Kittens are often orphaned by concerned, loving owners when the queen or mother cannot adequately care for its young, said Pet Coach, whose mission is to provide the best care and nutrition to pets. Maybe the mother cannot produce milk— a condition known as agalactia. Or she has behavioral or psychological issues that hinder her from properly caring for her kittens. Rarely, the queen may not be present due to difficult birth resulting in health complications, death, or injury.
Orphaned kittens require prospective owners to establish a regular schedule of appropriate feedings, elimination, play and activities, and sleeping in a safe environment. In most cases, owners resort to bringing an entire litter home rather than a single kitten. However, raising and caring for an orphaned litter is a whole new battlefield as it can be time-consuming but rewarding for owners.
Survey On Orphaned Kitten Care (2013)
Maddie’s Institute, a program of Maddie’s Fund, surveyed administrators, staff, and volunteers in US-based animal shelters and rescue groups about their comments on how their organizations take care of orphaned kittens. When asked if their organization provides care to orphaned kittens, 68% said “Yes, we always provide care” while 32% said “Yes, we sometimes provide care.” On the other hand, 57% said “Yes, we always provide care” to ill and/or injured orphaned kittens” and 38% answered “Yes, we sometimes provide care.” Only 4% said their organization does not provide their ill and/or injured orphaned kittens.
When asked how many orphaned kitten do the organizations care for each year, the respondents answered one to nine (6%), 10 to 24 (21%), 25 to 49 (15%), 50 to 99 (16%), 100 to 249 (21%), 250 to 499 (10%), and 500 plus (11%). Regarding the question, “How does your organization primarily provide housing care to orphaned kittens?" 53% and 39% said their organization provided foster home care and a combination of in-house care and foster home care, respectively. A smaller proportion of respondents said their organizations provide in-house care (6%) and other means of care (2%).
According to the respondents, their organization frequently saw the following health issues with orphaned kittens: internal parasites (80%), diarrhea (69%), upper respiratory infection (69%), and external parasites (65%). However, the organizations rarely saw aspiration pneumonia (70%), injury (60%), fading kitten syndrome (49%), anorexia (50%), and ringworm (51%) in orphaned cats. Further, the most commonly cited additional health issues from respondent comments were eye issues or eye infection (23%), feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) (22%), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or leukemia virus (FeLV) (17%), and insufficient care prior to intake (whether from mother or human) (17%).
The respondents also cited birth defect or deformity (16%), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) (9%), flea anemia (6%), and hypothermia or frostbite (4%). On the question, "Does your organization use feeding guidelines to determine stomach capacity when feeding orphaned kittens?" 42% said yes, 34% answered no, and 24% stated yes. Moreover, 69% said their organization always offered specific information or training (formal or informal) for individuals who provide orphaned kitten care. 23% answered “Yes, sometimes” whereas 8% said no.
How Do I Care of Orphaned Kittens?
1. Health Check
Check the kittens’ health before taking care of one or the whole litter. Healthy kittens are quiet, plump, firm, and warm. They spend most of their time asleep. Meanwhile, unhealthy ones have poor muscle tone and vocalize a lot. They might have high activity levels at first and if not assisted, the kittens could become quiet, weak, and comatose. Provide the kittens with a dog crate or kennel to keep them safe and to help your monitor their temperature, said Daniel LeBeau of Best Friends, a no-kill animal rescue and advocacy organization. Best Friends community supervisor Janice Dankert explained, “When kittens are cold, their bodily functions quit working.” If any of the kittens are cool or cold to the touch, limb, or not responsive, it is strongly recommended to provide heat and seek immediate veterinary help.
2. Feeding and Nutrition
For all stages of your kittens’ life, water will always be a critical nutrient, noted Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, and Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CRPP, of VCA, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. Kittens need 155-230 milliliters (mL) of fluid per kilogram (kg) of body weight daily. The average of the total fluid volume fed each day (as well as milk replacers) should be about 180mL/kg of kitten body weight. Avoid giving your orphaned litter with cow’s milk or goat’s milk. Instead, provide them with commercial kitten milk replacers. Raw egg whites should not be fed since it can cause biotin deficiency when an enzyme in the white part of the egg is consumed. Feeding the kittens with honey is not a great idea either since it may contain harmful bacteria.
They need nine to 12 meals a day. Kittens should be burped during and after each feeding. Hold each one upright or your shoulder, then pat their back. The first 24 to 48 hours require each kitten to consume 1 ml of milk per hour. Increase the amount fed per meal each day by 0.5 ml until you reach 10 ml/meal. In the second week, have them consume 5-7 ml per feeding. On the following week, your kittens should be fed with kitten gruel three times a day. Continue bottle feeding until the fourth week. During this time, your litter should receive 4-6 bottle feeding per day, along with the gruel (4-5 times a day). Midnight feeding can be minimized and eliminated once the kittens can eat gruel well. You can feed them solid food by seven weeks of age. Consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your kittens’ nutritional needs.
3. Cleaning and Hygiene
Pay attention to their hygiene to ensure that your kittens grow into healthy adults. In between uses, clean and sterilize the bottles and nipples by boiling them in water. Avoid preparing more milk replacer than your kittens can consume within 25 hours. Keep milk replacers refrigerated. Wash the kittens gently with a moist cloth once or twice a week.
Raising a kitten or even a whole litter is challenging. But it can be a fruitful experience for owners as they can watch the kittens grow into healthy, high-vitality cats.