orange infant tabby kitten being fed from bottle


tiny paws, big needs

Caring for Infant Kittens

If you find a litter of unweaned kittens, please don’t immediately remove them.

First, monitor the area to see whether a mother cat returns to care for them, as their chances for survival are greatest when left with their mother. Mother knows best. Please leave them be.

If, after monitoring the area for a reasonable period of time (two to three hours), however, the mother has not returned, then you may remove the kittens in order to feed them and provide other necessary care.

If the mother does not return, we appreciate you opening your heart and home to the orphans so that they may be guaranteed a second chance at a happy and healthy future.

The Richmond SPCA can provide you with supplies and other support in order to help you care for orphaned kittens. Supplies are available at our humane center during the hours our Adoption Center is open. By following the care instructions below, you can help save a life!

How To Care For Orphaned Kittens

If your orphans are not eating on their own and require bottle feeding:

  • Orphans cannot regulate their own body heat. Keep infants in a warm area of your home, inside a small crate. Line the carrier with towels or small blankets. If you have a litter, its members will curl up together in order to produce heat.
  • Commercially-prepared infant kitten milk formulas are readily available and are nutritionally balanced to meet the needs of an orphan. We can provide you with milk replacer that is ready for use.

    Add its contents to your orphans’ bottles. Place each orphan on a towel or blanket. The kitten should be fed while lying on his or her belly rather than in the position in which human babies are fed.

    Offer the bottle after it has been warmed to an appropriate temperature – lukewarm. You may test this by placing a couple of drops onto your inner wrist. Be sure to hold the bottle upside down. Holding it any other way could cause aspiration, which means the air or food travels to the lungs.

    Your orphans must be fed every two to three hours (including overnight) and must be warm at the time of feeding.
  • Newborn orphans are unable to urinate or have a bowel movement on their own. Consequently, they must be stimulated after each and every feeding. A cotton ball or piece of very soft toweling works well. Moisten it with warm water and gently rub the anal and genital area. Within one to two minutes, your orphans will urinate and/or defecate. You will want to place the infants on a washable towel on your lap, which you can launder afterwards.
  • The instructional video below provides additional guidance on bottle feeding:

If your orphans are eating on their own and do not require bottle feeding:

  • Feed the wet food found in your kit from our admissions department. You may mix the contents together with warm water to make it more inviting to your orphan. Your orphans should be fed every three to four hours, and they must be warm at the time of feeding.
  • If they are not urinating or having a bowel movement on their own, please follow the directions from the previous section.
  • If your kitten becomes soiled during feeding or in his or her crate, you may warm a washcloth and gently wipe him or her clean. Please be sure to dry the kitten thoroughly (you may even use a hairdryer to do this so long as you don’t hold it too close to the infant) so that the kitten stays warm.

Caring for a Mother Cat and Her Kittens

If you happen to have a social mother cat with kittens that you are temporarily delivering care to until the kittens can be weaned and everyone can be spayed or neutered, then this is actually one of the easiest fostering situations. The mother cat will do the majority of the work!

You will want a room or a large crate along with a nesting area (a box turned on its side with a sheet or light blanket draped over the front, as an example). The mother cat will need a litter box. The mother cat will feed, clean and socialize the kittens. You will need to feed the mother, clean her litter box and bedding, help handle the kittens (so they become comfortable around people) and monitor everyone’s health.

Possible Health Concerns

Please monitor kittens for symptoms of the following health conditions:

  • Upper Respiratory Infection (URI): Though this is common in kittens, you should not ignore it. If heavy yellow discharge develops around the kitten’s eyes or nose, or the kitten has trouble breathing or eating, see your veterinarian immediately. A mild URI can be cleared up by simply wiping away discharge with a warm, wet cloth and keeping kittens in a warm, damp environment like a bathroom or a room with a humidifier.
  • Fleas: Fleas on a very small kitten can cause anemia. First, pick fleas off if they are small in number.  Remember that fleas do not live on the kittens, but in the environment. You may also use a flea comb lightly sprayed with SAFE flea spray from your veterinarian. For a bad infestation, you have to treat the environment.

    It is very risky to bathe young kittens since they cannot regulate their body temperatures very well.  If they are still on their mother, then flea control on the mother is very important. Do not use flea shampoo or topical flea treatments on kittens 6 weeks of age or younger without the direct supervision of a veterinarian.
  • Parasites/Diarrhea: Any drastic change in stool consistency should be closely monitored since it could indicate the presence of parasites. Parasites can often cause diarrhea, strange looking stools, and dehydration. Kittens can begin a deworming treatment schedule as young as 10 days old, which a veterinarian will administer. If you notice anything unusual in the kittens’ stool, the kittens should be seen by a veterinarian.

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