Orphan Kitten Care

Keeping Your Kitten Warm

Your first priority is warmth for your kitten. Chilly night air can be deadly, especially to a wet kitten. If your kitten is wet, getting him dry becomes paramount. Gently dry him off with a towel and if it doesn't cause him to be too anxious, blow-dry him with a hairdryer set on low. Avoid the hairdryer blowing in his face. If he becomes restless, then place some dry towels in your dryer and set the heat on low. Let the towels cycle for about 10 minutes and using a warmed towel, wrap your kitten securely, cuddling him to your chest near your heart. Once the towel cools down, replace it with another one that was kept warm in the dryer. Kittens younger than 10 days old are not yet equipped with a shiver reflex, therefore they cannot maintain their own body heat.

Place some soft bedding (blanket or towels) in the bottom of a clean box and place the box in a warm, draught-free spot. If you have a pet heating pad, place this under the bedding, but give your kitten room to move off the heat if it becomes too warm. Never use a human electric blanket or a human heating pad to keep a kitten warm, as it can cause hot spots on the fragile skin and burn your kitten.

If you don't have a heat pad, you can fill a clean sock with uncooked white rice or white beans until the sock feels firm. Tie a secure knot in the open end and place the sock in the microwave for 60 seconds. Test the temperature before you put the sock heater in with your kitten. Make sure the sock is not too hot. If your kitten is cold, you can curl the sock around him. You can also use a hot water bottle or soda bottle, filled with very hot water and wrapped in a thin towel. Place this in the box next to your kitten. Make sure the soda bottle does not roll on top of your kitten by placing a small object underneath the blanket to stop it rolling.

If you are using these alternative heating methods, you will need to re-warm the sock or refill the bottle with hot water at least every two to three hours. Use another towel or blanket to drape over the top of the box to keep the warmth inside. If you have an air-conditioner in your home, please be sure you do not let your kitten become exposed to the cool air at any time, as a kitten can become chilled quickly and needs to be kept nice and warm. Also, never use a heat lamp on tiny kittens. The light can quickly burn the skin and cause dehydration to set in.

The ideal temperature within the box should be:

  • Birth to 3 weeks: 85-88oF (30-31oC)
  • Over 3 weeks: approx. 79oF (26oC)

Place a small ticking clock under your kitten's bedding. This mimics his mom's heartbeat and helps him settle in easily. If you have a stuffed toy that you don't mind parting with, put this in the box with him. For an older kitten, be sure the stuffed toy does not have any parts that your kitten can pull off and chew on.


You should consider getting a Snugglekittie for your kitten. This is a special stuffed animal in the shape of a cat. It has a pouch underneath with a battery-operated 'heart' and a heartbeat that your kitten can feel and hear. You can also place a disposable or reusable heat pad (both included when you order a Snugglekittie) in the pouch. Snugglekitties are available from SnuggleMe.com or a vet or pet store.

Pouch Potato

One of the best ways to keep your newborn kitten warm and close to you, is to make a Pouch Potato. Take an old pillowcase and fold over the open ends downward to about halfway. Take a soft cord and place it around your neck and shoulder so the ends of the cords hang down to waist level. Cut the ends of the cord. Take the cord and wrap it underneath the folds of the pillowcase, forming a soft purse. Hand-stitch a quick running stitch to keep the cord in place. Pile soft rags or towels at the bottom of the pouch, and place the pouch over your shoulder and neck, tying the ends of the cord in a knot. The bottom of the pouch should lie right next to your heart. Put your kitten inside the pouch. Take a long sleeved, baggy shirt, put that on and button it about halfway up. This creates a warm, safe cave for your new arrival. He is calmed by your heartbeat as well as breathing in your personal scent. The bonding has begun. This little one can travel with you anywhere now, even to work.

Feeding Techniques

What To FeedFeeding TechniquesKitten Feeding Schedule

To feed your kitten, use a dropper, syringe, doll's bottle or ideally, a specifically designed nursing bottle, available from most grocery and pet stores. If you are using a bottle, the size of the hole in the nipple is critical for success. If the bottle is turned upside down and formula dribbles from the nipple, the hole is too large. Use of this nipple may cause choking and formula ending up in your kitten's lungs. If the bottle is turned upside down and formula comes out only after considerable squeezing of the bottle, the hole is too small. Use of this nipple will result in your kitten becoming discouraged and refusing to nurse. The hole is the proper size if the bottle is turned upside down and formula drips slowly from the nipple.

