If a kitten is separated from his mamma before he is weaned, he needs someone to step up and take care of him. Kittens can be bottle-fed, but if a nursing cat is available, she and her little ones are the best candidates to be his foster family.
Fostering Happens Frequently
Cats have a generous maternal streak. Female cats frequently help their friends out during the birth process and afterward, watching the little ones for the mamma cat, and even feeding them if the auntie cat is lactating. Many cases have been reported of cats nursing orphans, even of different species such as squirrels, as well as orphaned kittens.
Cat Fostering Is Best
When a kitten is orphaned, his best survival chance is to find a nursing mother cat willing and able to foster him. You can attempt to bottle-feed and hand-raise the little guy as a last resort, but the failure rate is high when humans try to care for orphaned kittens. The foster mother will usually accept an unfamiliar kitten readily, and his new littermates will make room for him at the milk bar. If you can place the orphan with a foster litter, he will not only get the nutrition and care he needs, but he'll get the tutoring he needs in proper social behavior and how to be a cat. In any litter, siblings teach each other social boundaries and how to play nice. Mamma cat has her own role, setting limits and giving hunting lessons.
Locating a Foster Mother
Start trying to find a foster mother cat as soon as you realize you've got an orphan. It's best to find a cat with kittens who are about the size of the orphan kitten, or else a cat whose kittens are weaned but who is still producing milk. Either case will ensure the newcomer won't have overwhelming competition for food. Your own vet is a valuable resource, as he may know of clients who have lactating mamma cats. Ask among your friends and family who have cats. The animal shelter and local Humane Society also may have female cats who could foster an orphan, or they may know where one can be found.
If you find an orphaned kitten, don't rush to thrust him in with another litter. Have your vet examine the baby to make sure there aren't any health concerns that could affect the foster mother and her litter. If the doctor approves, you can put the little guy in with your cat and her kittens, but clean him off first. Wipe him down with a warm, damp wash cloth, then gently towel-dry him so that he doesn't catch a chill.
A Proper Introduction
Introduce the tiny orphan carefully to the prospective foster mother and her litter. The room should be quiet, with no activity or commotion. Keep other animals out of the room, so there will be no distractions or stress for the mamma cat. Show the little guy to the mother cat first. She will most likely have a positive reaction to him, and then you can place him among the other kittens, directing him to a waiting nipple so that he can begin to nurse. You may need to give him a little prompt by gently rubbing a nipple near his mouth or at the side of his face. This should stimulate him to open his mouth, allowing you to gently put the nipple inside. Once he feels it on his little tongue, his natural sucking reaction will be triggered.
- Prozac-Free Pets; Kim Rockshaw Dihom
- Catwatching; Desmond Morris
- Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff; Edited by Lila Miller and Stephen Zawistowski
- Vet Info: Orphan Kittens Care Tips
- Youtube: Cat Adopts 3 Orphaned Tree Squirrels
- Vet Info: Helping Mother Cats Take Care of Kittens
- Vet Info: Caring for Newborn Kittens
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.