care for new born kittens...learn how to keep a kitten safe and warm

Newborn Kitten Care

Abandoned, orphaned or newborn kittens need proper care and handling. To help you, we have compiled some tips so you can keep your kittens warm, manage discomfort and ensure good sleep. When taking in a kitten you should also be aware of issues with their tummies and stools, constipation and fleas. Depending on their age, the kitten may not have yet opened his eyes and might even have their umbilical cords attached...So welcome, take a breath, read and help your kitten friend!

EMERGENCY CARE FOR YOUNG Kittens


Dear Simba,
Our outside cat just had 5 kittens and 3 were born dead.
The other 2 are now 1 1/2 days old. They are inside and are in a big box with towels. Their mother sometimes leaves them and I worry that they get too cold. Can I use a heating pad or a warm towel/blanket? Also, one of the kittens has bloody mucus around its mouth (he does not seem to be injured). I do not understand what it might be. Please help! Carol

Dear Carol,
Yes, use a heating pad or a warm towel/blanket. Very young kittens (less than 1 week old) should be kept between 88-92 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Please keep the little guys in a room with no draft

  • Feed them with an eye-dropper or nursing bottle (see emergency feeding for a schedule).

  • Place them on their tummies

  • Open the mouths with your fingertips

  • Place the eyedropper/ nipple at a 45 degree angle between the jaws (the angle keeps air out)

  • Keep a light pull to promote sucking.
If one of the kittens gets air in its lungs, hold it upside down until any coughing or choking goes away.

The kittens are very fragile and need a lot of care. As for the bloody mucus, these can be anything from a viral to a bacterial infection. Please read through notes on sneezing / watery eyes for more information. Best thing to do to keep them alive is to take them to a vet to be checked out. Also, do not forget to have momma cat spayed. Many local animal organizations have free spay & neuter programs for stray cats. Your Pal, Simba

Simba, I am taking care of 2 orphaned kittens that my husband JUST found in an old car at his auto repair shop. They are just opening their eyes, so we think they are probably around 2 weeks old. The feeding process is going fine. My main concern right now is grooming. I have been trying to clean them regularly with a warm, wet cloth to remove any urine or feces from their bottom and on their tummies, but it does not seem to be working very well. What is the best way to take care of this problem? Mousey

Dear Mousey - The best way to groom little kittens is to mimic the cleaning of mom cats. Use a barely damp washcloth and clean them all over their bodies with short strokes. In addition to keeping the little ones clean, it teaches the kittens how to groom themselves. Do this after each feeding, as this also stimulates bowel movements and is very important to their good health. Simba



Keep Newborn Kittens Warm and Healthy



Dear Simba,
My 5 week old kitty does not want to eat. He eats about 1/2 oz every 4-6 hours. It is active at times and other times sleeps a lot. How can you tell if a kitten has a fever, seems like it shivers and chills at times. I do warm the formula? Concerned

Dear Concerned,
Young kittens rely on their mother's warmth until 5 weeks or so. Prior to that age, they need to be kept at 80 degrees. Be sure you are covering the kitten with a blanket and allowing him to get cozy. Heating pads, if used carefully can help out. Check out the feeding schedule and other information in the Feeding Kittens section. Also, make sure that the formula is not not too hot when you feed him (try to serve at room temperature). If you see or have seen any signs like lethargy or odd colored stools take your kitty to see a vet. Simba


Simba,
I would like to share a tip for keeping kittens warm with your readers:

I use a warm/hot water bottle for my new kitten of 5 weeks. I fill it up with warm, not hot, tap water and place it under a blanket in her sleeping place. She cuddles right up to it and sleeps "like a baby." Also to help her sleep, I have put in a small clock that ticks to give her comfort of possibly a mother's heart beat. Both seem to do the trick, she sleeps all night long. The water bottles are safe and inexpensive. Jennie

Dear Jennie,
Thanks for the tip. Readers, be sure to keep the seal tight on the bottle. Simba
Follow-up
Another reader writes: I use a 1-liter soda bottle filled with hot water wrapped in a towel. Moet loves it and snuggles right in. TS


Kitten With Fever Breathing Fast


How do I tell if my kitten has fever? His tummy feels really warm, and do not know if this is normal. The kitten is 4-months-old and was neutered 3 weeks ago, when he was also de-clawed. The vet checked him out and said everything was normal. How do I take his temperature? V

Dear V,
You can take your kitten's temperature by using a digital infant thermometer and lubricating the end of it. You then gently insert the tip of it in the kitten's anus and wait for the thermometer to beep indicating it has taken the temperature. Your kitten's body temperature should range between 99-102 degrees Fahrenheit. Check out the General Health section of Simba's Letters if you find that kitty has a fever. Keep me posted. Simba

PS
Given that kitty has been de-clawed watch out for infections in the paws and make sure he remains an indoor kitty.


