Milk is the foundation to raising strong, healthy kittens. Kittens begin feeding on their mother's milk almost as soon as they exit the womb. In situations where queens are unable to properly nurse, however, kittens require formulas that are designed to replicate the nutritional value of their mother's milk.
When Newborn Kittens Start Drinking Milk
For newborn kittens, there isn't much waiting time from birth and their first feeding session with mama. Mother cats typically begin nursing their kittens between 30 and 40 minutes after they emerge, according to Daniela Sharma of Rutgers University's Department of Animal Sciences. Kittens track their mothers' nipples through scent.
It is vital for newborn kittens to begin drinking milk soon after birth -- in the span of 24 hours at the latest. During the first several days after giving birth, mother cats give off "colostrum," which is a watery and yellowish substance that is full of maternal antibodies, proteins and minerals. Colostrum helps protect newborn kittens from potentially hazardous ailments. If kittens do not take in colostrum -- and quickly -- they do not gain this significant early stage defense.
Some mother cats are unable to manage their kittens' nutritional needs through nursing, particularly when they are sick. If you are overseeing a litter of kittens and this is the situation, the ball is in your court to bottle feed the hungry youngsters using a kitten milk replacer and quality commercial kitten formula, rather than standard milk. If you have any questions regarding how to properly feed neonatal kittens, speak to a veterinarian immediately.
The only type of milk that is suitable for managing the specific nutritional demands of kittens is milk from lactating cats, period. Cow's milk is inappropriate for newborn kittens. Cow's milk can cause tummy upset and diarrhea and contains too much lactose and not enough protein, fat and energy. Formula that is made for human babies also is not suitable, as it too has insufficient amounts of fat and protein. A mother cat's milk and kitten formula are the only ways to go. Be safe, smart and do the right thing for the fluffy cuties.