2013-06-21 / Columnists

The Veterinary Corner

How To Care For An Orphaned Kitten
Dr. Jay Rogoff and Dr. Susan Whittred

First you hear the little meow. You start to search and there it isan orphaned kitten. Now what do you do? Here are some tips on the care and feeding of orphaned kittens.

Initially (the first couple of weeks) you will find that kittens are either sleeping or eating. They are just like human babies. The most important thing that you can do for them during this period is to make sure they are warm. It is recommended that external temperature in the first week of life is around 85-90 degrees. For each week thereafter, decrease the warmth by 5 degrees. At the age of one month, they should be in temperatures about 70 degrees.

Their bedding should be easy to clean and somewhere that they can't escape. To help keep them clean, use mild soap and warm water, avoiding harmful chemicals. Plastic boxes work well and are easy to clean. If needed, heating pads can be put on low under a portion of the box. Make sure the box doesn't become too hot and as always be careful when using electricity and animals.

Initially all environmental noise should be kept to a minimum and only the caregiver should handle the kitten, making sure to wash his or her hands before and after.

Unfortunately, kittens of this age are very susceptible to illness, so keeping stress to a minimum is paramount in their care as is cleanliness.

Kittens need to be fed Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR) or Nuturall through a bottle which can be purchased at The Animal Hospital of the Rockaways or a pet store. You may have to poke a hole (or make an X) through the nipple if there is not a premade opening. Be cautious not to make it too large as the kitten can choke.

The feeding position is very important and the neonate should be in sternal recumbency (on all four) and be able to push the bottle away when finished. The position of the nipple is also important because the kitten forms a seal around the nipple with its tongue.

If this cannot be achieved, the kitten will ingest air and develop colic.

The recommended amount of feeding for the first 2 weeks of life is 6 calories/ oz./per day, split into multiple feedings, usually dictated by your kitten's signals of crying. KMR has a feeding guide on the package, which will tell you exactly how much to feed per day according to the kittens weight. You can weigh the kitten on a baby scale or food scale. This is a time consuming process and cannot be rushed.

Kittens in the first 3 weeks of life need to be stimulated to urinate and defecate. This can be achieved by rubbing a warm moist cotton ball on their genitals. Be careful not to make the temperature too hot. It is recommended that you do this prior to each feeding.

Kittens can be weaned at about 4 weeks of age. Baby food (avoid any garlic or onions) or kitten food mixed with KMR can be used. You might have to smear it on their lips so that they get the taste of it and get used to it. We usually put the food on flat plates. It can get messy since the kittens tend to walk through it, so you may have to clean them up a little. Just make sure to dry them thoroughly so they don't get cold.

The critical socialization period for kittens is 2-7 weeks of age. Kittens that are not introduced to people in this period are usually feral and those not introduced to other kittens can become fearful or aggressive to other cats.

This is a full time commitment but one with great reward. You have formed an unbreakable bond with your new pet. If you have any other questions or need assistance call The Animal Hospital of the Rockaways or stop in at 114-10 Beach Channel Drive and the doctors would be happy to help.

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