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Hand Rearing Kittens

I decided that I would add a page to my website on hand rearing kittens. I can't stress enough how important it is for a kitten to be raised by mom when ever possible. The colostrum offered in those first 48-72 hours of life is extremely important and in many cases, life saving. If mom is not available and another nursing cat cannot be found to accept the kitten then you are the kittens best chance of survival.

Naturally, you want to ensure the kitten is free or any fleas/ticks/infection. If any fleas/ticks are visible, pick them off with tweezers. If you notice any puss coming from the eyes/nasal passages/umbilical cord then it would be smart to have a vet examine the kitten or at the very least for you to give the kitten an injection of long lasting penicillin (can be purchased at farm stores) and repeating the injection once every 72 hours for a minimum of a week. If the eyes/umbilical cord appear to be infected (or if the eyes are closed and look puffy) wiping the eyes/umbilical area with warm water mixed with sea salt four to six times a day would be smart. Do not try and force the eyes open! Kittens eyes continue to develop for one to two weeks after birth, which is why they are still closed.

 Opening them prematurely can cause irreversible damage. If the kitten appears to be dehydrated giving some sub q fluids (5-10mls for per lb of body weight per side) would be a smart idea. Seeing as though kittens are TINY, you would need to work out how much fluids to give. For example, a kitten weighing 100g (3.5oz) on the LOW end would get 1.09ml of sub q fluids per side (16 divided by 3.5 equals 4.57 ... 5 divided by 4.57 equals 1.09). If the kitten is anemic (check for pale gums) put a small amount (a DROP) of corn syrup under the tongue.

Offering a clean, warm, SAFE place for the kitten is the first step. If you have a container or tote (doesn't need to be large, just big enough for the kitten to turn around) that you can fit a nice heating pad into and a blanket on top of it, that would be ideal. Keep the heating pad on LOW! You don't want it TOO hot HOWEVER for the first 14 days of life kittens have not yet developed the ability to control their body temperature. So keeping him warm is very important.

Have cotton balls on hand that can be wet down with warm water to help stimulate the kitten to go to the bathroom after each feeding. This should be done until the kitten is about 4 weeks of age but don't stop until you know for sure the kitten is going by himself. After each feeding the kitten should urinate but he may not defecate after every feeding, or even every day.

Have 3cc, 5cc, 12cc and 20cc syringes on hand. Using the smaller sizes for younger kittens. They can be purchased through your vets office and even at some pet stores or feed mills. I personally recommend Squirrel Nipples sold at Chris's Squirrels and More BUT Catlac nipples are also great. These type of nipples fit easily onto the end of the syringes. Do not put to much pressure on the end of the syringe. Just enough to give the kitten a taste of the kitten glop/formula and he should then suck by himself. If you accidentally push the fluid into the kittens mouth when he isn't ready he could inhale it which can (and most times will) cause aspiration pneumonia. This is very serious!! If this happens, immediately suction out the airways (nasal passages and mouth with a bulb syringe). If you start to notice noisy breathing/rattling chest take the kitten to the vet immediately. Personally, I would use a nebulizer with Tylan/Saline solution but since you likely do not have access to these things, the kitten needs veterinary attention ASAP (the sooner the better).

ALSO, please remember ... over feeding is not a good idea. This too can cause aspiration pneumonia!

My next recommendation is tube feeding. This is simply my preference and if you don't feel comfortable with it, I do not recommend that you do it. However, I've found that kittens develop aspiration pneumonia far less using this method.

Here is a GREAT article explaining HOW to tube feed a kitten

AND here is a youtube video SHOWING how to do


You will need a #3.5 (newborn) or #5 (1 week or older) tube to do this.


Naturally you need to buy kitten formula or make kitten glop. Mammalac or KMR are good choices. But if you cannot find these products, you can make your own kitten glop (which is what I do). Here is the recipe that I use.

2 cups goats milk (I get the higher fat content of 3.25%)

2 tbsp of plain yogurt (I get BioBest Probiotic 90% lactose free yogurt)

2 tbsp hellmans mayo

1 tbsp karo syrup (which is just WHITE corn syrup)

1 pkg knox gelatin

1 egg yolk beaten

1 cup water

I boil the water first and add the gelatin to it, stir and set aside to cool a bit. In the mean time I add all the other ingredients together in the blender and mix them. When the water/gelatin is cool, I add it and mix again. Then I pour it into a sterile, sealed container. It expires 10-14 days after making it.

