Your kitten's first few weeks of life are crucial for getting big and strong. A kitten can as much as double his body weight between birth and 1 week old, and it's because he nurses so much. If your kitten isn't nursing, she needs an alternative food source, and fast.
Why Not Nurse?
There are any number of reasons a newborn might not nurse. Maybe she was separated from the litter and is stuck on her own, or her mother rejected her. It could be that the baby wasn't as strong as her siblings and couldn't jockey for position at mama's belly, or maybe mama just couldn't make enough milk to go around. Ultimately, the reason that your kitten isn't nursing doesn't matter -- what matters is that you get her the nutrition she needs. The pain of being removed from the rest of her family is nothing compared to malnutrition.
When your kitten won't nurse, your first stop should be the vet or a local animal shelter. Kittens don't necessarily need to nurse with their own mothers, so see if there are any foster mothers available. A nursing cat with a smaller litter can make room for your little lady in her brood, and the kitten won't mind as long as she has the opportunity to feed. Integrating her with a new litter gets her both food and socialization.
If you take it upon yourself to feed the little one, be forewarned: newborn kittens eat a lot. A newborn can nurse as frequently as once every one or two hours, including overnight, which means that you're going to be spending a lot of time cradling her in your arms with a bottle. Kittens don't start eating on their own until they're about 3 weeks old, so ask yourself if you can commit to playing mommy for that long.
What to Feed
While newborns technically drink their mother's milk, this isn't the same thing as what you pour on your morning cereal. In fact, cats can't digest cow's milk or goat's milk, and it will upset their tiny tummies. Instead, stick with a formula or milk replacer created specifically for kittens -- these come in both powdered and liquid forms. Kittens won't start eating moist solid foods until they're at least 3 weeks old, either, so stock up.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.