The tinier and cuter the better, right? You might be surprised how much of a handful a newborn kitten can be, even if it's no bigger than your palm. There's a lot to know and do before adopting a baby cat, so prepare yourself before bringing him home.
Adopting newborn kittens is not common practice, and you should avoid it unless you have at least several weeks to spend at home with the baby. Kittens are completely reliant on their mother, or human caretaker if the mother is absent, for their survival during the first few weeks. If you don't have the time to commit to caring for a newborn, it may be best to let a foster care for the kitten until he is about 2 months old. Animal shelters and rescue groups often have designated volunteer fosters that care for kittens until they can be adopted out to permanent homes.
Create a comfortable, clean and safe place for your kitten to spend his first few weeks. Ideally, he will be located near where you sleep, in case something happens during the night. Because his mother will not be around to tend to him, you will be permanently on call for the first few weeks. Clean the entire room thoroughly to get rid of any hazardous objects and allergens. Keep any other pets out of the room after you clean it. You also should clean the cage and vacuum or wash your kitten's bedding before setting it up. The kitten will need a source of warmth, such as a water bottle or heating pad, that he can move away from, too. The baby should be allowed to roam freely only when under direct supervision.
Without a mom to nurse him, your newborn kitten needs to be bottle fed with artificial milk throughout the day. Unfortunately, feeding isn't as easy as putting milk in a bottle and letting the baby suck away. Expect to spend some quality time getting your hand kneaded and needled every hour or two throughout the day. Dairy products, including cow's milk, are not appropriate for kittens. Hold him in a clean, soft towel while feeding, as things could get a little messy. Gently rub his rear end and stomach with your fingers through the towel to stimulate his bowels. Ask your vet about what artificial milk products you should use and which techniques she recommends for encouraging digestive health.
Transition to Solid Food
Some people find the feeling of holding and bottle feeding a helpless kitten to be a rewarding experience, but it is also exhausting and can be frustrating. You'll be glad to know that there is an end in sight. After three to four weeks, you can start weaning your kitten off the bottle by putting the milk solution in a saucer. After a day or two, begin to mix some warm, not hot, wet food with the milk. Add less milk and more wet food over the course of a week or two until he is eating only wet food. You also can moisten high-quality dry food instead of using canned wet food if you want to transition directly to dry. Kittens can start masticating and digesting an exclusively dry food diet by about 7 weeks, according to the ASPCA.
Do not let your other pets into the "kitten room" until he is 6 to 8 weeks old and has had his basic vaccinations. This is important both for the kitten's health and your other pets' health, as either party could be carrying contagious diseases. In fact, many cats harbor diseases that they are immune to from vaccination or by being previously infected. However commonplace the pathogens are, your kitten's immune system is not ready to tackle the bugs just yet.
Introducing Other Pets
Once your kitten is a month or two old, you can introduce him to your dogs and cats by letting them sniff each other under a door. Chances are they've been doing this when you weren't looking anyway. Allow them to meet and greet slowly, one pet at a time. Keep a careful watch on all interactions for the first week or two, just in case someone plays a little rough.
Don't forget to buy or make a few safe toys for your kitten. It won't take long for his eyes to open, and it won't be long after that before he's running all over the place. Small fabric mice are low-maintenance toys. String lure toys are also a great way for the kitten, and you, to get some exercise. Don't let him play with any kind of string, toy or not, when you aren't around to watch.
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.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.