Bottlebabies: A guide for first-time feeders


The following information is meant as a guide for the first-time bottlebaby feeder or for someone who hasn’t done this in a while. It is compiled from our own experience, other rescue organizations and veterinarians. We hope the information is easy to understand and follow. There are many people out there who will help you. Most rescue organizations have had lots of experience raising bottlebabies and your regular veterinarian can be of great help, too. During “kitten season,” we are all busy rescuing orphaned babies and your offer to bottlefeed is both needed and welcomed. You may not be able to keep your little foundling, in which case you can raise the baby until the correct age to be adopted into a loving home. If you want to keep the baby, you will still receive all the help you need.

Until the day when all stray cats are spayed or neutered and there are no more unwanted babies, we must all do our best to save the babies. Unspayed and unneutered animals are a community problem and we must all act together to “fix” this problem.Valley Cats is available to give advice and hands-on instructions to anyone who needs us.





Are you *sure* they are abandoned?

Be sure the kittens are really abandoned before disturbing their nest! The momcat may be nearby but hiding because you are there. If kittens are clean, plump, and sleeping quietly in a heap, they probably have a caring mom and should be left alone. Abandoned kittens will be dirty and the nest will be soiled. They will cry continuously because they are hungry.
• If the momcat is friendly, leave the kittens with her until they are 5-6 weeks old. Whenever possible, play with the kittens to socialize them.
• If the momcat is feral, remove the kittens at about 4 weeks. They will have received important antibodies from her milk. Kittens over 4 weeks old born from a feral mother become more and more difficult to tame. By 8 weeks old, the job can take months if it can be done at all.

Initial Warmth and Care

Kittens chill quickly – keep them warm


If a rescued kitten feels cold, it must be warmed immediately but carefully. Place it on a heating pad set at the lowest setting. Wrap the heating pad in towels. A warm hot water bottle (about 100 degrees) wrapped in a towel and placed with the kitten will work. You can also take a cold kitten directly to your vet. He may have an incubator to warm the chilled kitten.
Do not feed a kitten until it is warm. It cannot properly digest food when cold. However, you can syringe feed a few drops of 5% sugar water or rub a little bit of Karo syrup on the kitten’s lips.
• Kittens under 3 weeks cannot control their body temperature. Keep on a heating pad, set on low, wrapped in at least 2 layers of towels to cover the pad. If it’s too hot, the kittens will try to sleep on the edges. Heating pad should be used until the kittens are about 4-5 weeks old or until you notice they are avoiding it.
• Keep kittens in a box or cat carrier in a warm, draft-free place. Cover container with a towel to make them even cozier. Change bedding often because they do have accidents! Kitten skin is very sensitive. Enlarge their space as they grow, but keep them warm and cozy. A small bathroom is fine as they grow and need more exercise.
Isolate these kittens completely from other animals.
• Get the kittens to your vet just as soon as possible. He will check for dehydration and their general condition. Bring a stool sample if possible to test for worms and parasites. Kittens become dehydrated very quickly and are at risk. A dose of fluids injected under the skin (subcutaneously) is necessary if this occurs. Your vet will be happy to show you how to do this. It’s not as terrible as it sounds and will save the kitten’s life.
• Many vets will offer you a free courtesy visit if you tell them that this is a rescued kitten you are fostering. Their staff can give you advice and supplies as you need them. This is very important! You can also contact your local shelter or rescue group and ask if you can become a “foster parent” through their organization as you raise the kitten. Many of these organizations help cover the cost of raising the kittens if you are planning to put them up for adoption when they are old enough.
• If you are planning to keep your rescued kitten, try to find a “foster” momcat who is still nursing. Your local animal shelter or rescue organization may be able to help you with this. It is crucial that a kitten gets immunity against disease that only a mother cat’s milk can provide. This immunity lasts until they are 6-14 weeks old and makes for a much healthier kitten.


Be prepared for sleepless nights!


