Monday, September 9, 2013

Raising Orphaned kittens Part 1: Overview

If you find a kitten that is less than 8 weeks of age, that kitten will need fostering, either by a human or another nursing female cat. Raising orphaned kittens is a big commitment, but can also be very rewarding. If you're not sure about the age of your stray kitten foundling, please check out our previous blog article on the topic. The following are some considerations that may affect your decision to take on this responsibility.

Orphaned kittens may carry illnesses into your home that could affect your resident animals' (or humans') health. Most commonly, they may suffer from upper respiratory infections and intestinal parasites, but can also carry diseases such as calicivirus, distemper, or rabies. It is important to keep orphaned kittens isolated from your other cats in the household until you are certain they are healthy. You should also make sure that any other pets in your home are up to date on their vaccinations.

  • For the protection of both parties, young children should not handle the kittens. 
  • You should check the kitten for fleas before bringing it into your house, because fleas can spread disease among cats and to people. 
  • You should wash your hands with soap and water hands after handling animals, fecal waste, or litter boxes, before handling your own animals or children and you may also want to change clothes. 
  • You should routinely disinfect the orphaned kittens' quarters and the entire premises before new kittens are introduced. Remove all biologic materials and soak litterboxes with a mild bleach solution (1 part bleach to 32 parts water) for at least 10 minutes. All surfaces, as well as bowls and toys need to be disinfected so it would be best to keep the kitten(s) in a carpet-free area. Tiny kittens do well in large pet carriers or dog crates. 

Supply list
  • Nest Box or carrier  - You will want a box that allows you to easily check on the kittens, with plenty of room for the mother (if there is one) and the growing kitten(s).
  • Newspapers or absorbent pads - Keep several layers in the bottom of the box, and they will come in handy when the kittens start to roam around the room and are introduced to their litter box.
  • Big litter box for mother cat (queen) - the mother cat will prefer a normal sized litterbox, but it will be too large and the sides will be too high for the kittens.
  • Small litter box for kittens - An oblong, disposable cake pan is perfect. Cut-off cardboard boxes also work well.
  • Cat litter
  • Water bowls - Heavy and impossible to tip. Should be stainless steel or porcelain/ceramic, NOT plastic, as plastic is difficult to disinfect because it is so porous, and some cats have sensitivities to plastics.
  • Food bowls (at least 2) - One is for dry cat food, the other for canned food. You can use TV dinner trays, paper plates or whatever you have; any relatively flat plate or saucer will do. The larger the litter, the larger the plate should be so that no one gets crowded out.
  • Food - You should have dry kitten chow, canned cat food (any brand for adults or kittens), and all-meat baby food (must not contain vegetables or onion powder). Offer several choices to weaned kittens to determine their preferences.
  • Heating pad, hot water bottle, or infrared lamp  - Prior to three weeks of age (open eyes and erect ears), kittens need an environment that is about 85°. It is best to provide them a heat source of some kind, but you must be sure that the kittens have the ability to move away from the heat if they become too warm. Do not put kittens directly on a heating source, but insulate them from it with towels. If using an electric heating pad, make sure to cover any electrical cords so that the kittens do not play with them or bite them. Alternatively hot water bottles, rice bags, or special microwaveable heating disks can be used as heat sources. These should also be covered by towels, and should be changed regularly to ensure that they stay warm for the kittens to snuggle up against.
  • Clean towels and blankets
  • Toys - Plastic toys that can easily be disinfected are best. Disposable toys such as empty toilet paper rolls, empty 12-pack cardboard soda boxes, old stuffed socks, caps from soda bottles and paper bags are good toys as well. Young kittens do not appear to react to catnip. Make sure to kitten proof the kitten's nursery, because anything can become a toy: drapes, venetian blind cords, lamp shades, electrical cords and breakables, etc.
  • Scale - a food or postal scale is very helpful in monitoring small kittens' growth, which should average about 4 ounces a week.
  • Kittens should nurse from mother, or be fed with a bottle, syringe or dropper with kitten milk replacer (not regular milk) every 2-3 hours. 
  • They should start by eating at least 2ml milk at a time.They will increase their food intake quickly.In as little as one week, they may drink 10-15ml per feeding. By the time they are about ready to start canned food (4-5weeks of age) they may each drink half a bottle apiece. 
  • At 4-5weeks of age you may start giving canned food.Mix with milk replacer at first to get to a porridge type consistency; at first the kittens will try to suck up their canned food like they did the milk, so it has to be liquid consistency.  

  • After eating, use a warm wet cotton ball, Kleenex, or baby wipe to stimulate their bodily functions.The first couple of days kittens may not have any stools until they start eating well.After that, their stools may be a soft, pudding consistency for a week or so. 
  • After the first couple of days they should defecate at least a couple of times per day, though they may defecate every time as well.If kitten is not defecating at least once a day, they may be constipated. Observe for straining, vocalizing and/or vomiting. -A thermometer can be used to help stimulate defecation.If kitten is very constipated he might need fluids under the skin (contact Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital for suggestions) 
  •  Kittens will most likely urinate every time they are stimulated. -The amount of urine and stool output should increase substantially over 2-4weeks -At 3 weeks of age you may try kittens in a litter pan. Put them in the pan, and they should use it fairly well right away. Cats’ instincts prepare them to urinate and defecate in dirt/sand type materials. Kittens may have a few accidents at first around or near the box. Do not be alarmed, this should resolve over a few weeks.
  • Often the kittens will turn around and step in their stools because their coordination isn’t great until about 8 weeks of age.You should scoop the boxes as soon as kittens go to help prevent this.If they do step in anything, you may bathe their feet with warm water and a mild soap.Try not to wet their entire bodies at a time because they are not great at regulating body temperature until they are a little older.
An orphaned kitten being housed in a carrier

  • Babies are unable to regulate their body temperature very effectively until about 3 weeks of age. Keep them warm and covered with a light blanket.You may also use a “snuggly” heated disc underneath blankets as well. Do not put too many covers over them, as they may overheat as well. -You may keep them in a carrier for the first few weeks. 
  • After they start using the litter box at approx 3 weeks of age, you may put them in a large play pen, or small bedroom or bathroom where they are not able to fall/jump off of anything. 
  • At approx 8 weeks of age, you should be able to try and incorporate the babies into the household. Make sure to supervise them at first to make sure the other cats will get along with them.  
This kitten is dehydrated, and has an IV catheter placed

  • Watch closely for respiratory signs.Kittens do not have great immune systems, and can perish from infection if not treated appropriately. 
  • Aspiration pneumonia is very dangerous for kittens; be careful when feeding not to give more milk than they can swallow at one time. 
  • Watch stool and urine output closely, and observe for any signs of constipation from the milk formula.
  • Look for lethargy/or inappetance. 
  • If you ever have any questions about kitten health please call us at 248-666-5287 or email us at


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