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Feeding Orphan Kittens

General Information

There are several possible reasons for hand-raising kittens:
death or illness of the mother, inadequate milk supply and rejection of the kittens. Hand-raising kittens is not overly difficult and is very rewarding. Kittens need a warm, draft-free environment during the early weeks of life. Air temperature in the immediate vicinity of the kittens should be 85-95 F for the first week of life, 80-85 F the next 3-4 weeks and 70-75 F at six weeks. The higher temperatures during the first few weeks may be maintained with heating pads, light bulbs or heat lamps, but great care must be taken not to overheat or burn the babies when they are too young to move away from the heat source. Using a thermometer to monitior temperature greatly improves your success in maintaining proper temperature. Using a large bottle filled with water inside the box helps to stabilize the temperature more evenly. Using the lamp or heat lamp allows you to "fine tune the temperature by moving it closer or further from the box.

Clean paper or cloth is suitable for bedding. A tall-sided cardboard box makes a safe nest and keeps the kittens inside until they are several weeks old.

Constant crying by the kittens indicates something is wrong. Contact your veterinarian. Also, the kitten's weights should be monitored. Consult the doctor if the kittens fail to gain weight.


Kittens may be fed by bottle or stomach tube. The stomach tube is faster, but many people enjoy bottle-feeding kittens. Your veterinarian or clinic staff can instruct you in either method.

Newborn kittens should be fed 6-8 times daily. The frequency should be gradually reduced to 3-4 times daily by 2-3 weeks of age.

Kittens must be helped to urinate and defecate by gently stroking the genital area with a cottonball or tissue moistened with warm water after each feeding.

Constant crying or failure to gain weight indicates a problem. Call the doctor.

You can determine how much to feed an orphan kitten by considering its daily caloric requirements. The general total daily caloric requirements for kittens under 4 weeks of age are:


1st & 2nd wk of age 6 calories/ounce of body weight daily

3rd & 4th wk of age 8 calories/ounce of body weight daily

Example: you plan to feed a 1-week-old, 2-ounce kitten 6 times daily. The kitten requires 6 calories/ounce body weight x 2-ounce kitten = 12 total calories needed for 1 day. You plan to feed 6 times daily. Therefore, 12/6 = 2 calories are required each feeding. Your milk substitute contains 1 calorie/ml. Therefore, you should feed 2 ml each feeding.

Solid foods should be introduced as a thin, pan-fed gruel at about 3-4 weeks of age. Over the next 2 weeks, the gruel should be gradually thickened, reaching normal, solid consistency when the kittens are 6-8 weeks of age.

Recommended products:

Milk substitute

Weaning foods

Solid kitten foods