Cow’s milk is not nutritious enough for kittens! They will slowly starve to death on it. If you cannot get to a pet store right away, there are some emergency kitten formula recipes at the end of this section. Two kitten formula brands (KMR and Just Born) are available at pet stores.
Purchase a pet nursing kit and kitten formula, available at pet stores. The kit should include a bottle, extra nipples, and a cleaning brush. Cut an “X” in the tip of the nipple with scissors. You’ll know the nipple opening is big enough by holding the bottle upside-down. The formula will drip slowly from it. Too small an opening will make kittens work too hard to get their formula, tiring them out before they’ve had enough to eat. Too large an opening will force too much formula into them too fast. They can accidentally inhale it into their lungs. If they accidentally inhale the formula, hold them upside down until they stop choking.
Sterilize bottles, nipples and hands before each feeding. Keep a special shirt or apron in the kittens’ room and wear it while feeding (some viruses can live on clothing). Sterilize your hands with antibacterial sanitizer or water with a touch of bleach added. Sterilize before and after each feeding session so that the kittens and your own pets will be protected against one another’s germs. You can also purchase a box of latex surgical gloves and use a new pair for each feeding.
Do not hold kittens the same as human babies when feeding. Positioning for feeding is very important because this is when bonding occurs.
Kittens are most comfortable in a position similar to the way they would be if they were nursing from a momcat. They should be on their stomach with the head and chest tilted slightly upward. While nursing, they will want to “knead” instinctively, which would cause the momcat to keep producing milk. Many people find it comfortable to sit on a chair with a clean towel on their lap. They position the kitten as described, propping the chest up with their free hand to get the correct upward angle for nursing. Use a fresh towel each day to avoid germs.
• To begin feeding, gently pry the mouth open with the tip of your finger and slip the nipple in. Sometimes just using the nipple to open the mouth will work. You will feel a real “vacuum effect” when the kitten gets into the suckle mode. To keep air from getting into the kitten’s stomach, hold the bottle at a 45 degree angle, keeping a light pull on the bottle. The kitten should be allowed to suck at its own pace.
• If the kitten refuses to take the nipple or won’t suckle, try rubbing its forehead vigorously or stroking its back. This is the way the momcat cleans the baby and can stimulate the kitten to nurse. You might hear a “clicking” sound which means the kitten’s nursing instinct is in gear and it should be ready for the nipple. Sometimes a kitten is just picky and doesn’t like the nipple you are offering. Your bottle kit should come with different size nipples, one longer than the other. See if the kitten likes the other nipple better.
• Kittens too weak to nurse can often be stimulated by rubbing some Karo syrup on the lips. If the kitten still refuses to nurse despite everything you have tried, the kitten may be ill and you must take it to a vet immediately.
• A kitten should consume about 8cc’s of formula per ounce of body weight per day. Nursing bottles are marked with measurements to help keep track. Weigh the kittens at least every other day to calculate the amount of formula they need. A small postal scale should be sufficient. Kittens under one week: feed every 2-3 hours. At 2 weeks old: feed every 4-6 hours. At 3 weeks until they are weaned: feed every 6-8 hours. Divide their needed daily intake by the number of required daily feedings and you’ll know how much they should eat each time. Weak or recovering kittens may need to eat more frequently. The younger the kittens are, the more they want to “latch” on to a momcat’s nipple all the time, nursing small amounts periodically. If you notice that your kittens are not eating enough in one feeding, increase the frequency of feedings.
• If you are feeding multiple kittens, it might be easier to feed the required amount if you feed them each several times, taking turns. Feed the first kitten until it stops nursing, and then feed the second, etc. Then go back to the first and repeat the rotation. Usually after 2-3 nursing turns, a kitten has had enough for one feeding.
• When the kitten has had enough formula, it will usually get some bubbles around its mouth and its tummy will be very rounded. After feeding, burp the kitten just like a human baby. Hold it upright against your shoulder and pat it on the back.
Do not overfeed kittens. This can cause diarrhea and a host of other problems. Kittens under four weeks should go to sleep after they are fed and full. Older kittens will want some play and cuddle time.
It is natural for kittens to suckle on each other or on your fingers even after they have finished eating. This is harmless unless you notice that this kind of activity is causing irritation to other kittens’ fur or skin.

Emergency Kitten Formula


You have just rescued baby kittens and the pet store is closed. They are hungry. What to do!!! The formulas listed below are for emergency use only until regular kitten formula (such as KMR or Just Born) can be purchased from the pet store. None of these formulas are nutritionally complete enough for the long-term health of a kitten.

Formula #1
12 oz. evaporated goats milk
12 oz water
Knox unflavored gelatin. (One packet for each week of kitten’s age but no more than 4 packets). Only add more if diarrhea occurs.Heat on stove until dissolved.
Add 1 Tbsp Karo Syrup
Add 1 Tbsp nonfat or low-fat unflavored yogurt
Add 1 Tbsp protein powder
Add 1 Drop PetTinic Vitamins
Mix all ingredients well. Refrigerate. It becomes like Jell-O. Cut the amount needed for each feeding and heat in microwave. Keeps up to one week

.• Formula #2
8 ounces homogenized whole milk
2 egg yolks
1 tsp salad oil
1 drop liquid pediatric vitamins (optional)
Mix well. Warm before using. Keep refrigerated

.• Formula #3
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
Water per directions on gelatin envelope
1 12-oz can whole evaporated milk (not skimmed)
3 Tbsp plain yogurt (not low-fat)
3 tsp clear corn syrup
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 or 2 raw egg yolks (no egg white)

Boil water. Add gelatin powder. Add the other ingredients in the following order, mix well after each addition: half the canned milk, corn syrup, mayonnaise + yogurt, egg yolk, remainder of canned milk. Serve room temperature or slightly warmed. DO NOT reuse uneaten portions. Mixture turns into jelly when refrigerated. Keeps covered up to 2 weeks. Spoon out what you need do use. Warm before feeding.

