My first cat and me

Newborn kittens: a complete guide to essential care Newborn kittens: a complete guide to essential care

Newborn kittens need

We want to be there for you at this new stage in your life, to advise on the care that newborn kittens need. Bear in mind that your small furry friends need very specific care from birth to weaning, and up until they can fend for themselves. Pay close attention to all their needs (food, hygiene, home) and watch them grow, safe and happy.

How do I take care of newborn kittens, from 0 to 3-4 weeks?

Newborn kittens are at the most complex and critical stage of their lives. They cannot regulate body temperature, and need to be stimulated to pass urine and defecate, as we’ll see below. They are completely dependent on their mother, or in her absence, on you and your family.

As the days go by, you’ll see major changes in their behaviour:

  • 0-4 days Kittens are born blind and deaf, and they still have their umbilical cord.
  • 5-6 days: They still haven’t opened their eyes. Their movements are clumsy and very limited.
  • Before 9 days: They start to hear.
  • 9-12 days: Their eyes open.
  • 7-14 days: They can crawl.

Between 14 and 21 days: They start to walk.

At 3 weeks: Their teeth start coming through.

Create an ideal space for your newborn kittens

They need comfortable surroundings where they feel protected. Things to watch out for:

  • Their own space. At this stage they sleep a lot, for 80% of the time.  A peaceful room with very little noise is what they need at 0-4 weeks. 
  • A bed. You could choose a comfortable box with high sides, or a cat-carrying basket. In this way they won’t escape, and they’ll stay warm. This is really important, as if they do escape, their body temperature will fall.
  • Warmth. From 0 to 3-4 weeks kittens can suffer from hypothermia, because they are not able to regulate their body temperature. They mustn’t be in direct contact with a heat source. You can cover them with blankets, or wrap a bottle of warm water in a blanket (so that they won’t get burnt). Electric blankets are not suitable, as they can cause burns.

Feeding kittens from 0 to 3-4 weeks

Nutrition is health. You should choose special kitten formula milk. Remember that any other type of milk may well not cover 100% of their requirements.

For example, cow’s milk has a low energy content, and doesn’t cover their need for calcium, phosphorous, fats or proteins. It contains only 27% raw protein, compared with the 40% contained in cats’ milk, and furthermore can give the kittens diarrhoea.

Here’s some advice on correct nutrition:

  • Choose a teat for the feeding bottle in accordance with the size for your kitten. Syringes should only be used in emergencies, as the kittens could choke on them.
  • At first they’ll need to be fed every 2-4 hours (including at night). The milk should be at a temperature of 35-38 Celsius (95-100 degrees Fahrenheit). They’ll drink small quantities as their stomachs are tiny, and they quickly become full. As they grow, the time between feeds will lengthen, as they’ll be able to consume more milk each time.
  • Position your kitten as if he’s breastfeeding with his mother: on a flat surface, lying against her belly with his head raised. In this way you’re simulating a normal breastfeeding position. Hold the bottle horizontally, or tilt it slightly with the teat facing downwards.

Kitten hygiene: from birth until 3-4 weeks

Newborn kittens can’t urinate or defecate for themselves. They start to control these functions at 3 weeks. Up until then, it’s the mother who stimulates them by licking the anal and genital areas.

To help him, you just need to follow these simple steps:

  • Gently rub his abdomen and genital and anal areas with a soft, damp (wring it out well before using) cloth. This will push him to urinate for a few seconds. Kittens can only defecate once a day, but if more than a day and a half goes by, take him to the vet. As he’s so tiny, constipation could be fatal.
  • Keep him dry. Several newborn kittens living together can get dirty, urinating on each other as they’re so close together. Clean you little kittens with a damp cloth, and then dry them with a soft one. In this way you’ll make sure that their body temperature doesn’t fall.

What sort of care do kittens need between 3-4 and 8 weeks?

The kitten is getting bigger. Now he can regulate his body temperature, explore, and you’ll see his first teeth appearing! This is the time for new challenges and ongoing learning.

  • Help him to start to do things for himself. Put a litter tray in a convenient position and encourage him to urinate when you put him in it. Or prepare to be surprised. Did you know that most kittens learn to use it all by themselves?
  • Change his food. At 3-4 weeks, kittens start to eat solid food. Although they still need milk, they drink less of it. Offer him semi moist or dry food for cats suitable for his age, such as Ultima Junior with Chicken, wetting it with warm water or kitten formula milk.
  • Invite him to explore. You could prepare a specific space such as a baby’s playpen, or a room where there’s nothing dangerous.
  • Start to wean him. Your kitten will drink less milk and eat more solid food up to the age of 8 weeks. At this point he’ll have his full set of teeth, and can be fully weaned. He can now eat dry food himself, and doesn’t need you to wet it for him.
  • Start on the vaccination and deworming processes. Now is the time for a visit to the vet.

The first few weeks of a newborn kitten’s life are the most difficult. But they are essential if your kittens are to grow up healthy. We’re delighted to be here for you, and help you to keep your kitten well and happy!

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