Hi,
My family and I recently purchased an 8-week old kitten. He breathes very very very fast. His stomach moves up and down pretty rapidly when he sleeps. Is this normal for young kittens, and what is the usual speed of breathing? A caring owner (Ozzie'sMum!- I'm 14)

Dear Ozzie's Mum,
First, congratulations on getting a kitten! I hope you enjoy him. It sounds already like you will be a caring mum for Ozzie. As for his breathing, kittens breathe anywhere from 20 to 30 times per minute. Because they are small, you can usually see their chest rising up and down. If you find that Ozzie is breathing at a rate much faster than 30 times per minute, bring it up at your next vet visit. Otherwise, he is probably ok. Keep me posted, Simba


When do Kittens Open Their Eyes?

(See Kitten Eyes page for more detailed information.)

Dear Simba,
I am fairly new to the world of cats. However I am madly in love with the three adult cats we have in our home. I also have 2 one-year-old cats that live in our garage. We now have five kittens from one of the outside cats we did not have spayed. My kittens are 17-days-old and 3 out of the 5 have not yet opened their eyes. What should I do? Thank you and the kittens say thank you too! Barb

Dear Barb,
Congratulations on the kittens! As you know, kittens are born with their eyes closed. They usually open when the kittens are between 8-14 days old. The eyes will stay blue for 2 more weeks. If you notice any swelling/bulging under the eyelids, you should open them gently with a cotton ball dampened with warm water (DO NOT use Q-tips). If you see pus dripping from the eyes, it is probably an infection and the kittens should see a vet. If the eyes remain shut after 14 days, your vet should look at them. Other things to look for:
  • At 2 weeks of age, the kittens should be alert and be making attempts to stand up.
  • At 3 weeks, they try to climb outside of their box or pen.
  • At 4 weeks, all of the kittens should be walking, running and playing.
On a side note, with the number of kittens you're taking care of, I think you might have a full house! It might be worthwhile to have your cats spayed or neutered to prevent overpopulation since hundreds of thousands of cats end up euthanized every year. Best of luck and keep me posted. Simba

Handling a Kitten's Umbilical Cord


Dear Simba, We have a 2 1/2 week old kitten which still has its umbilical cord attached! I am starting to worry. Should this have fallen off already? Hanging by a String

Dear Hanging by a String,
Mother cats usually remove their kitten's umbilical cords shortly after birth, by licking off the cord along with the afterbirth. Small pieces of the cord may remain for a little while but usually fall off after a couple of hours.

In your case, you can do one of two things. Carefully detach the cord by rubbing on the kitten's tummy with a warm, wet cloth as the mother cat would have done or go to your vet and have him/her do it for you. I do not recommend that you cut the cord with a sharp object, given kitten's tendency to shift about, which could cause an accident harming you or the kitten. Keep me posted. Simba

Transporting Kittens


Dear Simba,
My cat is due to give birth in 3 to 4 weeks. How long after the birth should I to wait before I can handle the kittens? I have been told that it varies between 1 to 3 weeks! Can you help? Sam

Dear Sam,
The age at which you should handle kittens varies with the condition of the kittens and the mother. Ideally, kittens are cared for by their mother. When momma cat is taking care of things you should not handle the kittens until they are at least 2 weeks old and then only under the mother cat's supervision. If the kittens are orphaned, you are now the mother and you need to care for them and feed them.

As to how to handle the kittens, hold them gently for only a 10-15 minutes at a time, and do so in the company of the mother since her presence reassures the kittens and the mother cat too (see Mother's Behavior for more). Remember that human children or household pets should not be left alone with small kittens.

The first 4 to 8 weeks of a kitten's life are very important. Handling and petting the kittens will make them more sociable creatures. At this age, be sure to leave them plenty of toys for them to play with (rolled tin foil and wads of paper work great). Avoid using your hands, fingers, feet or clothing when you play with them as this only encourages attack games which then leads to aggressive behavior. Keep me posted. Simba


Hi Simba, I am concerned about these kittens I am caring for and think I need to take them for help. Should I try to bundle all the newborns and mama up and take them to the vet? How do I transport 10-day-old kittens without hurting them? Confused Cat-Sitter

Hi Confused Cat-Sitter,
I believe it is best to err on the side of caution. So, yes take the little ones to the vet. You can transport the little kittens in a laundry basket or medium sized box filled with blankets & clothes (warm preferable). Be sure to keep the basket warm and soft inside for the little ones. Ensure that the kittens are not covered such that they cannot breathe. In addition, cushion the outside of the box/basket such that the kittens are not adversely affected by any sudden braking. Simba

PS
Check out Travel Safety for tips on keeping kitties safe in cars and in the air.