Dealing with Poop

Help keep your kitten clean


You have probably seen momcats stimulating their babies to urinate and defecate by licking their hind quarters. This job is now up to you, and the younger the kitten is, the more important this becomes. Young kittens cannot urinate or defecate on their own.
• After each feeding, hold the kitten so that you can gently massage the lower abdomen, genital and rectal areas to stimulate urination and/or defecation. Use a warm moist paper towel, small piece of cloth, cotton ball or cotton pad.
• Massage only enough to stimulate. Too much and you might irritate the tender skin and cause chafing.
• Be sure the area is clean and dry when you put the kitten back in its bed.
• Kittens will almost always urinate. They should defecate at least once a day. It may take up to one minute of gentle massage before a kitten “poops,” so be patient. If a kitten does not defecate after two days, call your vet or rescue organization for advice.
• Kittens are usually ready for litter box training at about 4 weeks old. Do not use self- clumping litter at this point. There are several litter brands available made from recycled paper which are harmless to the kitten. This is what we recommend in the beginning.
• Don’t expect miracles at first. Place the kitten in a shallow pan (aluminum foil cookie sheets are disposable). The kitten’s first reaction might be to try to eat the litter. Wait to see what the kitten does. The pan is shallow enough for the kitten to walk out of it so it won’t be afraid of the pan.
• If the kitten does not seem to know what to do, place it in the “litter box,” gently take a front paw and make a “covering” motion in the litter.
• If the kitten does urinate or defecate, do not clean this immediately. The kitten will be attracted to its own odor and understand that this is where to eliminate

Keeping Fleas of Your Kitten

You *must* keep fleas off your kitten


The younger the kitten is, the more you must be careful when deciding to bathe it versus just “spot-bathing” it.
• If your rescued kitten has fleas, the first thing to do is get a good flea comb with steel teeth and comb as many fleas out of the fur as possible. Fill a bowl with soapy water and dump the fleas in it to kill them. Keep at it in a gentle manner until you have gotten as many fleas out as possible. No matter how old the kitten is, you must remove the fleas. Fleas can kill a kitten by causing anemia, rendering the kitten weak and ill.
• After you have removed as many fleas as possible, call your vet for advice on a flea spray safe to use on very young kittens. Make sure it is safe for young kittens. For tiny kittens: (after calling your vet), spray a towel and place the kitten on it for 20-30 minutes. Do not allow the kitten to inhale any fumes – keep its head raised. It is best to hold the kitten while wrapped in the towel for the 20-30 minutes to be sure it does not inhale fumes. Throw the towel away along with the dead and dying fleas that are on it. Tiny kittens are at great risk of flea-bite anemia, so a bath in gentle soap and lukewarm water might be necessary. Use a blow dryer set on warm to quickly dry the kitten, or towel-dry it. When you put the kitten back in its bed, gently use the blow dryer to warm both the bed area and the kitten so it will not become chilled. Kittens 3-4 weeks: follow the same instructions as for tiny kittens. At this point, check their ears for dirt (clean with cotton ball) or ear mites (contact your vet). Ear mites show up as “coffee-ground” type dirt.
Scratching: if the fleas have been removed and the kitten’s fur is clean, you may have to check for ringworm or mange. If the kitten is scratching and there are bare patches of missing fur, isolate the kitten from its littermates and call your vet immediately to begin treatment.

