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What to Feed a Kitten – Raising Newborn Kittens

Orphan Kitten Care – What to Feed a Kitten That Is Only a Few Days Old?

By: Jen Sloan – Veterinary Technician at Leo’s Pet Care veterinary clinic in Indianapolis

So you’ve taken on a litter of orphan kittens…now what? Hand-raising kittens can be a fun, involved, learning experience but can quickly go sour without a few pointers. It is imperative to remember that while the idea of raising these cute, fluffy little boogers can be exciting, you are still now responsible for the health, well-being and growth development of another living being. This article is here to help you make sure this whole experience goes smoothly and without incident.


First and foremost, keep your kittens warm! Kittens under 10 days old are not able to maintain their own body heat so you will need to supplement heat for them. Your kitten cannot properly digest foods or liquid if she is cold and will most likely refuse food as well. If she is kept cold for too long, hypothermia kicks in and your kitten will not survive. Here are a few ways to keep your kittens warm:

1. Heating Pad-Keep the setting on LOW. Put your heating pad on about half the bottom of your kitten enclosure and lay a towel over the top so your kitten is not directly on the heat pad. Always leave a cool area (minus heating pad) for them to move to if they become too hot.

2. Snuggle Safe “warming disc”-This can be used short term to warm kittens but it heats via your microwave and will need to be reheated frequently.

3. Fill a clean sock with uncooked white rice/white beans, tie a knot at the top and microwave for 60 seconds. *Will also require frequent reheating, approximately every 2-3 hours.

Your kitten enclosure temperatures should be as follows:
Birth-3 weeks: 85-88F
Over 3 weeks: approx. 79F


*NEVER use human milk replacement, puppy milk replacement or cow milk. ALWAYS use a specially formulated kitten milk replacement. Some common brands include KMR, Just Born, Breeder’s Choice…however your veterinarian is always available to make recommendations.

**A kitten should drink 8ml’s of formula per ounce of body weight per day (see chart below).**

Droppers or syringes are acceptable but ideally use a specifically designed nursing bottle available at your local pet store. Nipple hole size is essential. If the bottle is inverted, the formula should drip slowly from the nipple. Use a small pair of scissors to make an “x” in the nipple or use a large, heated needle to make a hole in the rubber nipple.

Warm formula in the bottle. I typically get a coffee mug with hot tap water and float the bottle with formula in it for about 10 minutes. Test the temp of the milk on your forearm before offering it to your kitten. Temperature of the milk should be about 100F.

Place your kitten on a warm towel on your lap with the kitten on her belly. NEVER tip a kitten on its back during feeding as this can cause aspiration; the inhalation of liquid into the lungs. Ease the nipple into the kitten’s mouth. It is often helpful to have some milk already on the nipple so the kitten tastes it and begins to suckle. If your kitten refuses to feed, first ensure she is adequately warmed. If problem persists, contact your veterinarian.

Feed your kitten until she is comfortably full but do not allow the stomach to become tight or distended. When she is full small bubbles of formula will form around her mouth and she will spit the nipple out.

Feeding Schedule Based on Age Total Formula Per Day by Age
 Birth-1 week= Every 3 hours (8 feedings/day)  Birth-1 week=24ml
 1 week-3 weeks= Every 4 hours (6 feedings/day)  1 week=32ml
 (as above)  2 weeks=54ml
 3 weeks-4 weeks= Every 5 hours (5 feedings/day)  3 weeks=80ml
 4 weeks-5 weeks= 4-5 times/day  4 weeks=104ml
 (as above)  5 weeks=128ml


You MUST stimulate your kitten to urinate/defecate after each feeding as young kittens are not able to eliminate on their own for the first few weeks. As a general rule, I typically stimulate the kitten before and after a feeding. To do this you will need soft cloths or cotton balls and warm water. Dip the cotton ball in the warm water, squeezing out the excess water, and gently massage your kitten’s lower abdomen/anal area. This is similar to what the mother cat does and should cause your kitten to eliminate. Do not be concerned if your kitten doesn’t defecate after every feeding. Normal stools should have a toothpaste consistency and are yellow or mustard colored. If your kitten has diarrhea, you may be feeding too much (refer to chart above) or the formula is too rich. Try diluting the formula. If problem persists, contact your veterinarian.



At 4-5 weeks introduce a small box or pan with kitty litter to your kitten’s enclosure. To teach your kitten to use it, put him in the box and use his front paws to make a scraping motion in the sand. Especially helpful is if you catch your kitten eliminating somewhere he shouldn’t. Pick him up and put him in his litter box. Also begin offering semi-solid foods at this age. Wet kitten food and moistened (with kitten formula) kitten chow can be left in the enclosure at all times so your kitten can begin to experiment with it. Change it out frequently as it will spoil quickly or your kitten may eliminate in it.

Once your kitten is interested in eating on his own, continue to offer bottle feedings 4-5 times a day. You will probably notice your kitten becoming decreasingly interested in the bottle as he begins to eat more on his own.

At 6-8 weeks, your kitten should be weaned, (mostly) litter box trained and ready to start his kitten immunizations! Hooray! Call your veterinarian to set a time to have these done and enjoy your successful journey into the world of orphan kitten raising!


Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a kitten will pass away during the first few weeks of his life. FKS or Fading Kitten Syndrome is the equivalent of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in human babies. It is when your kitten appears healthy but begins to fade abruptly. It can be a very distressing time for you but it is essential to remember that you have done everything in your power to give this kitten a fighting chance and he will be forever grateful to you for dedicating such time and love to his short life. At Leo’s Pet Care, we understand the grief associated with losing a loved one so if you need questions answered or just need someone to listen, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Leo’s Pet Care veterinary clinic in Indianapolis – home of veterinary technician Jen Sloan – 317-721-7387

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