Bottle Feeding

Raising Bottle Babies

So you’ve found yourself an abandoned bottle baby or two? Firstly before you remove from the site, check that they are indeed abandoned (check out our information section on what to do when you find an ‘abandoned’ litter).

Ideally, finding a surrogate queen is ideal, but when rescue groups are at capacity, you may need to step up to the plate to help. Let’s not beat around the bush. Raising bottle babies is not for everyone. It truly is a labour of love. You will sacrifice sleep and the normality of life for a good 3-4 weeks. BUT, it is truly rewarding and one of the most compassionate and selfless acts you can make for another living being.

Key points to successfully hand rearing kittens.

  • Keep them warm
  • Feed on schedule
  • Help them go to the toilet
  • Keep them hydrated
  • Be hygienic

Orphan or abandoned kittens need to be kept warm at all times, especially those under 4weeks of age as they cannot regulate their own body temperature. A cardboard box with high sides are great for insulation, simply line the bottom with towels or soft blankets and add either a hot water bottle (wrapped in a tea towel) or a microwaveable heat pack. Make sure to leave some wriggle room for the kittens to move further away from the heat source if they become too warm, but not so much room for them not to be useful. Reheat hot water bottles/heat pack as required. Ideally, blankets would need to be changed every day for hygiene purposes but can be done every second day if necessary.

Firstly NEVER give a kitten dairy (Cow) milk. Dairy products are not suitable for cats at any stage of life, let alone a kitten. Giving cow’s milk can cause a variety of health issues if used.

Milk replacement formulas are readily available at veterinary clinics and pet supply stores. Animalac, Wombaroo and Divetalact are usually the most popular and they will have a guide on the packaging on how to mix the formula. If none of these are available, in a pinch, goat’s milk can be used, but please try and obtain one of the above formula as soon as possible,

Syringes can be obtained from a chemist to use for feeding – 2-5ml syringes are a good size to use for kittens under 2weeks old, moving to bigger sizes as they grow. Bottles are also available from let supply stores or vet clinics. We highly recommend using ‘miracle nipples’ with their corresponding syringes as they are a lot easier for humans and the kittens to use and monitor the amount of formula the kittens are actually digesting, without any excess spillage (they are available online.

It’s incredibly important to be patient when feeding, if you try to rush the process can lead to aspiration, which is where the formula will actually go into their lungs rather than the stomach, this will have an immediate and life-threatening impact on the kitten. Signs of an aspirated kitten are an overflow of milk coming from the nostrils, and difficulty breathing. If this happens, please contact your local vet immediately.

Feeding in a schedule is also important, not only to you but the kittens, for it settles them into a new routine. They will wake up like clockwork, once you have a system in place. Gently rub their backs or side of their tummy after each feed so they can burp out any excess air. It will also help prevent hiccups, but any uncomfortable gas builds up as well. Weighing the kittens at the same time each day is also important as any weight loss, or failure to gain can be early warning signs that something isn’t right. Should you find there to be weight loss or no weight gain, make an appointment at your local vet clinic to make sure there is nothing serious going on.

Kittens cannot go to the toilet by themselves for the first 3-4 weeks of life. Usually, they have their mum cat to help stimulate them, but in the case of bottle babies it up to the humans to help them. Before and/or after each feed, either use a cotton ball, folded up toilet paper or even a warm washcloth gently rub the kittens bottom/genital area to prompt them to pee/poop. You can place them in a litter tray while stimulating them, to help them get used to using one. Before long, you’ll find them quite happily using it themselves.

Keeping kittens hydrated is one of the most, if not the most important aspects of hand rearing kittens. A dehydrated kitten can pass away very quickly without appropriate help.

Signs of dehydration are easy to spot – when toileting them, if their urine is a strong yellow colour or if they have had/do have diarrhoea. You can also do what is known as the “tent test” where you pull up the skin between the shoulder blades. If the skin stays raised like a “tent”, then you can be sure that the kitten is definitely dehydrated. This is a life-threatening situation and the kitten will need to see a vet immediately so they can administer fluids.

Kittens can’t clean up for themselves when they are young, so it’s up to you to help them. You can do this by regularly cleaning and washing their bedding and by sterilising what you use to feed them with. Also washing your hands before and after each feed/toileting session can be helpful in preventing any cross contamination.

Raising bottle babies is a time consuming but extremely rewarding experience. All those sleepless nights are so worth it when you have a happy, healthy playful kitten a few weeks later. Please make sure to interact with them, no matter how young they are. Talk to them, pat them, carry them around with and using a toothbrush to brush their fur is a great way to stimulate them and you’ll have them purring for you in no time.

At the end of the day, raising bottle babies isn’t hard, it’s time-consuming and every minute is so worth it.