Caring for newborn kittens becomes necessary if they are orphaned or abandoned. Orphaned kittens are a common sight around the Philippines, where animal abandonment is rarely taken seriously, let alone punished. In some cases, kittens we think are orphaned were just temporarily left alone while their mothers went to hunt or scavenge for food, but these cases are vastly outnumbered by those where kittens are cruelly abandoned or exposed (niligaw or tinapon) by humans.
If you have been in the animal welfare and care communities for a while, you might have even seen calls on social media for a “mommy cat” or a lactating queen to nurse their kitten foundlings. While this might seem like a good idea, sometimes mother cats might reject or even get aggressive with kittens.
It is possible to raise a newborn kitten with the same success rate of a naturally loving mother. This requires a planned routine of keeping them warm, frequent healthy meals, and stimulating them to poop and pee. All of this takes much effort, but it is incredibly fulfilling to be able to save and nurture somebody who would have otherwise been so callously discarded.
Preparing yourself for the task of caring for newborn kittens
While caring for your newborn kitten, you should also take care of yourself. A study found that the death rate for kittens might reach up to 40 percent in some instances, especially for kittens left exposed to the filth and danger of Metro Manila. Make sure you have a strong support system to see you through this. If your kitten does not make it, acknowledge your grief and give yourself time to recover; but also realize that countless orphaned animals can still benefit from your knowledge, care, and willingness to help.
Feeding amount and schedule for newborn kittens: Go Two by Two!
If you find a kitten whose eyes and ears are still closed, you can assume that this kitten is under three weeks old. Kittens at this age must be fed at least 2 ml every 2 hours. If this sounds similar to providing for a newborn baby, it’s because you are providing for a newborn baby. Remember: a kitten is a babycat!
If this sounds demanding, rest assured it won’t last for long. Once your kittens hit the four week mark, you might start seeing a bit of eyeball. Their ears will also begin to open and perk up at this age. As your kitten gets bigger, not only can you increase their meal sizes, you also won’t have to feed them as frequently.
When feeding your kitten, make sure they are lying on their bellies with their heads upright, to make sure they swallow the milk properly. Never feed a kitten while they are lying on their back.
At four weeks of age, your kitten should be drinking at least 5 ml every meal. You can also decrease feeding to every four hours, instead of every two. Make sure to monitor your kitten’s weight! Kittens should gain a few grams each day, and weight loss is a definite cause for concern that should be checked by your vet.
Milk and bottles
Most pet supply stores and vet clinics sell bottles for handfeeding small animals. Bottles for kittens come with small nipples, similar in size to those of an adult cat, and can be gently squeezed. Stay away from bottles made from materials that feel too flimsy or have caps that can easily come off. Some kittens tend to get aggressive from hunger and will drench themselves with milk when they bite or yank the nipple off their bottle.
The guidelines for preparing the nipple are often found on the packaging of the bottles, with better known brands like PetAg and Royal Canin recommending a cut on the nipple tip in the shape of a small x or cross shape. Local brands like Michiko and Charles Pet also make functional bottles.
A kitten can aspirate and die from pneumonia if you enlarge the nipple hole beyond the safe limits, with the most common cause of aspiration in cats being a damaged or torn nipple. Therefore, it’s important to trim or enlarge nipple tips very carefully.
You might even opt to purchase the pricier Miracle Nipple, used by many professional fosterers. These are sold through online platforms, like Shopee and Facebook Marketplace. Unlike other brands, Miracle Nipples can be used with most standard syringes, making it easier to regulate the flow of milk. However, with each miracle nipple costing over 300 pesos (on top of the price of milk and other aspects of kitten care), it’s understandable why most fosterers would forego this handy tool.
Of course, there is no point in buying a bottle unless you have something to put in it. The Babycat Milk kits from Royal Canin are more expensive, but they also come with feeding bottles. You can also buy PetAg Kitten Milk Replacer from most vet clinics and some pet supply stores. These are however more expensive, often retailing for over 1,500 pesos.
Those on a tighter budget might opt for Pet Lac (also by PetAg) or Lactol, which are both often available at larger pet supply stores, like Pet Express and Pet Lovers Center. Other more affordable tried and tested brands are Bearing and Bio Milk, both of which are carried by most online sellers. If none of these are available, you might be able to find goat milk, which is sold both in powdered form, as canned liquid, and even in bottles, as a human grade drink.
Keep in mind that kittens cannot digest cow’s milk, so brands like Cosi and Cats Own must be saved for adult cats.
Ever wonder why mommy cats spend so much time licking their kittens’ behinds? Because it’s the only way to get them to pee and poop.
When caring for orphaned kittens, no one expects you to lick their behinds, but you will need to stimulate them to pee and poop using a moist cotton ball or a soft toothbrush. The texture of the cotton or the bristles simulates a mother cats’ rough tongue, and this is a crucial part of their care. Kittens also cannot clean themselves without their mother’s help after urinating and pooping, so it’s your task again to help them. Use warm water and a fresh cotton ball or a wet cloth to wipe the kitten’s behind clean.
Healthy and Safe Handling
Newborn kittens cannot regulate their body temperature, and in the wild, will often snuggle together in a cuddle puddle, or squeeze into their mother’s tummy. If you are caring for kittens from the same litter, make sure to keep them in the same box if possible, so that they can keep each other warm.
A cardboard box lined with soft blankets will keep a solo kitten warm; but on colder nights, you can simulate their mother’s warmth by wrapping a bottle of hot water in a towel or a baby blanket and keeping it close to them.
Don’t mix sick and healthy kittens. If you notice any of your kittens sniffling, vomiting, or showing green or yellow discharge in their eyes, separate them from the rest of the litter. This will prevent them from infecting the others, while allowing you to monitor them more closely.
Also limit the number of people and animals who will interact with your kitten during their first four weeks of life. Their immune systems are still developing at this period, making them more vulnerable to disease and infection. Before, during, and after you touch them, wash your hands thoroughly.
Your veterinarian can also help you keep an eye on your new kitten’s growth and answer questions you may have. Kittens are usually due for their first deworming after the first month, followed by a second deworming. Two weeks later after their second deworming, a healthy kitten should be suitable for vaccinations.
Having your kitten vaccinated is a cause for celebration! It means your kitten survived a very vulnerable stage, and is now ready to be protected against the most common illnesses.
Most veterinary clinics in the Philippines offer either 3-in-1 (known as Tricat) or 4-in-1 vaccines, which protect your cat against the most common diseases. These are usually within the 650-1000 peso range per shot. Aside from this, you will also want to vaccinate your cat against rabies. While private vets offer this for a more modest price of 150-250 pesos, antirabies vaccines are usually offered for free by your city vet or local government health center, so make sure to inquire.
Another recent offering is the vaccine against FIV or FeLV, which are viruses that attack your cat’s immune system. FIV and FeLV are extremely common in stray and feral cats, and are usually passed to kittens through their mother’s milk. It is not advisable to vaccinate cats who test positive for this virus, but it is also difficult to get an accurate diagnosis for small kittens, so make sure to ask for your vet’s advice on administering this vaccine.