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San José Animal Care Center
2750 Monterey Rd.
San Jose, CA 95111

408-794-PAWS (7297)

How to Care for an Orphan Kitten

Our thanks to Town Cats for providing the following information.

Immediate Care

  • The newly found kitten is usually chilled (body cool to the touch, may cry constantly) and/or dehydrated (mouth and tongue dry, mucous membranes pale, scruff doesn't spring back quickly when pinched).
  • Warm the kitten up slowly - with body heat only! Do not use hot water bottles, heaters, blow dryers, etc!
  • Give the kitten 5-10% glucose in water. (Glucose is available at drug stores, example: Pedialyte) ½ cc per ounce of body weight per hour.
  • Do not feed a chilled kitten! Its intestines aren't working and it may become bloated and die.

What to Do Next

  • The kitten's bed should be enclosed, with a heating pad set on low. Cover this with a waterproof layer, then thick absorbent bedding (such as a cloth diaper). If needed, cover part of the box to trap heat and warm up the air.
  • Heating pad should only cover ¾ of the bed so that the kitten can move away in case it gets too hot.
  • Change the bedding daily - or more often if necessary - to prevent sores from urine burn.
  • Young kittens cannot retain body heat. Both low and high temperatures can chill them. (High temps can chill them by expanding surface blood vessels and radiating off too much heat.) Keeping the temperature of their surroundings at the proper level is critical! (Hang a cheap thermometer, such as an aquarium thermometer, down near where the kitten sleeps.)

Feed the Kitten

  • Feed the kitten a milk substitute such as Borden's KMR, available at vet clinics, pet stores, and feed stores. Follow the directions on the can for the amounts to feed. If you are not able to get the recommended KMR right away you can make your own temporary substitute (see note about formula at the end of this page)
  • Do not feed cow's milk or human baby formula. These may cause diarrhea and dehydrate the kitten to death.
    Warm formula to 100°F, or slightly warm to the skin. Nipple hole should be large enough that milk drips out slowly when held upside down.
  • Do not hold kitten on its back to nurse. Keep it upright on its stomach. Hold bottle at a 45° angle, keeping a slight pull on the bottle to encourage suckling.
  • If the kitten is too weak to nurse then it must be tube fed. See your veterinarian.
  • Frequent feedings help prevent chilling. Too frequent may not allow stomach to empty completely, causing the milk to ferment and the kitten to bloat. Follow the schedule below unless the kitten is weak or dehydrated.
  • Kittens should gain weight according to the chart below. If your kitten is not, see your vet.
  • Elimination: Kittens under four weeks of age cannot urinate or pass feces on their own. After feeding, wipe the kitten's bottom with warm moist cotton balls, gauze, or Kleenex to stimulate them to go (this movement simulates a mother's tongue). When done, wipe the belly and then apply a thin layer of baby oil. Kittens should urinate after each feeding. They may pass feces less often.
  • Very important note: Very young kittens rarely cry. Frequent crying indicates a cold, hungry, sick, or pained kitten.
Age Surrounding Temperature Feeding Frequency Expected Weight
0-1 Weeks 85°-90° F 6 times daily
3-4 ounces at birth, 6-8 ounces at 1 week
1-2 Weeks
80°-85° F 5 times daily 8-10 ounces
2-3 Weeks
75°-80° F 4 times daily 10-12 ounces
3-4 Weeks
70°-75° F 3 times daily 12-14 ounces
4+ Weeks 70° F 3 times daily 14 ounces and up

Normal Development

Here is information to help you determine a kitten's age.

Age Characteristics
5-8 Days Ears open
8 Days - 2 Weeks Eyes open
2½ Weeks Can crawl
3 Weeks< Ears erect; stands up
3½ Weeks Sight and sound oriented; Can follow noise/objects
4 Weeks Can eliminate without help; Can learn to lap from dish and eat solid foods

A Note About Formula

KMR is the best nourishment for kittens, but if you are unable to obtain KMR immediately, here is a temporary formula:

  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon Karo syrup