There are several reasons why a kitten may need to be bottle-fed. Perhaps they were found without a mother, or their mother passed away. Maybe the mother cat is aggressive or has a medical condition, such as mastitis, that prevents her from being able to feed her kittens. No matter the reason, the responsibility of feeding the kitten now falls to you, the human carer. Here’s a handy guide that covers everything you need to know about how to bottle feed kittens.
Bottle feeding kittens is a serious commitment. You will need to wake up throughout the night, and be prepared to track feedings, weight, faeces and other health items for each kitten you care for. Before agreeing to foster a kitten who needs bottle feeding, make sure you are prepared for the work included.
In this guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about bottle feeding a kitten. We’ll discuss:
- Choosing a kitten formula and bottle
- How to bottle feed kittens the right formula
- Feeding a kitten correctly
- The right quantity for feeding
- How often and how much to feed a kitten
- Burping and cleaning your kitten
Important: When caring for a kitten, always start with proper veterinary care. If you find an abandoned kitten, take it to the vet as soon as possible for an exam. Kittens cared for by a rescue will require regular check-ins with medical staff.
Choosing a kitten formula and bottle
Kittens need very specific nutrition, especially at the beginning of their lives. If at all possible, allow kittens to feed from their mother as long as possible This allows them to get colostrum from mom’s milk, which helps build up their immune system.
Never feed a kitten cow’s milk, or dairy alternatives from your refrigerator. These do not contain the proper nutrition for kittens, and can actually cause diarrhoea, bloating, or other serious illnesses that can even be deadly. While there are recipes for homemade kitten food, the safest option for your kitten is a pre-made, vet-approved kitten formula.
Also known as kitten glop, kitten milk replacer comes in either powder or liquid forms. Make sure liquid formula hasn’t expired, and refrigerate as directed. Powdered formula can also be refrigerated, to help keep longer.
Kitten feeding bottles are available in many stores. Choose a bottle that has labels by the ml or cc. The nipple of the bottle should be flexible, and not too big for the kitten to comfortably suckle on. Some nipples come pre-cut, but if you find one that isn’t, there are two ways to cut the nipple for good milk flow. First, heat a sterile needle and poke a hole in the nipple. Or, cut a cross into the tip of the nipple with a pair of sharp scissors.
When you cut the nipple off a bottle, make sure the milk flow isn’t too little or too much. If it’s difficult to get the milk, your kitten may not drink enough, while expending too much energy. Milk that flows too fast can overfeed and lead to bloating and other health issues. To test your bottle, turn it upside down. Milk should drip out of the nipple slowly.
How to bottle feed kittens the right formula
First, you’ll want to prepare your formula. Powdered formula should be mixed in a 1:2 ratio of powder to water. Most formulas will also have their proportions on the bottle or box, so follow the directions on the product if unsure.
Formula should always be given to kittens at around room temperature. Never feed a kitten cold formula. To warm formula, pour it into a shallow bowl and microwave for 10 seconds; you can also place your feeding bottle in a pot of hot water for 30-60 seconds. To test the formula, place a drop of formula on the inside of your wrist. It should feel warm, but not hot.
Before feeding your kitten, you need to assess your kitten. Your kitten should be warm and responsive. Never feed a cold kitten to try to warm them up. If your kitten is cold, place her near an approved heating pad, wrapped safely in a few layers of towels. Never place a kitten directly on a heating pad- this can burn or seriously injure the kitten. Turn your kitten from side to side every few minutes. You can also very gently massage your kitten with your hands to stimulate blood flow. If your kitten remains unresponsive, or doesn’t warm up in 20-30 minutes, contact a veterinarian.
How to feed a kitten correctly
Never feed a kitten on their back. Your kitten should be laying on it’s stomach with its head up, similar to how you see a kitten laying next to its mother. To stimulate suckling, squeeze the bottle until a drop comes out, and rub the drop of formula on the kitten’s mouth. This should urge her to suckle. If your kitten doesn’t suckle, you can very gently stroke her back or the top of her head; this simulates mama cat licking the kitten. If your kitten still won’t feed, contact a vet for assistance. Never force the nipple into a kitten’s mouth.
While feeding, hold the bottle at a 45 degree angle. This will help minimise the amount of air your kitten ingests, reducing the possibility of bloat. If you see the bottle beginning to compress, gently take the bottle away from the kitten, so it can refill with air.
How often and how much to feed a kitten
Newborn kittens should be fed about every 2 hours, including overnight. It’s important to keep to a strict kitten feeding schedule, and not skip feedings. As kittens get older, they will ingest more per feeding, and you’ll be able to feed less often. By 4 weeks old, they should only need feeding every 4-6 hours, and you’ll be able to begin weaning kittens off formula.
Kittens should receive 8 ml (or 8 cc) of formula for every ounce of weight per day. To calculate how much your kitten should eat per feeding, calculate the total needed for the day, and divide by the number of feedings.
Tracking your kitten’s weight
It’s very important to keep track of your kitten’s weight. A healthy kitten should gain about 15 grams or ½ an ounce per day, up to 115 grams or 4 ounces per week. You should weigh your kitten every day, on the same scale. For small kittens, we recommend using a kitchen food scale for the most accurate measurements. You should use a kitten feeding chart to track how much your kitten eats, and how much weight they gain. By 4 weeks old, your kitten should weigh about 0.9 to 1 kg (or roughly 2 pounds).
Checking your kitten’s hydration
Dehydration is very dangerous for kittens. To check if your kitten is hydrated, gently pinch the skin on the back of your kitten’s neck. When you let go, the skin should spring back into place. If your kitten’s skin moves into place slowly, or doesn’t spring back, this indicates dehydration. A veterinarian will need to assess your kitten and provide proper care to get your kitten properly hydrated.
Important: If your kitten is not gaining, or is losing weight, contact a veterinarian immediately.
Burping and cleaning your kitten
After feeding, you will need to burp your kitten, just like a human baby. To burp your kitten, turn them on their stomach and gently (read: GENTLY) pat their back until you hear a small burp. This helps reduce bloating and indigestion in your kitten.
Young kittens don’t know how to eliminate waste on their own. Mama cat usually stimulates bathroom time by licking her kittens. To get your kitten to eliminate, take a damp cotton ball or washcloth and gently clean the kitten’s stomach and genital area. Your kitten should quickly eliminate. Then, clean your kitten and get rid of waste appropriately.
Always pay attention to your kitten’s elimination process. If the kitten is struggling to urinate or excrete faeces, these may be signs of dehydration or other medical issues. Diarrhoea or soft stool is also cause for concern, so keep an eye on your kitten’s faeces. When your kitten is around 3 to 4 weeks, you can begin introducing them to the litter box.
Bottle feeding recap
Thanks for reading our guide on bottle feeding kittens, and of course, thank you for performing a vital task for the kittens in your care. To go over what we’ve learned, here is a quick recap of some important points.
- Only feed your kitten an approved, full-nutrition formula
- Assess your kitten before each feeding
- Feed kittens on their stomach, holding the bottle at a 45 degree angle
- Make sure your kitten is eating 8 ml for every ounce of weight
- Track your kitten’s weight gain and hydration
- Burp and clean your kitten after every feeding
- Call a veterinarian for any health concerns
Bottle feeding is just one part of caring for orphaned or young kittens. You’ll also need to know about proper bedding, introducing your kittens to other cats for socialisation, and litter box training, among other things. Stay tuned for more guides from Waldo’s Friends on everything you need to know about how to take care of a kitten!