Fostering infant kittens is challenging, but extremely rewarding. Animals of this age (up to 4 weeks old) are completely dependent on their “surrogate mother” for safety, warmth and food. By following the guidelines below, you will be able to witness the infants in your care turning into playful adolescents.
Infants should be kept in a quiet, confined space such as a small carrier or nesting box. Always keep their blankets or towels on a heat pad for warmth. Infants need to be kept clean and dry the bedding may have to be change several times a day, a wet infant will get cold and could die. Bedding should be washed as needed. A small, stuffed animal may be used for the infant to snuggle in to. Infants should never be outside, except when being transferred to the vet.
Keeping infants warm and free from drafts is very important because babies under 4 weeks of age are not able to regulate their body temperature and are incapable of shivering. A heating pad may be used. These should be placed on the lowest setting and anchored so that the infant cannot crawl underneath. Place the heating pad under half of the box or crate so that the infant can escape the heat if needed. Cover the heat pad with vet bed or a fleece blanket several layers thick. Infants should feel warm, not hot or cold to the touch.
You will need to handle the infant when feeding and cleaning them while they are very small. Once this is done, return them to their nesting place. Whilst handling the infants, old towels should be used in order to avoid being covered in urine or worse. Remember to wash your hands, especially if you have been dealing with other animals – antiseptic hand gel is recommended.
Do not feed kittens until they are thoroughly warmed – they cannot digest food until the body reaches normal temperature range. When feeding infants, always pay close attention to feeding guidelines. Dilute the formula carefully according to the directions, and NEVER give cow’s milk as it can cause severe stomach trauma. If ‘formula’ is not available, full fat goats milk can be used or in emergencies when most shops are shut use semi-skimmed goats milk. Use good hygiene/cleanliness with all food supplies. Avoid overfeeding and make all food changes gradually.
Below follows dietary advice for infants, according to age:
Infants 0-2 weeks old
Should be fed every 2-4 hours. “Lait Maternisee” is available from your vet or Pharmacy.
Remember to always wash your hands before and after feeding and to clean the implements with warm soapy water.
Throw away stretched teats before the baby aspirates from a too-large hole in the tip or pulls the teat off the syringe and swallows it. Aspiration (bubbles of milk coming from the infant’s nose) can be fairly common. If aspiration occurs, the baby can be turned upside down to help the fluid drain out. If this happens with very young babies, a small bulb syringe or eyedropper can be used to suck the fluids out of the nostrils.
Do not feed any more to the infant until it has completely cleared the fluid from its lungs, usually by sneezing.
Mix the formula according to directions.
The formula should be fed at room temperature. You can mix the formula with warm previously boiled water. Reheated refrigerated formula can cause upset stomachs in some infants. Test the milk on your wrist for the correct temperature.
Do not heat bottle in microwave as microwave heating causes nutrient loss in formula and hot spots can develop.
There is not usually an opening in the teat (bottles and teats come with the powdered formula), so make a small hole with a hot needle. The hole opening should be only large enough for a few drops of milk to drip out when the bottle is held upside down and squeezed gently. Milk should NOT stream out. This is important so that the infant does not inhale formula into their lungs and develop pneumonia. Bubbles of milk coming out from the infants nose indicates that the animal is aspirating. In this case a new teat will have to be used and a smaller hole made, never cut the end of the teat off.
The best method of feeding is to use a small towel to hold the infant. This will reduce stress on them from cold hands and tight fingers, and will give the baby something to hang onto. The baby’s forelegs should be unconfined to allow it to “knead” as it would on the mother’s abdomen during feeding. Lay the infant on its belly as it would when nursing on mum. Lightly grasp the infant around the head with one hand, then place the tip of the teat to the infant’s mouth and squeeze a little milk into the mouth with your other hand. The infant should latch on. Do not hold the infant too far upright or tip the infant’s head as this can cause the infant to choke or aspirate.
