Caring for Orphaned Kittens

Crystal Creek Rescue > Caring for Orphaned Kittens

Fostering Orphaned Kittens

Each Spring brings kitten season, typically lasting from March through October, but with milder winters, we now find kittens almost year-round. Prior to giving birth, a mother cat seeks out a private and obscure location in hopes of hiding her babies from harm, however, in spite of their efforts, humans may occasionally uncover a litter of kittens. 

Determining if the litter is orphaned may be difficult because mother cats must leave their litter to hunt for food. 

Mothers may be gone from four to ten hours depending on the kittens’ age. Alternatively, she may be moving them to a new den when you come upon them. Kittens are ALWAYS better off with their mother caring for them and so it’s imperative to be certain they are orphaned before removing kittens from the location which they are found.

If you find yourself with one or more orphaned kittens, the two most important issues to address right away are warmth and food.

Keeping Kittens Warm

Kittens are unable to regulate their body heat and depend on their mother and littermates for warmth. In the absence of the mother, kittens should be placed upon a heating disk that can be warmed in the microwave, or a heating pad set on a low to medium setting. Any type of heat source should be covered with a small towel in order to diffuse the heat and avoid direct contact against the kitten’s skin and fur. It is also important for there to be enough room for the kittens to move away from the heat source.

The heat source will need to be placed in some type of space in order to contain and protect the kittens. A soft mesh playpen (available through Amazon) is ideal, however, a plastic tub or even a box will suffice initially. Cover the bottom with soft blankets or towels. Towels are preferred because they are more absorbent and easy to wash, but fleece blankets will work as well. If available, another item to place in the playpen are stuffed animals. These will provide softness and a spot for the kittens to snuggle next to which gives them an added sense of security. In order to conserve warmth, it is a good idea to cover the top of the container the kittens are in with a towel or blanket.

Feeding Kittens

Upon finding a litter of kittens, there is no way to know when the kittens last ate, so it is imperative that they eat as soon as possible. Kittens must be given formula specifically prepared for orphan kittens. NEVER give a kitten cow’s milk. CCR recommends Breeders’ Edge milk replacer. Of course, when you find a kitten, you need kitten milk immediately, so Petag KMR is available at most Walmart SuperCenters in powder form or pre-made cans. 

Prepare the formula according to directions. The milk must be warmed before giving it to the kittens. Test against your skin and see if it is a comfortable temperature. The most successful nipples that kittens will latch on to are called Miracle Nipple (mini version). These nipples are placed on the end of a 10 ml syringe. PetAg nursing bottles also work.

When the syringes are first used, the plunger will easily slide down as the kitten sucks on the nipple. It’s not uncommon for kittens to fail to latch onto the nipple in the beginning. The Miracle Nipple feels different from mother and they are confused that this is their food source. Once they realize this is their food source, they will begin to latch on to the nipple and suck at their own rate. Their ears will flap and this means they are latched and swallowing. 

Before feeding the kitten, SLOWLY press on the plunger to make sure the milk is coming through the nipple. The syringes can be reused several times, but once they become difficult to expel milk must be discarded and replaced with a new syringe. 

The danger in bottle feeding any orphan kittens is the possibility of them aspirating the milk. This is when the kitten actually breathes the milk into its lungs. In order to know if this has occurred, listen to the kitten’s chest. If a kitten has aspirated the milk, a sort of “rattling” sound will come from the kitten as it breathes. Immediately seek out veterinary care if this occurs because the problem can quickly progress into pneumonia and kill the kitten. 

To minimize the possibility of aspiration, it’s imperative the kitten be held in a similar position as if it were nursing from its mother and NEVER on its back! A good way is to place the kitten on a folded towel in your lap. The goal is for the kitten to suck the nipple at its own rate. If a kitten is very hungry it may try to suck too fast, and the feeder may need to remove the nipple from the kitten’s mouth periodically to slow the feeding down. A kitten is sucking successfully when its ears wiggle as it sucks.

A Guideline to Kitten Weight and Feeding

Age Weight Amount per feeding Schedule
0-1 week 50-150 grams 2-6 ml Every two hours
1-2 weeks 150-250 grams 6-10 ml Every 2-3 hours
2-3 weeks 250-350 grams 10-14 ml Every 3-4 hours
3-4 weeks 350-450 grams 14-18 ml Every 4-5 hours
4-5 weeks 450-550 grams 18-22 ml (may begin to offer wet food mixed with formula in very small amounts) Every 5-6 hours
5-8 weeks 550-850 grams Weaning; formula mixed with wet kitten food Every 6 hours

Feeding chart from Kitten Lady

It is recommended to keep a daily record of the weight of bottle-fed kittens. Daily weight gain is a good indicator that kittens are getting enough nutrition for optimum growth. If possible, weigh very young kittens in grams with a kitchen scale. This is a smaller unit than ounces and therefore it is easier to ascertain slight weight changes. 

Weaning Kittens

When kittens reach four to five weeks of age they should be able to eat soft food on their own. Use canned food prepared especially for kittens and mix a little formula in the food to make a gruel. Kittens may need to be introduced to the food by gently opening the kitten’s mouth with some food on your finger. Normally, they love the taste of the new food and will start eating on their own. Gradually increase the solid food and decrease the syringe feeding. 

Stimulating Kittens to Urinate and Defecate

Up until at least three weeks of age, the mother cat grooms her kittens often and stimulates them to urinate and defecate. In orphan kittens, this procedure must be done by the foster directly after feeding. Once kittens are fed, use a piece of warm, damp toilet tissue, warm wet cotton ball, or warm fragrance-free wet wipe to massage the lower abdomen and genital area. It is important that the kitten urinates every time. A light color of the urine is also an indicator that the kitten is staying hydrated. Sometimes when orphaned kittens transition from their mother’s milk to the formula it causes them to become constipated. Keep a watch on this. It is important that they have a bowel movement daily, which you can note in their charts. 


Another essential area of orphan kitten care is keeping the kittens clean. When orphan kittens first arrive, they should be checked immediately for fleas and dirt. It may be apparent that they need to be bathed. The most important thing to know about bathing a kitten is to prevent the kittens from getting chilled. Fill a basin with warm water. Place the kitten in the water but do not allow the kitten to get wet above it’s neck. Make a little wet ring around its neck with water and baby soap or Dawn. Sud the kitten gently and wrap in a towel for about 10 minutes. Then rinse and place immediately in a soft towel and gently towel dry. Use a moving blow dryer on a warm, low setting, using your hand to fluff the fur to dry the kitten quickly and then place the kitten on a heating pad covered with a towel. Keep the kittens warm during the entire bathing procedure. 

Since the kittens don’t have their mother, foster moms must keep them clean. Generally, wiping them off with a warm damp washcloth will keep them clean, but periodically their bottoms may need to be washed with soap and water. Only bathe the area of the kitten that is needed most.  Keeping kittens warm and dry is always the main goal. Don’t bathe a kitten that doesn’t need it.


To increase the adaptability of kittens they must be well socialized. When kittens are very young it is important to keep the kittens separated from other pets in the household until slow safe introductions can be made and all pets remain calm. Once pets have been introduced allow the kittens to have more space to move about. Kittens enjoy playing cat trees, tunnels, and cardboard scratchers. They also love to look out windows! YouTube videos of birds and fish are a fun way to stimulate their attention. It is important to hold, pet, and talk to your foster kittens. The more they enjoy people the more likely they will be adopted sooner. 

Kittens are known for their cuteness, playfulness, curiosity, and funny antics. Enjoy fostering your kittens to prepare them for their forever home!

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