Eating on Your Own

That glorious day when they are weaned


Kittens can begin to eat on their own as early as four weeks (the same age as litter box training). You will know they are ready for weaning when they begin to bite the nipple with force and will lap formula from your fingers. This is an important step in their development. Their tummies are immature and food quality is important. Their teeth have not really developed and they are still unsteady on their little feet. Expect lots of slurpy noises (like nursing from a bottle) and lots of sitting or standing in their food bowl. Some kittens even fall asleep in their food bowl while eating! Keep your camera handy
• Step 1: Get the kitten to lap from a soup spoon to get the hang of eating. After they have grasped this concept, place the food in a small flat dish until they are comfortable with this form of eating. Be patient. Most kittens bite the spoon or the edge of the dish at first and don’t seem to understand where the food is!
• Step 2: Always include regular kitten formula in with the food. The first meals should mostly be made up of formula with a little human baby food mixed in. We recommend Gerber’s Baby Chicken or Beechnut Baby Chicken with NO onion or onion salt.
• Some kittens start eating right away but some take a little longer. For those who take longer, continue to bottle feed until they eat on their own. The idea is to slowly reduce the amount of formula as they begin eating on their own more and more. Eventually, you will completely remove the formula from their food.
• Canned kitten food is easier to mix with formula, but if you want to use dry kitten food, you must soak it thoroughly. Kittens don’t really chew their food properly until they are about 8 weeks old.

Recommended kitten foods (canned):
Nutro Max Kitten (purchase at pet store)
Dr. Hill’s A/D (purchase from vet)

Recommended kitten foods (dry):
Royal Canin for Baby Kittens (purchase at pet store)
Nutro Max Kitten (purchase at pet store)


You always have to be going through their motions


Diarrhea can be life-threatening to a kitten. It drains the body of essential fluids and causes dehydration. When dealing with diarrhea, there can be several reasons to think about:
• Worms and/or parasites
• Underfeeding or overfeeding
• Illness
• Improper hygiene (you may not be cleaning the kitten’s fur properly and it is ingesting bacteria)• WHAT IS NORMAL: Poop should be brown and solidly formed.Checking a kitten’s poop may not be the best job in the world, but it can save lives. As with humans, color indicates health.• ABNORMAL STOOL – SEE VET IMMEDIATELY:
Black: might indicate bleeding in the upper portion of bowel.
Bloody: bright red blood seen in the stool might indicate illness such as panleukopenia.
Mucous: yellowish/white/clear slimy substance might indicate severe bowel irritation.
Orange: too much bile in stool perhaps occurring with reflux.
White: very abnormal, indicating severe bacterial imbalance and severe bowel infection.
Yellow: bacterial imbalance in bowel. The diarrhea is usually related to coccidia.

Cow-patty: not formed but thick enough to fall into a “cow-patty” shape.
Dry/hard: usually indicates dehydration.
Formed but soft: low range of “normal.” If stool becomes soft, go to vet.
Liquidy: fluid coming out of rectum, thin, with or without mucous.
Squirty: no control over bowel. Watery fluid squirts out of rectum.
Toothpaste: somewhat tubular but falls apart when touched.

Water in, urine out! That’s the way a normal body functions. This is why keeping your kitten well -hydrated is so important. We have already mentioned that there are times when a weaker kitten may need subcutaneous fluids to help maintain good hydration. Since we cannot be there every minute to watch the kitten urinate, we can at least watch carefully to see the color of the urine and take appropriate action. As a means of monitoring the kittens’ urine, place the kitten on a pan with a clean white paper towel until it urinates. The color will be evident.

WHAT IS NORMAL: Urine should be mid-to-light yellow.

Severely dilute (clear) urine: Risk of over-hydration. Seek attention.
Concentrated (dark yellow) urine: Insufficient hydration. Needs immediate care.

Hydration has to do with the amount of fluid in the body. A normal intake of fluid creates a healthy skin “turgor” whereas not enough fluid intake creates a situation that can be life- threatening if not dealt with immediately. “Snap back” is the amount of time it takes for the skin to return to normal after being lifted. Using thumb and index finger, pull the skin between the shoulder blades straight up and see how long it takes for the skin to snap back to normal.
Immediate snap back: excellent hydration. Monitor for over-hydration at this stage.
Quick snap but not immediate: hydrated. Monitor to be sure kitten has adequate fluid intake.
Snap back within one second: adequate hydration. Monitor closely for other at-risk signs.
Snap back 1-3 seconds: dehydrated. Needs immediate attention.
Stands up on own: severe dehydration. Dying. See vet immediately.

WARM: crucial to babies under 6 weeks
CLEAN: imperative to prevent skin infections and digestive problems
WELL HYDRATED: essential for normal metabolic functioning
NORMAL STOOLS AND URINE: life-threatening if not monitored for abnormalities. The information contained in this guide is compiled from the experiences of various rescue organizations including Valley Cats, Inc.and from information provided to us by several veterinarians. It is meant only as a guide and is not meant to replace any advice or method of treatment prescribed by your veterinarian.We are happy to be of help if you have questions or need advice…

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790 Hampshire Street, Suite H
Westlake Village, CA 91361

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(818) 992-3225 or (818) 883-5252

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