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Kitten season is here
It's the time of year where kittens are entering shelters in huge numbers
Often times without a mother.
Most of the time this is because well-meaning people find kittens outside
and assume that they've been abandoned
When really the mother is usually right down the block.
So if you find a kitten outside
And they don't appear to be in immediate danger
Please wait at least two to three hours to see if the mother does return
Nobody's better at taking care of a little kitten than their own mama, but if you found your kitten
And you're sure that she's an orphan, she's going to need special care
and that includes bottle feeding.
Whether you found kitten outside, or signed up to foster for your local shelter,
here are my top tips for safely bottle-feeding kittens.
Are you hungry?
Tip number one; "Get the right supplies"
Motherless neonatal kittens have sensitive systems that require a special kitten formula
Not just any dairy product you have in the fridge.
It's extremely dangerous to feed a kitten the wrong thing
So please NEVER feed a kitten something she won't be able to digest
Never feed a kitten cow's milk, condensed milk,
soy milk, or other dairy alternatives
Human Baby Formula or even cat milk
Cat milk is a product that's sold at stores as a supplemental treat for adult cats
But it's not kitten formula
Instead you want to pick up something that says kitten formula
such as one of these products
Kitten formula is specially formulated to provide a proper balance of vitamins, minerals,
Probiotics and a caloric pattern that mimics the content of a mother cats milk.
I have links to some of the products that I like at kittenlady.org/supplies
While picking up your kitten formula you'll also want to pick up a kitten bottle
and perhaps an extra set of nipples
Most nipples will not come pre-cut, meaning you'll have to cut a hole in them yourself
There are a lot of different ways that people do this, including cutting an X
or cutting a V into the nipple.
My preferred method is to cut the nipple on an angle so that just a small hole is visible
Cutting a hole properly it's important because it will determine the flow of the formula while the kitten is nursing
To ensure proper flow, test the hole by turning the bottle upside down
The formula should slowly drip out, one drop at a time if the hole is the correct size
If you turn it upside down and nothing flows out
You need to enlarge the hole.
If you turn it upside down, and it flows too quickly
Then you'll have to try again with a new nipple.
Because there's so much room for human error with traditional nipples
I like to recommend a product called a "miracle nipple"
A miracle nipple is a specialty product you can buy online
It's a hard rubber nipple with a hole already cut into it, and it can attach to a syringe for smaller kittens
Or get popped onto a bottle lid, like this
These are great because the hole is already cut, so it offers a steady flow
and they come in a few different sizes for different ages of kittens.
I have links to these on my website at kittenlady.org/supplies
Ok, so once you have your supplies, it's time for tip number 2
"Preparing the bottle properly"
In order to prepare the bottle properly
you want to make sure that you're making your formula fresh, clump free and comfortably warm
You want to make your formula fresh every one to two feedings, to ensure that the formula is safe for consumption
So don't make a big jug of it to serve throughout the day.
Follow the preparation instructions for the formula you purchase
and make sure that any powder you don't use get sealed and put in the refrigerator right away
If you're using a powdered formula, mix the powder thoroughly with more water according to the instructions
Until it's completely smooth
You might benefit from using a product like a smoothie shaker which will break up the formula's clumps
it's important that the formula is clump free, because a clump can clog the bottle
and result in a lot of frustration for both you and the kitten
Finally make sure that your formula is the right temperature.
You can mix your powder formula with warm water
But if you're using an already mixed formula that you've saved in the fridge
You're going to want to get it to the right temperature before you feed
Some people do this with a quick 8 seconds zap at the microwave
And other people use a teakettle method
You can pour boiling water into a mug
Place the bottle in the mug and let it float for about 20 seconds
Shake up the bottle thoroughly and test it on the inside of your wrist to ensure that it's comfortably warm
Remember that if the temperature is too hot or too cold for your skin
It's definitely not the right temperature for a tiny kitten
Once you've got your bottle ready It's time for tip number three
"Properly feeding your kitten."
Before you reach for a bottle make sure that it's safe to feed the kitten
Because kittens cannot self regulate their body temperature
Hypothermia may occur in kittens who are orphaned
if the kitten feels cold to the touch or has a temperature of 95 degrees or less
It's not safe to feed her, focus on gradually increasing her temperature before attempting to feed
Once the kitten is the appropriate temperature, it's time to bottle feeding
When you're getting ready to feed a kitten, find a comfortable place to put her in your lap or on a table
Always feed the kitten in a natural belly down posture
The kitten should be comfortably lying or seated with her belly towards the floor
May have seen images in the past of kittens eating on their back like a human baby,
but this is very wrong and very dangerous
Feeding a kitten on her back will be like hanging a human from her feet and feeding her a burger
It just doesn't make any sense.
Feeding a kitten on her back can cause aspiration
Which is where a kitten inhale fluid into the lungs.
This is so dangerous, so please
Never ever feed a kitten on her back.
