Providing Newborn Kitten Care
Newborn kittens are vulnerable and delicate. It may seem that they are too delicate to care for, but with the right information and a little diligence you will be able to take care of them properly.
In fact with mama cat around, generally all you need to do is help her out just enough to make sure her new kittens are okay.
When your cat has had her kittens, she will instinctively know how to care for and nurse them.
For the best chance of healthy newborn kittens, mom cat herself must be healthy.
A healthy nursing mom cat is able to give her newborns the best of care.
So taking your pregnant cat to the veterinarian to make sure all is well is a vital first step in newborn kitten care.
The mother cat needs lots of energy to nurse her kittens so her food is important.
She most likely will not want to eat for the first 24 hours after
giving birth. But after that she will likely eat with a vengeance.
Feeding mom kitten food is recommended, this will give her the extra calories that a nursing mom needs. Don't forget that mom cat will also need constant access to clean fresh water.
The best thing a new baby cat knows how to do naturally is to suckle and they need to eat within a few hours of birth.
In healthy kittens, this trait will be strong and instinctive. Newborn kittens will slowly and steadily put on weight if they are developing as they are supposed to.
The beauty of it is that mom will know how to feed her litter and in most cases things will be absolutely fine.
But it does sometimes happen that there is a weak kitten in the litter. If the weak kitten does not thrive as it should, mother cat will know it.
She may start to reject the struggling newborn and concentrate on feeding her healthy kittens.
This may seem cruel to a human, but it is only nature. Mom cat wants the best for the litter as a whole.
In this event you must treat the rejected newborn as an orphan kitten and care for it yourself, including feeding it.
An important part of your newborn kitten care is to check that the little ones are gaining weight steadily.
A little weight loss in the first day after birth is quite normal, after that the young kittens should double their body weight within the first two weeks. (Male kittens may gain even faster.)
Use scales to check each kitten's weight daily during the first fourteen days and then twice a week until they are weaned. Kitchen scales or postal scales work just fine.
Weight is an important indicator of a kitten's progress, should one of the litter lose weight, or fail to gain weight, contact your veterinarian.
Healthy baby kittens divide their time roughly between sleeping and eating, and if both these activities are happening more or less uninterruptedly, then your care regimen is working.
A newborn kitten is not able to defecate or urinate on its own. The mama cat needs to stimulate its rear end, by licking, and then clean up after the kitten has emptied its bowels.
New kittens spend lots of time sleeping.
If she doesn't do it, for any reason, then you will need to wipe the kitten's behind with a warm and wet washcloth in circular motions, to induce bowel movement.
You will need to do this around every two hours, twenty four hours a day.
At around three weeks of age the young ones will be able to defecate and urinate on their own, but it will be about six weeks before they are using the litter box.
In caring for her newborn kittens a mother cat will want to keep them warm. You can help by ensuring that the room that the nest is in does not fall below 80 °F for the first week or so.
After this the room temperature can be reduced in stages to 75 °F and then 70 °F.
Make sure that mom and the kittens have a nest, a warm place to snuggle together in. Cardboard boxes lined with a soft warm blankets are best for your baby cats. Make sure the nest is big enough to accommodate the growing family.
Change the bedding every day. Towels work really well. You can use them like sheets over the softer bedding and they are easy to wash and dry.
For the best newborn kitten care the nest should be in a draft free and quiet area of your home.
Not too much human traffic and it is best if other family pets are kept away as much as possible while the kittens are so young.
If mother cat becomes scared for the well being of her brood, she will take them from place to place in an attempt to shield them from danger. The kittens may be exposed to cold in this situation and you never know where mom might move them to.
If she has access to the outdoors she may move them there and you may have a job to find them.
When mom cat has had her kittens, she will instinctively know how to care for and nurse them.
Image courtesy of AlishaV @ Flickr
Remember that mom wants warmth and comfort for her newborn kittens but she also wants them to be safe. If anything at all makes her nervous she will move her litter.
Sadly not all kittens make it past the newborn stage. Sometimes the mother cat rejects a kitten and sometimes a kitten does not take to suckling.
Very young kittens can also be disease prone, especially when not being nursed by their mama cat. However, with your care and willingness to seek the advice of your veterinarian, the young ones will have every chance.
Remember that taking care of one newborn kitten, let alone an entire litter be could be stressful and overwhelming, if mother cat is not handling things well. But in most cases mom will cope just fine.
Weaning is an important part of newborn kitten care. Weaning kittens to solid food can begin when they are three to four weeks old. You can help this along by offering them special kitten milk diluted in water. Place a small amount of this mixture in a saucer or shallow bowl. Dab your finger in the mixture and place a small amount on the kitten's mouth so it can lick it off. Then place the kitten's mouth over the bowl and offer them some more.
Kittens do not begin lapping right away. You will have to do this several times a day for several days before they will begin lapping. When they do, you can add a small amount of wet food to the milk. Over time, increase the ratio of solid food to milk until the kittens are eating only solid food. The weaning process can take three to four weeks.
The kittens will still be suckling the mother during this time. The day will come when they will have to stop and the mother usually facilitates this by letting the kitten suckle less often. It is best to let this occur naturally. It is not good for the mother to have all of the kittens taken off her milk all at once. Her milk supply needs a chance to dry up slowly.
At about five weeks old the newborns can be introduced to the litter box. There are two reasons why you should not let them use the mother's box:
Fill a plastic box with low sides (or plastic-lined cardboard box) with about one inch of non-clumping natural litter. Every so often place the kittens, one at a time, into the box. At first they will just play in it and yes, it will be scattered all over the place but they will eventually start doing their business in it. You will need to clean it and replace the litter often.
Socializing the kittens needs to be part of your newborn kitten care plan. Socialized kittens make better pets for their forever home humans. This can begin at about four weeks. Pick the kittens up. Hold them. Pet them. Play with them for short periods of time.
Children in the family will be a great help with this but very young children need to be taught to be very gentle with the babies. They may not know not to squeeze the kittens too hard. Children also need to know that baby kittens need plenty of sleep and can't be played with all of the time.
With constant vigilance for a few weeks, you will have a litter of lovely healthy kittens on your hands, and you can keep this healthy state ongoing with regular updates of your knowledge about newborn kitten care and regular vet visits.
It is best to keep kittens with their mother until they are at least 8 weeks old. Up until this time they are still learning important skills and behaviors from their mother.
Kittens that are separated from their mother too early may retain immature behavior habits when they are older that can be difficult to break.