Uh-oh. You've found newborn kittens. Whether something has happened to mom or she just can't nurse them, the welfare of these little babies now depends on you. It's a tough but rewarding task. For them to thrive, you've got to feed them something as much like mom's milk as possible.
Kitten Milk Replacer
Cow's milk is just right for calves, but that's not what newborn kittens need. Giving baby kittens vitamin D cow's milk can cause gastrointestinal problems. The same results occur if you feed kittens human baby formula. A commercial kitten milk replacer, available from your vet or pet stores, contains the necessary ingredients for kitten nourishment. Newborn kittens especially need colostrum, that first mother's milk providing antibodies for baby's protection. Read the label to make sure the kitten milk replacer contains colostrum, although most brands do. Only mix up as much kitten milk replacer as you can use in 24 hours or so, then discard unused portions. The container label provides information on how long the particular formula is good once mixed.
Emergency Kitten Formula
What do you do if you find newborn kittens in need on a Sunday night when all the stores are closed? You can put together an emergency kitten formula from ingredients you might have on hand or borrow from friends. The New York City Feral Cat Initiative recommends 1 cup of well-shaken canned, evaporated goat's milk, one egg yolk, 1 tablespoon plain whole milk yogurt, 1 tablespoon light corn syrup and 1 tablespoon of stage 1 turkey or chicken baby food, meat only. Since kittens need fat, don't use any low-fat or low-calorie products.
Feeding Newborn Kittens
Feeding newborn kittens requires a great deal of commitment. Not only do they need feeding every couple of hours, you'll also have to imitate Mama Kitty by rubbing their genital areas after they eat so they'll urinate and defecate. You can use a soft, warm washcloth for this task. They also need burping after each meal. If you haven't been able to purchase a kitten-size nursing bottle at the pet store or get one from the vet, an eyedropper can do in a pinch. Bottles and eyedroppers require sterilization.
Kitten milk replacer, no matter how beneficial, isn't as good as the real thing. Ask your vet or local humane society if they know of any nursing cats who might take on an extra kitten or two. A mother cat with her own litter can't take on another entire litter, if that's what you have, but she might be able to provide for an orphan. In addition to genuine cat milk, the kitten will learn feline social skills from his new littermates.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.