Orphaned kittens, less than 4 weeks old, need bottle feeding for their nourishment. Before feeding formula to your little kitty, you will need to heat it to a comfortably warm temperature. Kittens chill easily and need their formula warm, just like mom would produce if she were nursing them.
Until they reach around 4 weeks old, kittens can't eat solid foods. If mom isn't around to nurse them, they'll need a human to step in and provide them with formula. Pet supply stores sell kitten milk replacement formulas, which come premixed in canned or powdered form. The powdered form must be mixed with warm water according to the manufacturer's directions to prepare it for feeding. Warm water helps dissolve the powdered milk better than cool water.
Preparing the Formula
If you will be using powdered formula, boil the water for it ahead of time to sterilize it and cool it to just above room temperature before use. Once prepared, formula is heated by placing a bottle of it in a bowl of warm water. Heating formula in the microwave isn't recommended because it can heat the liquid inside the bottle unevenly. This could make it too hot for your little one to drink and could injure her. Instead, heat water in the microwave for about 20 to 30 seconds and set the bottle inside the bowl of heated water to warm. The formula should be warm, not hot, to the touch.
The body temperature of a young kitten is between 95 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on her age, according to Dr. Susan Little's website. To prevent gastrointestinal upset, the temperature of the formula you feed her should also fall within this range. The milk she would get from her mom would be around 100 to 102 degrees, the ideal temperature of an adult cat, according to Lucky Cat Adoptions. If you're worried about achieving the proper temperature, use a thermometer to test it before feeding. With experience, you can usually judge the proper temperature by placing a drop or two of the formula on the inside of your wrist. If it feels too warm, wait until it cools slightly and test it again; if it is too cool, place the bottle back into a bowl of warm water to heat it a bit more.
Temperature is not only important for the formula, but also for the kitten. A kitten that feels cool to the touch, with a temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, must be heated before feeding her. Feeding a cold kitten can cause organ failure and death, according to Share Animal Rescue. Don't heat the little one too quickly -- simply place her on a heating pad that has been wrapped in a towel or blanket. Set the heating pad to low. Rub her gently to stimulate her circulation. You may want to turn her over every 5 minutes or so. Place her next to your skin if a heating pad is unavailable.
While kittens must be fed warm formula to keep them from becoming chilled, the higher temperature also stimulates them to nurse because of the enhanced scent of the formula. Squeeze out a drop or two on the nipple so your kitten can smell and then taste the aromatic, warm formula. The scent starts her nursing until she becomes full. Warming makes the formula smell and taste more appetizing to the kitten.
Warm your kitten's formula before feeding, especially if you prepare it ahead of time and refrigerate it. Feeding a kitten cold formula can lead to gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, bloating, vomiting and inhalation of the milk into her lungs, according to PetPlace. These problems can be fatal in kittens. Kittens can't control their body temperature for their first few weeks of life and need warm formula and a warm nest with a heating source inside to keep them cozy. Without a warm environment, around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and warm nutrition, your little one can quickly develop hypothermia, a major cause of death in young kittens.
Always feed your furbaby kitten milk replacement formula -- normal milk is not appropriate for kittens and can cause stomach upset, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Keep track of your kitty's weight. A young kitten should gain about 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of weight per day. If your kitten isn't gaining weight or eating properly, bring her immediately to a veterinarian for care as she may require tube feeding or other emergency care to stabilize her.
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.