The nipples supplied with a nurser bottle or kits are not pierced. To pierce the nipple, wet it thoroughly inside and out with the boiled, cooled water and then heat a small pin or needle in a flame (use pliers so you don’t burn yourself)  until it glows red. Quickly pierce the top of the nipple and remove the pin. Test the flow of the bottle and repeat the process if the hole is too small. Rinse the nipple thoroughly with more boiled cooled water, making sure to squeeze some water through the hole.  If you just can’t get it to work right, use small manicure scissors to make a tiny cut at the tip of the nipple, but know that it will usually make a larger opening than desired if the kitten is a newborn...in that even a baby medicine syringe or a 1cc Tuberculin syringe without needle may work better.  

Warm the formula to body temperature - about 100oF. Do this by immersing the bottle in a cup of hot water or by removing the nipple and warming in the microwave for a few seconds. Shake the bottle well after warming to make sure there are no hot spots in the formula and check the temperature. It should be warm but never hot. Never re-use formula that you have warmed. Discard it and use fresh formula for each feed.

Place your kitten on it's tummy on a soft surface such as a blanket or towel and gently place the nipple into his mouth. Tilt the bottle up slightly so the nipple is full of milk. He should automatically begin sucking. If he refuses to take the nipple, place a little dab of Karo syrup on his tongue to stimulate his sucking response. Never squeeze formula into his mouth as this can cause choking. Feed your kitten until he is comfortably full, not until the stomach is tight and distended. When he is full, small bubbles of formula will form around his mouth and he will spit the nipple out. Now you must burp him, just like a human baby. Hold him on your chest, lap or shoulder and gently rub and pat his back with two fingers until he burps.

Feeding Your Kitten

What To FeedFeeding TechniquesKitten Feeding Schedule

While your kitten is warming up, you can prepare something for him to eat. If this little kitten was hypothermic (abnormally-low body temperature) and in shock when you found him, you should only give him children's Pedialyte (or an equivalent) for the first two hours, until he warms up. Then switch to kitten formula. If you are using children's Pedialyte, dilute it half and half with water that has been boiled and cooled. If you don't have any Pedialyte, you can make a home-made version. This does not need to be diluted.

Kitten Feeding Schedule

What To FeedFeeding TechniquesKitten Feeding Schedule

Birth to 1 week: Feed every 3 hours (8 feedings per day)

From 1 to 3 weeks: Feed every 4 hours (6 feedings per day)

From 3 to 4 weeks: Feed every 5 hours (5 feedings a day)

From 4 to 5 weeks: Feed four to five times a day.

Total Formula required per day

Birth to 1 week: 24cc

1 week: 32cc

2 weeks: 54cc

3 weeks: 80cc

4 weeks: 104cc

5 weeks: 128cc

As a guide, a kitten should drink about 8cc's of formula per ounce of body weight per day.

For example, a kitten that is only one or two days old, will need 24cc divided into 8 feedings, which is 3cc per feed. He may drink a little more or less but you'll know if he's receiving enough formula by monitoring his weight gain.

Sometimes kittens are too weak to feed. This is when you need to tube feed. If you have never done this, please consult your vet in the proper way to tube feed. You can also contact a local wildlife rehabilitation center if one is near you and ask if you can have a special feeding nipple. This is an elongated nipple that attaches to the bottle and goes further down into the throat without being so intrusive as to go all the way to the stomach. Use this tip with great care (do not choke your kitten or force fluids too quickly). Again, having someone experienced in using this and showing you how would be the best way to go

 Keeping Good Records

After every feed, keep a record of how much your kitten has taken. This will help you work out whether he is drinking enough throughout the day. Also, to keep track of his development, if you can, weigh him at the same time every day, using kitchen or small postage scales. A kitten that is doing well will put on between 10-20 grams a day. Keep a record of his weight so that you can identify any weight loss quickly. Your vet will also be glad that you took the time to keep these records, in case something happens down the road.

Kitten Weight

At birth, weight should be approx 3-3.4 ounces.

At age 1 week weight should be approx. 4 ounces.

At age 2 weeks, weight should be approx. 7 ounces.

At age 3 weeks, weight should be approx. 10 ounces.

At age 4 weeks weight should be approx. 13 ounces.

At age 5 weeks, weight should be approximately 1 pound.

By the end of the 8th week, kittens should weigh approximately 2.2 pounds.

Of course, all these weights are approximate. You may have a kitten that is slightly under or over these weights and still be perfectly healthy. If ever you have a concern about your kitten, or he just doesn't seem 'right', consult a vet.