So, you’ve aquire an orphaned kitten or two? First off, I’d like to describe what I mean by orphaned – a kitten (or more) that have lost their mother’s for whatever reason, and need humans to help them develop and learn what would normally be taught by their mothers.
Since kittens should be kept with their mother’s until 3-4 days old, if at all possible, I am going to start off at about one week old. The kittens have barely opened their eyes and they still can’t hear. You’ll notice, these miracles are still tiny and fragile. If you end up with kittens this young, you are going to have to stay on top of things to keep them alive. The first two weeks of a kittens life are by far the hardest on them, especially without a mother.
You have two main things to deal with at this time; food and warmth. Kittens need to be fed every couple hours, regularly – even through the night. A healthy kitten will grow by a few grams a day. If you have one or two kittens, it is going to be a bit harder to keep them warm. They are going to need a blanket or a few towels, and since they aren’t potty trained yet, you’ll want a few changes. If you have a litter or 4 to 8, they will huddle together and likely keep themselves much warmer than a single kitten. A single kitten or two, will do best if you spend as much time as possible cuddling with them and keeping them close to you. DO NOT put kittens somewhere where there is drafts. A drafty room can make a small kitten very sick and could kill a young kitten.
Once you’ve got down a warm spot, and the appropriate food (preferably commerical kitten supplement), next is learning to help them urinate and defecate. Yes, you read right – they cannot “go” on their own. When a mother is seemingly cleaning her kittens, she is also helping them go potty. To help them, obviously humans aren’t going to lick the kittens genitals. Use a Q-Tip, or soft cloth. Get it wet with WARM water. Proceed to gently massage the kittens genitals and lowered abdomen in circular motions works best. I have also been told that you can actually sick the kittens rear end under warm running water and proceed to massage – but I do not have any personal experience with this method. Anytime a kitten gets wet, you must keep them warm until they are completely dry.
You will keep up the warmth and feedings until 3-4 weeks old. Between 2 and 3 weeks old, the kittens will also start “going” on their own. About 3 weeks old, it is okay to start weening your kittens onto something other than formula. I would suggest blending kitten food and soaking it in the supplement milk. Some people use plain meat baby foods (ONION POWDER in baby foods other than STAGE 1 can kill kittens) but this can also lead to a picky eater when it comes time to start feeding solids. Some kittens will automatically take to canned food as well. Some kittens will pick up drinking from a bowl right away, some kittens this can take a week or two to get down. I’ve had kittens go from dropper/bottle feeding, to drinking from a bowl, to eating canned food in less than 24 hours. At the same time, the brother to that same kitten wasn’t at all interested in drinking from a bowl. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you have to be VERY patient. You have to remember, even if a kitten at this age might be ready for solids, they do not have adult teeth yet – they barely have tiny teeth in there.
Great, the kittens eating on it’s own and it’s healthy. Around 3-4 weeks you an introduce a litterbox. Something fairly shallow works best so the kitten can come and go easily. Plain clay litter works best, or you can also use shredded paper or even plain oatmeal. Kittens can, and often will, try to eat the litter – large clumping litters can clog their insides and kill them. To train them to use the litter box, place them in the box before and after meals – you’ll notice they are most likely to go right after eating. They may not go every time – this is normal. If they need help with covering their tracks, gently show them a scratching motion in the litter with their paw. Most cats will instinctively pick this up and some cats never cover their tracks.
So by now you’ve got the basics – feeding, warmth, potty training. (Keep in mind, kittens up to 2 months will need somewhere warm). By now, you’ve probably noticed your kitten9s) being very curious about everything. They’ll want to follow you and check out what you are doing. They will likely try to climb everywhere and check out every corner. Make sure your house/room is kitten proof! No exposed wires, deep pools of water – common sense should help you here. Think about you kitten as a young child who just learned to walk.
Sometimes, orphaned kittens came from mothers that were never vaccinated and/or were exposed to diseases at an early age. Upper Respiratory Infections are highly contagious and will easily attack an unvaccinated cat/kitten. Signs are watery eyes, sneezing, runny noses and in advanced cases you will notice your kitten having no energy. The earlier you can get your kitten(s) to the vet, the better.
Shivering kittens are often though to be sick or getting a cold. When a kitten shivers it often means he/she is underfed. Start feeding more/have more frequent feedings. If this does not help, take your kitten to the vet.
Kittens are prone to becoming ill until they are old enough to be vaccinated, and then given their boosters on time. I strongly believe that all kittens (inside or outside) should be given their basic vaccines – and for additional coverage for outside cats, Rabies vaccines is always a good bet.
(Please let me know if you think I have missed anything or should add any more information. I have been rescuing kittens and puppies my whole life and currently have 2 that just started drinking from a dish.)