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How to Feed Orphaned Kittens

By Rachel Monroe | Updated September 26, 2017

Santy Gibson/Demand Media

If you have stumbled across a nest of kittens you believe to be orphaned or abandoned, or if your cat has passed away shortly after giving birth to a litter, you will need to jump into action to care for these little critters. One of the most obvious signs that a nest may be orphaned or abandoned is if the kittens are crying constantly due to hunger.

Before Feeding


Never feed a kitten whose body temperature is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be life-threatening. If the kitten’s pads, nose and mouth are cold to the touch, warm him up before feeding. You may also use a pediatric rectal thermometer to check his temperature. Lubricate the thermometer with petroleum jelly and insert into the rectum 1 inch. If you are using a digital thermometer, hold it in place until you hear the thermometer beep; keep a conventional mercury thermometer inserted for two minutes. Warm kittens by using a heating pad wrapped in a towel, or use a heat lamp. Alternately, fill a plastic bottle with water heated to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and encourage the kittens to lie next to it. You can also fill a sock with rice and heat it in the microwave. A nesting box for newborn kittens should be 90 degrees. Reduce the temperature to 80 or 85 degrees after a week and finally to 75 degrees after the kittens are 4 weeks of age.

What to Feed


Never feed cow, goat or soy milk. They lack adequate nutrition and can cause diarrhea, which can be life-threatening. In a pinch, make homemade kitten formula by mixing a can of condensed milk, an egg yolk minus the white and a tablespoon of Karo syrup. Combine with the equivalent amount of water before feeding. Ideally, you should visit your local pet store to purchase commercial kitten formula, either Just Born or KMR brand. Heat formula to 90 or 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a microwave or place the bottle in hot water until it reaches the desired temperature. Check with a thermometer or your wrist. The milk should feel room temperature on your skin. Never boil the formula or allow it to get too hot.

What to Use & How to Feed


Purchase bottles, nipples and a bottle brush at your local pet store. You can purchase a kitten nursing kit, which should contain all these items. Sterilize the bottles and nipples before use by boiling them. Don't let kittens' head tilt upward while feeding -- this can cause aspiration. Instead, their feet should be downward and their heads level, similar to how they would be positioned while nursing on their mothers. After feeding, burp kittens by placing them upright on your shoulder and patting their backs. Newborn kittens cannot eliminate on their own, so immediately after each feeding gently rub the lower stomach and genitals with a cotton ball or cotton pad that has been dipped in warm water to stimulate the bowels.

Feeding Frequency


Feed newborn kittens every two hours around the clock. By 2 weeks of age, you can start feeding every four to six hours. At 3 weeks it is safe to feed every six to eight hours. Wean kittens between the ages of 8 and 10 weeks of age. The formula packaging has quantity instructions. In general, kittens should consume 8cc for every ounce of body weight. Consistent weight gain is an excellent indication that your kittens are receiving appropriate nutrition. Newborn kittens should gain 10 to 15 grams, or 0.35 to 0.50 ounce, per day. This should change to a half-ounce of weight gain daily for the next several weeks. If a kitten stops eating or begins to appear listless, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Feeding Feral Kittens


Before taking feral kittens home, determine whether a mother cat is around. If the kittens have plump, full tummies and are sleeping peacefully in a clean nest, odds are that mother cat is nearby and will return. Orphaned or abandoned kittens will be restless, dirty and crying constantly. The guidelines for feeding a newborn feral kitten are the same as for a domestic kitty. However, feral kittens over 4 weeks of age are difficult to tame. By this age, you can feed from a pan or dish, which requires little contact. Provide 3 tablespoons of formula every eight hours. Introduce canned cat food that has been warmed and placed in a dish. Wash your hands after handling and feeding feral kittens until a veterinarian has checked them for illness or disease.

Photo Credits

  • Santy Gibson/Demand Media