Baby kittens less than 4 weeks old can't eat solid foods but still need their mother's milk to stay healthy and well-nourished. Unfortunately, this may not always be possible if mom isn't around for whatever the reason. If this is the case, an orphan needs formula specifically made for kittens.
The best liquid for a baby kitten is the milk of his mother. During the first 48 hours after birth, her milk contains a substance called colostrum, which contains special antibodies to protect your little one from disease. These antibodies are absorbed into the kitten's body directly, giving him immunity similar to that of his mom's until his own immune system matures, according to the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. For the next four to five weeks, your kitten will nurse from his mother, whose milk contains the calories and proper balance of nutrients needed for him to develop and grow before he begins to eat solid foods.
It's not always possible for your kitty to stay with his mom, especially if she suffers from a medical condition that makes her milk incompatible with his system, known as neonatal isoerythrolysis. For an orphaned kitten, the next best thing to his own mother's milk is the milk of a foster mom. Many times this isn't an option and a kitten milk replacement formula is the only liquid appropriate for him to drink. These formulas are available in pet supply stores in either powdered or liquid form. They have been developed to most closely mimic the milk of a mother cat so they won't cause him any tummy upset.
It's important that the formula fed to a little kitty be mixed and warmed to a comfortable temperature before feeding it to him. Cold formula can cause vomiting and tummy upset for a kitty, according to VetInfo. The formula should be warm to the touch when tested on the inside of your wrist. To prevent any "hot spots" from developing in the formula, heat it by placing a bottle filled with the formula in a bowl of warm water, rather than using a microwave.
How to Feed
Always feed the kitten using a nursing bottle, keeping him on his stomach while you feed him and burping him afterward. Kittens can easily become ill, so you need to sterilize the feeding supplies by boiling them in water for a few minutes between uses. You should also boil the water you use to mix powdered formula to kill any germs or organisms in it. Allow it to cool before use.
Dairy milk or human formula is inappropriate for a kitten to drink. Not only do these substances not contain the proper balance of nutrients and calories your kitty needs, but they can cause stomach upset and diarrhea as well. Cow milk contains lactose, which is hard for your little guy to stomach. While kittens produce some lactase, the enzyme necessary to digest the lactose in their mother's milk, there is too much lactose in cow milk for them to properly digest, according to WebMD.
Nursing babies need formula or mother's milk only. Water doesn't have any nutrients or calories that a nursing kitten needs to thrive and can instead fill the little guy up so that he won't eat enough.
Starting at around 4 weeks old, your kitten will begin weaning onto solid foods. During the weaning process and after weaning, little kittens need plenty of fresh water available to them at all times to keep them healthy and hydrated. Keep a fresh bowl of water available for your little one at all times.
- A Safe Haven for Cats: Caring for Newborns
- Home at Last Animal Rescue: Kitten Care
- Hartz: Bottle Feeding the Newborn Kitten
- Purrfect Companions: Orphan Kitten Care
- Mar Vista Animal Medical Center: Neonatal Isoerythrolysis in Kittens
- VetInfo: Switching to a Kitten Milk Replacer
- WebMD: Cats and Dairy: Get the Facts
- Catster: How Much Water Should My Cat Drink Every Day?
- Martin Poole/Photodisc/Getty Images