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Caring for Neonatal Kittens

September 7, 2017

The time of year is fast approaching where the daffodils are out, the days are getting warmer, the lambs are skipping around paddocks and … the kittens will start arriving in droves! 

 All going well, these kittens will stay with their mum right up until weaning, so feeding habits, toileting and socialisation are well under way by the time the kittens go to their new homes. Unfortunately though, some circumstances do not allow for this and we may find ourselves having to step in and care for these little guys, termed “neonates. 

 Neonatal and infant kittens do require A LOT of care, especially in the first 0 – 6 weeks and one does need to be aware that there is always potential that one or more kittens may not survive. However, by implementing a few simple strategies we can do our absolute best to give them every fighting chance to make it through! 


Warmth: Kittens need to be kept warm. In the wild they have their mothers and siblings to snuggle so we need to replicate this. Keeping them in a box or carry cage with blankets in the bottom and one draped over the top is ideal as it will stop any draughts reaching the kitten/s. Hot water bottles with a protective cover are fantastic at providing warmth, as long as they are changed regularly so they don’t go cold. There are “snugglesafe” discs available that you heat in the microwave and stay warm for up to 8hrs which are very effective, especially for lasting during the night! Care just needs to be taken that the kittens have enough room to be able to move away from the heat source should they get too hot. If you are raising a single kitten, providing them with a fluffy teddy or an old woollen scarf to snuggle into can go along way to help them stay warm.  


 Feeding: Neonates will need regular feeding with a milk supplement formulated specifically for kittens. Their nutritional needs are entirely different from that of a cow and human so their milk needs to reflect this or it could effect their development and health. Kitten milk from the supermarket is not designed to be a sole diet for neonates so a milk powder formula is ideal to start with. The kit we use here at MVS comes with powder, measuring scoops AND feeding bottles so is ready to go.  

Neonates will need to be fed approximately:

Age  Amount per feed  Feeds per 24hrs 
0 – 1 week  2 – 4ml  9 – 12 
1 – 2 weeks  5 – 10ml  6 – 9 
2 – 3 weeks  10 – 15ml  5 – 6 
3 – 4 weeks  10 – 15ml  5 
4 weeks +  15ml + introduce meat  4 -5 


  *This is a guideline only and will vary depending on which brand of milk replacer you are using.

Ideally neonates need to be fed with a bottle, not a syringe. This reduces the chance of accidentally forcing milk into their lungs rather than stomach. The kitten should be supported in one hand and the teat of the bottle placed in the kitten’s mouth, gentle pressure can be applied to the teat to aid milk flow. The kitten should latch its tongue around the teat to suckle and once full will show disintrest and may fall asleep. If the kitten is not latching well, not suckling strong or just seems weak or lethargic contact the team at MVS.

 Toileting: In the wild the mother will clean the kittens after feeding, thus stimulating them to go to the toilet. Once again, we need to replicate this! Once the kittens have fed, take a warm, damp swab or soft cloth and gently wipe around their bottom, they should then go toilet! It is also good practice to wipe around their bottoms and their hind legs after toileting to prevent urine scolding. Vaseline can be applied to this area if they are getting a bit red. Toileting is best done away from their bedding so as not to dampen it, and bedding needs to be checked and changed regularly in case kittens toileting on it.