Kitten Cries at Night


Dear Simba, I have just adopted a 1 1/2 month old kitten, his name is Gingembre. First day at home yesterday, he was meowing whole night, so much so that my husband and I decided to let him sleep with us. How long will this go on? He came from a home with 5 kittens and 3 cats. Regy

Dear Regy,
Poor little guy! Remember that you have an infant on your hands. Gingembre is probably used to sleeping in the comfort and warmth of his siblings. I am sure that he misses the companionship and at only 6 weeks of age, he gets cold easily. Because you are his only source of warmth & companionship he will want to be with or near you and your husband at night.

Best thing to do is to set up a comfortable, warm & cozy spot for him. Place it close to your bed and move it a little further away every couple of days. Give him the choice of where to sleep…he will begin to migrate to his bed soon enough. You want to make him comfortable in his new home. He is scared and lonely. Keep me posted, Simba

Kitten Constipated / Not Urinating


Dear Simba, I have a new kitten that I have been bottle-feeding since birth. She was born on September and she is my little baby. I have been trying to show her how to clean herself and she seems to be getting the general idea but I cannot seem to get her to poop. I have tried everything from rubbing her belly to putting her in warm water and I do not know what else to do. Please help! - Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom,
Poor little guy! You are moving in the right direction. It is not an easy job. Know that mother cats usually lick the "back side" of their kittens in order to stimulate bowel and bladder movement. Because the kitten’s mom is not around it is your job to take care of this. Here are some tips:

  • Gently rub the kitten’s lower tummy, the genitals and rectum with a moistened cotton ball/pad, or tissue.
  • Rub only a little bit (be careful that you not over-stimulate the area and cause irritation)
  • Watch out for any chafing and lingering dirt.
Your kitten will do a litter better following this. The good thing is that you need to do this for only a few weeks. Let me know how things to. Your Pal, Simba

PS
Check out the Upset Stomachs section for additional information on intestinal functions.

Fleas on Just Born Kittens

(please see the Fleas section for more on flea management)

Dear Simba,
My cat Brandy has just had kittens a week ago. Her and the dog Max both had fleas but we did not want to de-flea Brandy while she was pregnant! Yesterday I found fleas on one of the kittens. My mum thinks this is really serious for newborn kittens.

Is it? How can we get rid of the fleas so that we can give them away once they are ready? - Kelly M

Dear Kelly M,
Your mother is right in her concerns. In addition to carrying all sorts of parasites, fleas can cause young kittens to become anemic. This is a potentially fatal condition in kittens.
  • Try to get the little guys, the mother cat, the dog and their environment flea-free as soon as possible.
  • Use a flea comb to gently remove the dirt and fleas from the fur.
  • Ask your vet for a flea spray that is safe to use on just born kittens,if you do not find a safe spray use the flea comb(always read the warnings)
  • If you used a spray, then:
    • Place the kitten on a towel for ~20 minutes and discard the towel with the dead and dying fleas that have come off.
    • After using a spray, you can give the kitten a bath in gentle soap (make sure water is lukewarm).
    • Towel dry the kitten towel
Keep an eye out for Ringworm and Mange. If you see a kitten scratching excessively or with bald spots, isolate him from his litter mates and consult a vet immediately for treatment. Also, do not forget to have momma cat spayed. Many local animal organizations have free spay & neuter programs for stray cats.


Sneezing Kittens

(please see the Sneezing Kittens section for more on cold symptoms)

Hi Simba,
We got a kitten from a local shelter, she had been caught in a trap, and my mother couldn't resist. Missy was about 3 months old and she was so scared she wouldn't leave the back of her cage. We took her home and about two weeks later Missy had gone from 7oz. to 2 lbs. She was lively and playful, wanting to play with anything that moved. About a month ago she started sneezing, mucus everywhere, she had trouble breathing and was always congested. She has a good appetite, and is playful, but she is still congested. My other cat, Ariel, just had her litter of 5 healthy kittens, and I am worried that the kittens could catch this and could die. What should I do? Scully

DearScully,
It seems that Missy could be suffering from the Cat Flu. This is brought on by either a viral or bacterial infection and is contagious. Although it can vary in severity it is not necessarily fatal and it can be treated / alleviated. It might be worthwhile to keep the kittens in a room away from Missy until they have completed their calici & rhinotrachetis vaccination. This will help keep them Cat Flu-free. Keep me posted, Simba

Kitten's Stool Composition

(please see the Upset Stomachs section for more on kitten stool issues)

Young kittens will have stools that have a toothpaste consistency and are mustard color. These movements will occur about once a day and may be tiny depending on the size of the little guy or gal.

Because kittens can dehydrate quickly, feed them carefully. Do not over-feed. Also, avoid making sudden changes to the kitten’s diet. Be sure to worm your little guy at 6 weeks of age. Check out the Diarrhea section for more information. Simba