Think of how a kitten would feed from her mother
on her belly
Laying down or sitting next to the mama.
Sit the kitten in your lap or on a table
Holding the head steady with your non-dominant hand
and introduce the nipple to her mouth with your dominant hand
Don't be scared to really hold the kittens head, this is how you're going to help direct her towards the food
Invert the bottle so that the formula can slowly flow into the kittens mouth
but never forcefully squeeze the bottle into her mouth
Instead you want her to suckle at her own pace
Ideally the kitten will latch.
Latching is when a kitten makes a U shape with her tongue and suckles to drink the formula
You'll know she's latched when she looks like she's very engaged and active
maybe even with telltale ear wiggle
Place a finger on her throat to ensure that she's swallowing and she eats
You'll be able to feel each gulp which will let you know that she's eating properly.
Here's what a good latch looks like
So hopefully that's what you're going to get
But just in case here's tip number four; "How to feed fussy kittens"
Getting that perfect latch feels great, but it doesn't always happen here's a tip for what to do
If you have a fussy kitten that just doesn't want to cooperate
If the kitten doesn't latch, don't panic
Eating out of the side of the mouth is something that some kids may do at first
And that's okay as long as she is definitely swallowing
and as long as she doesn't have her premolars or molars yet
Kittens who are five weeks or older will have teeth on the side of their mouth
that can easily shred a nipple
and they could swallow it and cause a blockage
But younger kittens don't have teeth on the side of their mouth yet
So if they do chew on a nipple on the side of their mouth
It's okay as long as your finger is on their throat and you can feel that they are swallowing
if the kitten is fussy and doesn't seem interested in eating
Stop what you're doing and try to figure out what the problem is
Sometimes it's just the posture, or the flow of the formula
So make sure that you're feeding in a comfortable position, and that there is something wrong with the bottle
Is it too hot? Is it too cold? Is the hole in the nipple big enough?
Is there a clump blocking the formula for coming out?
All of these things can cause a kitten to just not really know what to do
So make sure that everything is working properly.
If the kitten is squirmy or disinterested, remember this okay to really handle them
Some people are scared to handle a kitten because of how fragile they are
But you have to remember that the kitten doesn't know what you're trying to do
You have to show them
So hold the head and body stable with one hand
You can even wrap them in a blanket if need be, using the barbershop technique
This can help the kitten stay focused and protect your hands from tiny claws at the same time
You can also help the kitten feel ready to bottle feed by brushing her with a toothbrush
or by cradling her face in your hand
This simulates the experience of being nozzled against the mama's fuzzy belly
and being groomed, which can help encourage them to eat
Most importantly remember to be really patient with your kitten.
If they're being really fussy, just remember to take it slow and help solve the problem
It's so important that you get some food in these little guys every couple hours
And you're the only hope they have, so try to be patient with them
Okay, so tip number five; "Feed the right amount and the right frequency."
Young kittens require frequent feedings, so be prepared and care for them around the clock
until they're about five or six weeks of age and weaning onto wet food
For the first few weeks of life
That will mean waking up in the middle of the night to feed
Try not to be intimidated by having to wake up in the middle of the night
Even though the care is frequent it only takes a few minutes of your time
And it makes a huge difference for the little guys.
Having small amounts of food every few hours is going to help keep them hydrated
and keep them balanced with nutrients and fat that they need for rapid development and weight gaining
You'll see that as the kittens get older, the amount they eat will increase
but the frequency of feeding will decrease
That means that the older the kittens are, the longer of a break you'll get between feeding.
You can use this feeding chart to determine how much your kittens should be eating and how often
Just remember that each kitten is different, so this is just a guideline, not a rule book.
Some kittens vary in weight and development
So use your best judgment while keeping this guide in mind as a helpful baseline.
Tip number six; "Monitor the kittens progress."
Make sure that you have a small digital scale on hand and weigh them daily
So that you can monitor how they're doing
Having their weight will help you determine their stomach capacity and how often they should be eating
But it will also help alert you if something's going wrong
Keeping track of the kittens weight is a great way to ensure that the kitten is making the necessary gains
Weight the kitten at least once a day and write down her weight in grams
She should be gaining at least 10 grams per day.
If the kitten is not gaining weight or if she loses weight
Seek immediate veterinary support
My last tip is to remember that it doesn't stop a bottle feeding
You will also be tasked with stimulating the kitten to go to the bathroom
Atending to her medical needs, keeping her warm and clean
And otherwise providing her with a safe and secure environment until she's old enough for adoption
After feeding, wipe down the kittens face so that no formula is sticking to her fur
Gently rub the kittens genitals with a soft tissue to stimulate her to urinate and defecate
Do this at each feeding being mindful to wipe up afterwards so that she stays clean and comfortable
Once the kitten has been fed, stimulated and cleaned up
It's time for her to go back to her warm safe space until the next feeding
Repeat until the kitten is weaning onto wet kitten food
Good luck with your bottle feeding and thank you for helping to fight for the little guys