Sometimes a pregnant mother has kittens that are either underdeveloped at birth or, for whatever reason, are abandoned or not properly nursed. In these cases, an owner must step in to raise orphaned kittens that would otherwise quickly die without such care.
Kittens that weigh less than ninety grams (approximately three ounces) at birth have a very high mortality rate and require intervention to help them survive. Under these circumstances, there are a number of things you can do to take over as the primary care provider for your negligent mother cat.
The first issue concerns a proper nesting box for the kittens, one that has tall sides to prevent them from wandering from the warmth and safety of the prepared box. A good choice is one that can be easily cleaned and disinfected, or alternatively, a disposable cardboard box can be used and thrown away when no longer in use.
You should place towels in the bottom of the box and cover them with disposable diapers to absorb body fluids. This will make it easier to offer the kittens a dry and clean environment as they mature, and the diapers can be easily changed and kept fresh.
Temperature control is critical during the first few weeks of life. If a newborn’s temperature drops below ninety-four degrees Fahrenheit, their gastric motility slows down and their heart rate drops considerably, which can be fatal. Therefore, placing a heating pad under one half of the nesting box allows the kittens to move either closer to or away from a steady heat source.
The other vital element is nutrition. A fresh batch of kitten formula can be mixed each morning to last through one day of feeding. During feeding, wait for air bubbles to settle before allowing them to eat. A proper nursing bottle will have a hole in the nipple only large enough to allow formula to drip from the bottle when held upside down. Anything larger will risk a kitten inhaling formula, which can cause a potentially dangerous case of pneumonia.
In a pinch, you can mix a batch of home-made formula in a blender using the following ingredients: ½ cup whole milk, one egg yolk, one drop of multivitamins, and three Tums antacid tablets, crushed, to provide calcium for the newborns.
In any case, the bottle of formula can be warmed in a cup of hot water and tested on your inner wrist before feeding. This is the only safe way to warm formula, and a microwave should never be used, since it will likely heat unevenly and may scald kittens when feeding. Newborns will require feeding every two to three hours during the day. The first few days may require night feedings as well.
Kittens should be fed right side up rather than on their backs, and you can gently roll their bodies after they’ve been fed to burp them. It is not necessary to wake the kittens to feed them – they will wake up when hungry. They will also need to be “potty trained” by rubbing their bottoms with a soft, moist tissue to stimulate the urge to urinate and defecate.
It is also critical to monitor their growth in the first few weeks. Kittens should be gaining ten percent of their birth weight every day on a daily diet of 22 to 26cc of formula per 100 grams of body weight. This means healthy kittens should gain between fifty and one hundred grams weekly.