At 4 weeks old, kittens’ eyes are open, their ears are unfolded and they can walk. If they are removed from their mothers at this stage, however, they’ll require special attention. A kitten generally shouldn’t leave his mother’s care before he's 8 weeks old. Pet lovers who must care for a 4-week-old kitten without the aid of a momma cat should pay special attention to keeping the kitten warm, fed properly and healthy through quality vet care.
At 4 weeks, kittens’ bodies are just becoming able to regulate temperature on their own. To keep them warm enough, you’ll have to provide a source of heat, being sure that the kittens can move away from it if they become too warm. A heating pad or hot water bottle placed in a kitten’s bedding area is perfect for this; wrap the heat source in a towel to prevent the animal from burning himself. If you need to warm the kitten quickly, you can place him against your skin and let him absorb your body heat.
Four-week-old kittens are not ready for solid food. Instead, they should have kitten milk replacer, which comes in both liquid and powdered forms; each day, feed 8 cc of formula per ounce of body weight, spreading this out over four feedings. Never give kittens cow’s milk, since it doesn’t have the nutrients they need and can cause diarrhea. You can offer soft starter food to kittens at 4 weeks, which is when weaning normally begins. Mix some of the formula in with this food so that the familiar smell will entice them to eat. By 6 or 8 weeks, the kitten should be off milk replacer and eating only this kitten food.
Neonatal kittens can’t eliminate on their own, so they need assistance in getting their bladder or bowels to move. By 4 weeks old, most kittens’ bodies will be up to this task, but it’s wise to keep an eye out for any difficulties. If the kitten isn't eliminating after meals, take a warm, wet towel or cotton ball and rub the animal’s lower abdomen and genitals. This could take up to a minute, but the kitten should eliminate. If the kitten is already doing his business on his own, you can introduce him to a litter box. Place him in the box after each feeding; if the kitten is unsure of what to do, gently help him scratch his paws in the litter.
Cats undergo a strong period of socialization until they reach 9 weeks old, during which time they learn how to interact with people, other animals and their environment. When kittens aren’t properly socialized before this age, they grow to be suspicious of new people and things, making them difficult to handle as adults. At 4 weeks, you should be holding the kitten and letting him play with other people and cats. Expose him to a range of toys and areas of the home. Just be sure to keep the little one away from unhealthy animals, and wash your hands before handling him.
Seek Vet Care
Kittens need proper medical care, which includes flea treatment, vaccinations and deworming. Veterinarians usually administer vaccinations to kittens who are 6 weeks old, but flea treatment and deworming may be needed at 4 weeks, especially in the case of orphaned kittens. It’s also wise to take orphaned 4-week-old kittens to the vet for a thorough examination. Kittens who display any of the following symptoms should be taken to the vet immediately: shallow breathing, lethargy, loss of appetite, diarrhea or constipation that doesn’t go away after a day or two and discharge from the eyes or nose.
- Kitten Rescue: Kitten Care Handbook
- Home At Last Animal Rescue: Kitten Care
- Out of the Cage! The Blog of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals: What to Do (and NOT Do) If You Find a Newborn Kitten
- ASPCA: Newborn Kitten Care
- Community Concern for Cats: Bottle Babies
- ASPCA: Socializing Your Kitten
- ASPCA: Vaccinations
Melissa Harr is a writer and knitting pattern designer with a range of publication credits. Her latest work includes blogging for Smudge Yarns, judging fiction for Ink & Insights 2015 and creating patterns for I Like Knitting magazine. Harr holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a CELTA.