Hand Rearing a Cat or Kitten

Sometimes a young cat needs hand rearing. Kittens are utterly helpless, blind and deaf; they depend on their mothers for everything. If you face the task of rearing a newborn kitten, try to find a surrogate feline mother first. If you can't find such a surrogate, here are some tips on how to hand rear kittens.

General Care of the Newborn Kitten

Contact your vet right away and let him know that you're hand rearing newborn kittens. You'll want to consult your vet immediately if your kittens begin to display any medical symptoms. Kittens are very fragile and their health can deteriorate rapidly. The kitten or kittens you're rearing might need emergency veterinary care before you know it.

The most important thing to remember when hand rearing a newborn cat is that he must be kept warm and supplied adequate nutrition. Keep track of your newborn kitten's development by weighing him every day during the first week and once every two to three days after. Write down your results and share them with your vet.

Setting Up A Good Environment

A warm environment is essential when hand rearing kittens. If you have several kittens, an incubator or nest might be a good idea. Keep your kittens separated until they are about three weeks old; this is important because newborn kittens have an instinctual urge to suckle their mothers' teats. If they can't find teats, they might suckle parts of each other's bodies.

Cat rearing requires a room which is always kept warm. During the first week, keep the room at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. During the second and third week, decrease the temperature to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and then to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. By the fifth week, you should be able to keep the room at 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Kittens are particularly susceptible to infections. Without the antibody protection of their mother's milk, your newborns will be especially vulnerable to infection. Wash your hands thoroughly before handling the kittens, and keep their bedding as clean as possible.

Feeding Newborn Kittens

Feeding a newborn cat by hand is easiest when you use a specially designed feeding bottle meant for use on kittens. These bottles are available from most pet stores. An eyedropper can also be used, or a turkey baster if the kitten is large enough. Kittens too weak to suckle may need to be fed through a tube; unless you have experience inserting such feeding tubes, consult your vet.

Never feed kittens cow milk. Newborn kittens need cat milk or a cat milk formula. You can buy cat milk or cat formula from your vet and from most pet stores. It comes in liquid or powder form.

If you're a breeder or have fertile female cats at home, there's a strong chance you may have to hand rear cats at some point. During kitten season, keep an emergency kit at home. Include in it all the things you'll need to provide for newborn kittens, including a Kitten Milk Replacer, so you can be prepared should you find yourself with a litter of orphans.