How Much Formula For A 3 Week Old Kitten How to Feed and Care for Orphaned Kittens

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How to Feed and Care for Orphaned Kittens

Over the past 15 years, I have raised nine orphans. Four of them were two weeks old when their mother was killed; the other three were only hours old when their mother died; two other kittens fell into the nest in our shed when they were one day old.

Raising motherless kittens is not a difficult process, but it does require patience, time and lots of TLC.

Here are some tips to help you raise your kittens:

1. Make a nest.

Usually, a mother cat spends several hours a day in the nest with her kittens, which helps her babies stay warm. Keeping kittens warm is important because if they are not warm enough, they will not want to eat, and in fact, all their physical activity will decrease.

To keep your orphans warm, make a nest in a small box and fill it with towels or old t-shirts or sweatshirts to help the babies maintain their body heat. Place a towel over the box to block light. Female cats prefer dark nests. If you don’t have a heat lamp, use a small 40-watt desk lamp and place it several feet above the box to help keep the chicks warm.

If the box is large enough, you can use a jug or other large container filled with warm water to keep babies warm. Place the jar in the box and make a nest of towels next to it. Fill the jar again when cool. You can use a quart jar as a “hot water bottle” except that the quart bottle cools quickly.

2. Use an eyedropper or syringe to feed the kittens.

When I first started raising orphaned kittens, I found that the small bottles of food available at veterinary clinics were too big. The kittens could not bring their mouths close to the nipples. So, at first, for newborn cats, I used an eyedropper. As the kittens grew, a syringe worked very well, a type of injection syringe (without the needle of course!). I started with a 3 cc size and used larger syringes as the kittens grew. The tip of the syringe is about the cat’s nipple, and my kittens end up sucking hard enough on the end of the syringe to pull the plunger down on their own. Check with your vet clinic to see if they have any used syringes or to see if you can buy new syringes from the clinic.

Here’s a word of caution: Whether you’re using an eye dropper or a syringe, be careful to only get out a few drops at a time. My vet told me that if kittens are given too much milk at once (more than they can swallow), they can snort. Inhaling formula will make your kittens more susceptible to pneumonia.

Along the way I have learned that it is best to feed the chicks as much as they want to eat. They will sit down and sleep until the next meal if they get enough food. Small kittens will start taking maybe one CC at a time. As they grow, they will eat about 12 CCs at a time (usually in several different servings).

Chicks quickly learn that food comes from a hand-held syringe. If you’re having trouble getting them to take formula from the syringe, let it sit in your palm for a few seconds or let them suck on your fingers. Then bring it up with the syringe and let them suck it up while you very slowly push the plunger down.

3. Feed the kittens KMR or homemade kitten formula.

KMR, a canned cat’s milk substitute, is available at most veterinary clinics in either mixed or dry form. Specially formulated for kittens to provide all the nutrients they need. Follow the directions on the label. The amount of food is determined by body weight. My newborn chicks weighed about three ounces each, and for the first few days, they only needed half a KMR eyedropper at a time.

My vet clinic also gave me a recipe for “cat formula.” After the first can of KMR, this is what all my cats have been raised on.

Here is the recipe for Kitten Formula

1 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon of white corn syrup

1 egg yolk

Pink salt

Combine in a blender and mix quickly enough in advance so that the bubbles have time to dissolve.

Warm over medium heat. Warm the formula so that it feels slightly warm to the touch. All my pups refuse to swallow formula if it is too cold or too hot. It was the same with KMR.

4. Feed your chicks on a regular schedule three times a day.

Mother cats nurse their kittens every few hours. The vet I met warned me not to feed them too often. “They’re not going to eat well and you’re going to be upset and they’re going to be upset and it’s going to be difficult for everybody,” he said. He was right. Feeding the kittens three times a day worked very well.

5. Help your puppies with a warm, wet washcloth and help them empty their bladder and bowels.

Young kittens can’t empty their bladders or move their bowels, so you’ll need to help them. Use a warm, wet washcloth and wipe under their tails until they poop and/or move their bowels. Be prepared to use four washcloths for each chick. If they only have to empty their bladders, you won’t need them that much. If they have to disembowel themselves, watch out – it can get messy! Small washcloths that you can turn with one hand while holding the kitten with the other work well. I put washcloths in a pail of warm water and put the pail where I can easily reach it.

Young kittens also can’t groom themselves, and after a day or two of feeding on powdered kitten milk, they stick to the formula which can inevitably cause a chin drop. From time to time, use a warm, wet washcloth to wipe off the formula, but be careful not to get the cats TOO MUCH or it will be difficult for them to stay warm.

6. Give them a litter pan when they are four weeks old.

Cats have a strong instinct to use things they can scratch when they need to empty their bladders and move their bowels. By the time the kittens are four weeks old, they will already be thinking this way and providing a litter pan will help them get the idea. You may have to help them with the washcloth for a while, but it won’t be long before they use the litter pan.

Kitty litter on an aluminum pie plate works well for starters. As the chicks grow, use a larger container for the litter box.

7. Start feeding solid food when the chicks are six weeks old.

Kittens raised by their mothers will probably start to eat as early as six weeks, but she will be able to provide more milk than their mothers could provide.

When your puppies get teeth, you can start feeding them solid food. If you want to feed dry food, a good quality kitten chow will work well. Kitten chow has all the nutrients and proteins it needs to keep growing. Kitten chow is also made into small cat-sized pieces. To test their food and give them a “treat,” you can also try a little cat food. Be sure to provide fresh water for your chicks to drink, as well. And until the kittens eat solid food regularly, increase the caloric intake with the kitten’s formula. At this point, you won’t be feeding them with a syringe. You can put the formula in a small saucer, and once they find out where it is and what it is, they will drink it on their own.

8. Be prepared to be surprised and amazed.

Cats grow up fast, and some days, you’ll think they’re growing up right before your eyes.

Kittens open their eyes when they are about 10 days old.

They will start cleaning when they are as young as 6 days old.

Kittens will begin other “behaviors” such as shaking their heads, trying to fix and rear feed to scratch behind their ears when they are between two and three weeks old.

Kittens will sometimes get hiccups (!) while feeding them.

Kittens are like little people, in a way. Their days consist of eating, sleeping and emptying their bowels and bladder. After the kittens have had enough food and have their body functions taken care of, when you return them to the “nest,” they will sleep or rest quietly until you are ready to feed them again. If they are restless and crying and crying, they may need a little more food, or they may empty their bladder or move their bowels, or they may feel cold.

As the kittens grow, they will stay awake longer and eventually start playing together.

By the time the kittens are four weeks old, you will have to put them in a big box, if not sooner, because the first one will be very small and will know how to get out on its own!

If you have any questions about fostering orphaned kittens, you can email me at


© 2004 LeAnn R. Ralph

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