All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

How to Care for Orphan Kittens

Dear Marie,Last night when I was taking trash out to my can, I heard some little “mews” coming from the bushes.  I went and got a flashlight and looked where the sound was coming from, and sure enough, there were two little newborn kittens in there with no mom.  They were shivering and when I touched them, they were cold.  I didn’t want to move them because I was hoping their mom would come back and she would take care of them.  But I kept checking and as far as I can tell, mom’s not coming back.  I’ve brought them inside now and I have them wrapped up in a blanket.  But I don’t know the first thing about caring for newborns.  Their eyes aren’t even open and they are only about as long as my index finger.  Any advice would be appreciated.Max, Dear Max,Sometimes, for any number of reasons, mother cats will abandon their newborns.  Lucky for these two, they had loud enough voices to get your attention and you happened to be taking out the trash at just the right time! 

 I’m going to let you know right now that raising orphan kittens is a full-time job for the next eight weeks and not all orphan kittens will survive, even with the best of care.  If you are not up for the task or the potential heartache, you may want to turn them over to a rescue organization; but quite honestly, most rescues and shelters that do fostering are overflowing with kittens, so if you are able to be “Mr. Mom” for these two little orphans, that would be great.

You need to acquire some basic supplies if you don’t have them already.  First, get a nice cardboard box that’s big enough to hold an electric heating pad.  If you don’t have a heating pad, you can get one from a drugstore; they are relatively inexpensive.  It is important that you set the pad to its lowest setting and test it to make sure it doesn’t get overly hot.  Put a towel over the pad and lay the kittens on the towel.  You’ll need several towels because they will need to be changed and laundered as necessary. While the kittens are getting warm, make a quick trip to your local pet supply store.  Purchase a couple of kitten-sized feeding bottles and powdered kitten formula.  In this same store section, you should find a special newborn kitten supplement that should be given at Day 1, Day 3, Day 5 and Day 7.  This supplement should come with a small medicine dropper that you will use to deliver the liquid directly into the kittens’ mouths.
Your kitten formula’s label should give you instructions on the ratio of powder to warm water.  Follow those instructions exactly.  Here’s the tricky part – a lot of newborns don’t want to take milk from a rubber nipple.  You really have to work hard to get the little guys to take to it.  But once they figure it out, it will be relatively smooth sailing.  If you have a lot of trouble though, try using a medicine dropper in the beginning.  Once the kittens begin tasting the milk, they will probably transition over to the bottle with a little more time and practice. Let each kitten have as much milk as it will take.  When they are finished, take a few sheets of toilet paper and rub each kitten gently under its tail to stimulate a bowel movement and/or urination.  Mother cats generally do this until kittens are about 3-4 weeks old, at which time kittens will begin using litter boxes. You will need to feed the kittens every two to three hours ‘round the clock.  As each day passes, they should drink more milk than what they consumed previously.  If their appetite does not grow, it may be a sign that something is wrong and that may warrant a trip to the veterinarian.

By the end of the first week, your kittens’ eyes should be open and you will notice that they are getting more active.  Be sure to handle them frequently as lots of tender loving care will help ensure their survival.  Pet them from head to tail and let them curl up on you while you are watching TV. Somewhere between 4 and 5 weeks old, you can start mixing canned kitten food with formula and offering it either with their feeding bottles (you’ll need to make bigger holes in the rubber nipples) or with a medicine dropper.  The mixture should have a thick, liquid consistency.   By this time, you should also have introduced a litter box into their room, close to their nesting box.  To encourage litter box use, put them in it immediately after each meal and rub their paws in the litter to give them the general idea.  It is amazing to watch instinct kick in and see kittens begin using their litter boxes like old pros within just a few days.
Over the next couple of weeks, reduce the amount of formula you mix with the kitten food until you completely eliminate the formula.  You may also start introducing dry kitten food at this point.  By eight weeks of age, the kittens can probably be placed in homes – but most likely you will have bonded to them and I suspect they’ll be yours forever.  Don’t forget to have them spayed or neutered and have their vaccinations administered.  

Good luck! 

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