The experience of having a baby kitten on one’s hands is very similar to having a human baby. Your first reaction is probably ‘wow, so cute and cuddly’ and the next that come over is the panic attack – how should I take care of them?
In this post, we will address the concerns from three different aspects: the mother, the kittens themselves, and in the rare case when a kitten is found abandoned without a mother.
Caring For The Mother (First)
Under normal circumstances, kittens are supposed to be with their mothers, and their mothers are the ones that provide most (if not all) of the care that the kittens need. Therefore, at this juncture, satisfying the needs and providing for the mother cat has a higher priority as compared to caring for the kittens themselves.
As the mother cat will be providing her kittens with milk, it is important that she gets fed and watered often. It is also good to change the food/water location to somewhere near the mother cat’s nesting area as she may be reluctant to move far from the area due to her natural instinct to keep watch over and protect her kittens at all times.
It is recommended to serve 3-4 meals per day in smaller portions (as compared to before pregnancy). Freshly prepared cooked food at room temperature is the best choice, and kibbles/cold food/raw food should be avoided. For an ideal balanced diet, poultry meat can be served twice daily while fish and eggs mixed with vegetables be served for other meals.
Fresh water should be always available. If the mother cat is reluctant to consume water, try serving the food that she consumes with more warm water to encourage drinking during meal times.
Note: Some (but not all) mother cats can be over-protective of their kittens. Therefore, it is advisable for owners not to touch the kittens right after birth, especially if the mother cat showed any signs of hostility. For additional information, this is a video about how soon you can handle kittens.
Caring For The Kitten Itself
Newborn kittens are blind and deaf for the first few days of their lives. Other than sleeping and suckling their mother’s nipple for milk, the only other thing that they would do is to cluster together if they feel cold or spread out when they feel a bit too warm. Therefore, at this stage, there is nothing much that you can do – just let the mother cat handle everything.
At around 1-2 weeks old, the kittens should have opened their eyes (although some can be observed as early as a few days old). They may start to exhibit more behaviors such as playing with their littermates. Their mother will also leave the nesting area more frequently, and the kittens may observe (although little chances of following) this behavior.
At 3 weeks old, kittens’ sense of sight and smell are almost fully developed. They exhibit more play behavior with their littermates and will attempt to walk around on their wobbly legs. At this stage, you can start to handle them and get them used to your scent. They may show signs that they are uncomfortable such as flinching from your hand, hissing, or attempting to bite your hand, so take this step slowly (such as letting them smell your hand but not picking them up at first). After they have gotten used to your scent, this behavior should lessen greatly.
4 weeks old is usually the stage when they start to explore areas out of their nesting area and will tend to lick and chew things hence it is important to keep the area that the kittens play and explore clear of any toxins, such as disinfectants and detergents. The kittens may also start to show interest in their mother’s food and attempt to take a few bites, so it is wise to offer soft food to the mother cat. This is also the time when you can start handling them normally.
Around 6 weeks old, kittens are ready to take solid food. They should be fed fresh food at every meal and served in small portions, but with many meals spaced throughout the day. This is because the size of their stomach is still very small and doing so will minimize the chances of gastric upsets. Toys should also be provided as they allow the kittens’ senses to be stimulated, which develop their synaptic junctions in their brains, resulting in smarter cats.
After 8 weeks old, kittens should be fully weaned and can be immunized against feline diseases, so a trip to the veterinarian is highly advised, especially if they are going to new homes soon. Some cats may require calcium supplements, but it differs from cat to cat, hence it is best to seek a veterinarian’s opinion on this matter.
At 12 weeks old, a kitten should be independent enough to move to a new home or environment.
In The Case Of A Stray Kitten
If you found a stray kitten under 8 weeks old without the mother cat around, he/she should be brought to vet immediately to check for any possible birth defects or diseases.
For such kittens, they can be handled immediately. Warm milk can be fed as a substitute for their mother’s milk, and solid food given should be cooked meat, fish or eggs. They might need more care and attention than normal kittens of the same age, especially if only one is found.
This is a picture of the first cat, Stormy, which we welcomed into our home. When we found her back on 8th October 2010 and brought her to the vet, she was estimated to be around 6-8 weeks old. She was quite shy at first and hid in areas that we could not reach for the first few weeks in our house, but she gradually opened up to us and became one of the dearest members in our family. Our lives changed because of this new addition – prior to adopting her into the family, we did not consider having cats as pets as we already have a dog at home.
Sadly, she passed away on 23rd June 2011. May she rest in peace.
If the chance arises, I will share the story of Stormy with you again, but for today, we will stop here.
If you have any questions that you want to ask, anything you wish to clarify, or simply want to express your thoughts and feelings, feel free to leave a comment!