Can You Give a Newborn Kitten Water Instead of Milk?

Whether you have accompanied an adult female cat through a pregnancy that has come to term or adopted a very young kitten from the streets or shelter, it is beneficial for all cat owners to know some of the basics about caring for and feeding newborn cats. One of the biggest mistakes that people make is giving a newborn kitten water. During his first few weeks, a kitten must be raised on milk. Preferably, the mother cat will provide the kitten with her own milk. However, if the kitten's mother is not available or not producing enough for the full litter, it may be necessary to intervene.

Why Do Kittens Need Milk?

Newborn kittens require milk for a variety of reasons. When a kitten is first born, the milk that it consumes from its mother contains a plethora of antibodies that the kitten's system is not yet capable of producing. These antibodies help to protect that kitten against a wide variety of diseases. Kittens that do not drink their mother's colostrum, or firstmilk, stand a much greater risk of succumbing to a number of diseases that affect young cats.

A mother cat's milk is high in fat content. During the first weeks of a kitten's life, his body requires a huge amount of nourishment in order to sustain him and accommodate his rapid growth. Water is insufficient to provide these essential nutrients to your kitten. After a few weeks, a mother cat begins to ween her kittens off of her milk and to encourage them to eat other foods. At this point, usually around 6 to 8 weeks, it is safe to provide your kitten with water.

During the first few weeks of life, the mother cat teaches kittens a number of things. Among these is how to nurse. When the mother cat indicates that it is time for a kitten to feed, she is not only providing that kitten with nutrients but also teaching the young cat to eat regularly and helping to develop a schedule.

How to Give Your Kitten Milk

If the mother cat is unavailable or not producing a sufficient quantity of milk, you may have to help your kittens. Do not feed them cow's milk, as this does not contain the appropriate nutrients. Rather, go to a pet store and search for a kitten nursing formula. KMR and Just Born are two popular brands. Failing that, you may also give your kittens goat's milk.

Provide your kitten with milk in such a way that the experience is as similar to natural nursing as possible. Purchase a nursing bottle with a small niple and fill the bottle with milk or formula at body temperature, never cold. Ensure that the kitten himself is warm enough, as cold kittens will not drink. Take the kitten into your lap and position him upright on all four legs. Hold the bottle above him and gently guide the nipple of the bottle into his mouth. He should start drinking automatically and stop when he has had enough.