The amount of formula the infant should eat depends on its weight. Please refer to the directions on the container for the correct amounts. Some infants will want to eat more than is listed on the can. This is okay, but be aware that this can cause diarrhoea. Check the tummy for fullness after feeding 2/3 to 3/4 of the formula to avoid overfeeding.
Do not put more than the amount for one infants feeding in the bottle at one time. This will help you keep track of how much each infant consumes per feeding and will keep the baby from over eating.
If an infant refuses to eat for two consecutive feedings, seek veterinary advice.
When feeding a litter of infants make sure you can easily identify each one and use charts to record how much has been take by which infant and when. Kitchen scales can be used to record weight gains.
Infants 3-4 weeks old
Should be fed every 4-6 hours.
At this stage you can start introducing the infant to soft food: baby food and wet kitten croquets. Mix the formula and croquets to introduce soft food. It will look like thick soup. Introducing wet food sometimes gives infants diarrhoea.
Encourage infants to lap from a shallow dish. Put some of the soup on your finger, put it in the infant’s mouth, then lower your finger to the food dish and encourage infant to lap from the dish. Don’t be alarmed if the infant is not interested; it can take a couple of days. Never push the infants face into the food.
After the infant is eating from a dish, start reducing the amount of formula and increasing the amount of soft food. The goal is to wean the infant off of the formula all together. Once the infant is weaned, dry food should also be made available, fresh water must be available at all times.
Urination and Defecation
Infants 1-2 weeks old need to be stimulated in order to urinate and defecate before and after every feeding. Gently pat its anal area with a cotton ball or soft toilet paper that has been moistened with warm water. Gently rubbing the infant’s belly also encourages movement. Be sure to keep the anal area clean and dry by sponging with warm water and patting with a soft towel. Don’t panic if it does not defecate every time. Once a day is fine; although, they may defecate as frequently as after every meal. Consistency of stool can vary from quite loose to toothpaste consistency and can range in colour from yellow to dark brown.
When infants first begin to eat solids, the time has come to begin toilet training.
Place litter tray in a convenient place that the kitten is familiar with. Try to find a quiet area so that the kitten will not be stressed or too distracted. In the general area of the kitten’s bedding and food is a good place. Simply place the kitten in the litter tray and pat anal area with a moist cloth. When the kitten starts to urinate or defecate, remove the cloth and allow the kitten to use the tray. Instinctively, the kitten should start scratching and burying waste. Repeat these steps until the kitten goes into the litter tray on his own. It usually takes about 1-3 times although some small kittens will do this whole process naturally. Never rub the kitten’s nose in their urine or faeces when they relieve themselves in the wrong place.
Once kittens are eating on their own, around 4 weeks of age, they are considered self-sufficient. At this age, they no longer need to be kept in a confined space and should be in a room where they can run and play. A bed should be provided, along with food and water and a litter box for kittens. Make sure their space is completely baby-proofed and damage-proofed. They will want to play and be held and cuddled often. Don’t be afraid to have fun! All infants should continue to be kept inside. They are still too young to be vaccinated, so keeping them away from other non vaccinated animals and possible exposure to disease is key.
To check for fleas, part the kittens hair, especially on its back near the rump, or its stomach and look for flea faeces, a gritty, black substance. You can also run a flea comb through the animal’s hair to check for signs of fleas. Topical flea treatments (such as Frontline) can be used on animals over 6 weeks of age, but this can be very toxic to infants. Ignoring a flea infestation can be deadly, as infants can become anaemic to the point of death from just a few fleas. Infants can be washed in warm water with a gentle kitten or baby shampoo. During the bath the fleas tend to run to the dry part, the head, they can then be combed off into the water. Make sure to dry them thoroughly with a towel and a hair dryer set to low. (If you use a hair dryer, be VERY careful and make sure it is constantly in motion and not close to the animal.) Use a flea comb to brush their hair after they are dry. If you still find evidence of fleas you may need to use a natural flea treatment that is suitable for very young animals. Once treated, you will need to thoroughly wash all bedding and toys