How to Take Care of a Newborn Kitten Without a Mother

If you’ve rescued a kitten whose mother died or abandoned her, you’ll have to fill that role. Newborn kittens need round-the-clock care and monitoring, but can be raised by a human caregiver. Before attempting this, however, take the kitten to a veterinarian for a thorough examination and to enlist his advice to create a plan of care.

Hungry little kitten
A kitten’s weight should double in the first few weeks.
credit: Simone van den Berg/iStock/Getty Images

Environment and Shelter

Newborn kittens cuddle up with their mother and siblings to stay warm. If your kitten has been abandoned, you’ll need to keep her warm. Wrap a heating pad or hot water bottle in a blanket to create a warm bed, but position it so that your kitten can move away from it if she gets too warm. Keep an eye on the heating pad to ensure that it’s working properly and that it doesn’t get too hot or malfunction.

Nutritional Requirements

Before hand-raising a kitten, contact local veterinarians, animal shelters and rescue groups. They might be able to find a foster mother cat to feed the kitten. If you can’t find a foster, buy a milk replacer designed specifically for kittens. Don’t give a kitten cow’s milk, which can cause gastrointestinal upset. Kittens need constant feeding to stay nourished. Newborn kittens typically nurse every one to two hours. At 3 to 4 weeks old, they may need to eat between four and six times a day.

How and When to Wean

You can start to transition your kitten away from the bottle at 3 or 4 weeks of age. Begin by offering formula in a shallow bowl that’s easy for her to drink from. Then start the shift to an adult diet by mixing canned or dry cat food with warmed formula. When your kitten is around 6 or 7 weeks of age, you can switch her to a dry diet.

Elimination and Potty Training

Kittens can’t urinate or defecate on their own until around 2 or 3 weeks of age. Until then, their mother stimulates elimination by licking around the anus and genitals. You can simulate this action by taking a warm, moistened towel or piece of gauze and carefully rubbing it around the kitten’s anal and genital areas. Do this after every feeding. At 4 weeks of age, you can start training your kitten to use a litter box by placing her in it every after feeding. Use a shallow box with low sides or use a cardboard box and cut one side low.