioned in our previous article, a disposable cake pan is perfect. Cut-off cardboard boxes also work well.

Most people think that cats need to be trained to use the litterbox, but in fact, it is an instinct for them. Even kittens raised without a mother cat will gravitate towards a box full of sandy litter and figure out what to do pretty quickly. You can speed the process by placing a kitten in the box after a nap, after meals, and after play, and (the first time or two) guiding him gently to dig in the litter. However, even if you don't do this, they will discover the box on their own.

Just like young children who are potty training, it is good to make sure that wherever the kittens are, a litter box is handy. Otherwise, they may get distracted and find themselves too far from the box with a very insistent need to go! Since most kittens are born with some type of intestinal parasite, make sure to keep the litter box very clean to prevent cross-contamination and re-infection. Cats also do not like their litter to be near their food, so make sure there is a good amount of separation between the two.

5-6 Weeks of age
Feeding: Feed four times daily, gradually thickening the gruel. At this age, you can introduce dry food and water. If your foster litter has a mother, she will continue the weaning process. If your kittens are reluctant eaters, you can try mixing any non-onion-containing meat-flavored human baby food with a little water, but this is not a long term solution, because cats need taurine in their diets or severe developmental issues of the heart and eyes can occur.  

Behavior & Training:  A good rule of thumb from this point forward is that a kitten should gain one pound a month. At 4 weeks, they should weigh about 1 pound, at 8 weeks (2 months) they should be about 2 pounds and at 12 weeks (3 months), they should weigh about 3 pounds. At this age, kittens can start to roam around the room, under supervision. The strongest, most curious kitten will figure out how to get out of the nest. The others will quickly follow. Male and female cats should start to become more easily distinguished as male anatomy develops.

Play with your kittens daily! Kittens love to climb and explore, so sit on the floor and allow them to get to know you. This game allows them not only to get exercise and develop muscle coordination, but to become comfortable with humans. Some kittens may be fearful at first; do not force yourself upon them. You can sit in the room and read or watch quiet television or listen to quiet music, and allow shy kittens to become desensitized. This is a very important step in allowing kittens to develop a confident, social attitude. As they become more adventurous, you can start to introduce other sounds, such as vacuum cleaners and dishwashers. Many very shy and secretive kittens were not abused as kittens as so many people believe, but were just never introduced to the normal noises and activities in a human home at an early age.   


6-7 Weeks of age
Feeding: By this age, your kittens should be eating canned and dry food well. You should offer food to them at least three times daily. Watch for any bullying among littermates, and ensure that all kittens are getting their fair share. They may not eat much at a single sitting, because their tiny stomachs are acorn-sized, but they like to eat at frequent intervals throughout the day. This is how a cat instinctively wants to eat, even as an adult - they spend most of the day hunting and only eat for a few minutes at a time. Frogs, bugs, rodents and birds do not make large meals.

Behavior & Training: By this time, you have "mini-cats." They will wash themselves, use scratching posts, play games with each other, their toys, and you, and many will come when you call them.

7-8 Weeks of age

Feeding: Offer wet food 3 - 4 times a day (each kitten will be eating a little over one can of food per day). Leave down a bowl of dry kitten food and water for them to eat and drink at will. If you have a litter with a mother, she will allow very little nursing.



8+ Weeks of age
Feeding: Offer wet food twice daily. Kittens should have free access to dry food and water all day.

Behavior & Training:  If all your kittens are two pounds in weight, you can start to consider finding them homes at this point, however, a large amount of social development occurs in the next 4 weeks, so the longer the kittens can remain together, the better it will be for their long-term happiness. At 3 pounds in weight, we recommend early spay or neuter surgery. It is much easier to find homes for kittens that have already been spayed or neutered and have had some vaccines and a clean bill of health from a veterinarian.

Remember: A healthy kitten is playful, has bright eyes with no discharge, a sleek coat, and a plump belly. Younger kittens are content to sleep between feedings. Normal body temperature for a kitten is 100 - 102.5. Unfortunately, kittens do become ill and sometimes die while being fostered, so it is important to take steps to prevent disease and treat it appropriately as soon as it appears.