Feeding Schedule

0-2 weeks every 2.5hrs

2-4 weeks every 3.5hrs

4-5 weeks every 3.5-5hrs

How Much To Feed

Step ONE - weigh your kitten (grams is most reliable when watching weight gain)

Step TWO - convert the kittens weight in grams to ounces (online conversion

calculators work great!)

Step THREE - feed 1cc of kitten glop or formula per ounce of body weight

EX. Kitten weighs 100 grams. In ounces, this is 3.5. So, kitten will be getting

3.5cc of kitten glop at each feeding.

Be sure to have a small food scale on hand to weigh the kitten twice a day to ensure he is gaining 5-10 grams per day. These scales are quite inexpensive and can be life savers. Most times the first sign of an ill kitten is weight loss or no weight gain. So please do invest in a food scale.

By about four weeks of age you can start offering the kitten some infant rice cereal mixed with kitten glop or water. Make it watery and warm. Set it out on a flat plate. Kittens seem to be unsure of bowls or any thing with rims/edges. Put a small amount into his mouth so he gets the taste for it. Chances are, the food will be gone within a couple minutes (if that!). Over the week you can make this mix thicker and you can start to add some canned kitten food to this mixture and slowly decrease the amount of kitten glop/rice cereal.

Have a bowl of water out at all times!

After about a week, pour boiling water over dry kitten kibble and allow it to soften and cool before mixing some wet food into it. Then place this mix out, again, on a flat plate. You can still offer the kitten some kitten glop warmed up on a separate plate.

Over the next two weeks slowly start decreasing the amount of boiling water and wet food so the kittens are eventually eating dry kitten food.

By the time the kitten is 6 weeks of age it is time to start thinking about vaccines, in particular if the kitten did not receive colostrum from mom. If he didn't, having his FVRCP vaccine done at 6 weeks would be ideal. Other wise you could wait to have the first vaccine given until he reaches 8 weeks of age.

Week One

Kittens are born blind and deaf. Their eyes are closed & their ears are folded down.

In the first week of life kittens basically sleep & eat.

Newborn kittens are unable to regulate their body temperature & rely on mom to keep warm. The kitten's environment must be kept at a constant temperature to avoid either hypothermia or hyperthermia.

The umbilical cord remains attached for the first 3 days. At birth they usually weigh between 90 - 100 grams.

Toileting is stimulated by the mother. After her kittens have fed, she will lick their belly & genital area, eating any feces & urine.


By the second week their eyes are beginning to open although their vision is not very good at this stage. Do not force their eyes open as it could result in damage. Young kittens are vulnerable to eye infections, so keep a watch for any signs of infection such as crustiness or white/yellow secretion. All kittens have blue eyes at this stage.

Weight gain is around 7-10 grams a day, and by the end of the second week the kitten should have doubled it's weight.

The sense of smell is developing. They will often have a preference for a particular nipple.


By three weeks the kitten is becoming more aware of his litter mates. His sense of smell is continuing to develop. It is around the three week mark that kittens begin to shakily move about. Some kittens will try to walk & explore.

By three weeks their ears will be erect. Their baby teeth begin to show. The sense of smell is well developed.

They can now purr.


The sense of smell is fully mature.

The kittens are becoming more & more active & be interacting with their litter mates. They may attempt to explore outside the confines of their kittening box.

The mother is still grooming her offspring, but they are also able to groom themselves.

Their eyesight is improving, although it will be a few more weeks before it is fully developed. The sense of hearing is now well developed.

It is at this time that the mother will begin to leave her kittens for short periods of time.

At this stage, you can provide a small bowl of water for kittens to drink from.


The sight is fully developed at 5 weeks.

The weaning process can begin around 5 weeks of age. Start out slowly by mixing baby food (check the ingredients to make sure the food contains no onion as this is toxic to cats) canned or dry cat food in with some kitten formula. Not all kittens will take to food immediately, so patience is important. Introduce a small amount initially. You can introduce solids either by placing a small amount of food on your finger or in a cat bowl.

Kittens are much more graceful on their feet at this stage & are exploring a lot more. Stalking & pouncing their littermates.

They may start to use the litter tray, although you will likely find some accidents still. Make sure that the bedding is easily washable so you can ensure the area remains clean. Provide them with a small litter tray, make sure it has litter which is safe for young kittens to use (and possibly eat).


Kittens receive their first vaccinations at 6 to 8 weeks of age.

The kittens are extremely active. The mother will have longer periods on her own.

They should have almost all of their baby teeth by now.

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