If you have ever found or rescued an orphan kitten, you know how challenging and rewarding it can be to care for them. Orphan kittens are kittens that have been separated from their mother or whose mother is unable to nurse them for various reasons. They require special attention and care to survive and thrive, especially in the first few weeks of their lives. One of the most important aspects of caring for orphan kittens is providing them with proper nutrition. In this article, we will discuss why nutrition is so crucial for orphan kittens, what kind of food they need, how to feed them, and how to avoid common feeding problems.
Why is nutrition so important for orphan kittens?
Nutrition is vital for any living being, but especially for orphan kittens who are still developing and growing. Kittens need adequate amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water to support their body functions, immune system, and energy levels.
Without proper nutrition, orphan kittens can suffer from various health issues, such as:
• Growth retardation: Poor nutrition can stunt the growth of orphan kittens and affect their bone and muscle development. This can lead to lifelong problems such as dwarfism, osteoporosis, or arthritis.
• Malnutrition: Poor nutrition can cause orphan kittens to become malnourished, which means they do not have enough nutrients in their body to sustain normal processes. This can result in weight loss, muscle wasting, anemia, organ failure, or death.
• Infections: Poor nutrition can weaken the immune system of orphan kittens and make them more susceptible to infections. Kittens are exposed to many pathogens in their environment, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Without a strong immune system, they can easily contract diseases such as upper respiratory infections, diarrhea, skin infections, or sepsis.
• Developmental disorders: Poor nutrition can affect the development of the brain and nervous system of orphan kittens and cause neurological problems. These can include seizures, tremors, blindness, deafness, or behavioral issues.
What kind of food do orphan kittens need?
The best food for orphan kittens is their mother’s milk. Mother’s milk provides them with all the nutrients they need in the right proportions and quantities. It also contains antibodies that protect them from infections and hormones that regulate their growth and development. However, if mother’s milk is not available or sufficient for some reason, orphan kittens need a suitable substitute that can mimic its composition and benefits. This substitute is called kitten milk replacer (KMR).
Kitten milk replacer is a commercial product that is specially formulated to meet the nutritional needs of orphan kittens. It contains high-quality protein from animal sources such as milk or eggs, essential fatty acids from vegetable oils or fish oils, carbohydrates from lactose or maltodextrins, vitamins and minerals from synthetic or natural sources, and water. KMR also has a similar consistency and taste to mother’s milk to encourage the kittens to drink it.
KMR is sold in powdered or liquid form at most pet stores or veterinary clinics. Powdered KMR is more economical and has a longer shelf life than liquid KMR. However, it needs to be mixed with warm water according to the instructions on the package before feeding it to the kittens. Liquid KMR is more convenient and ready to use but has a shorter shelf life and needs to be refrigerated after opening.
How to feed orphan kittens?
Orphan kittens need to be fed with a bottle or a syringe that has a soft rubber nipple attached to it. The bottle or syringe should be filled with warm KMR (not hot or cold) and held at a 45-degree angle to prevent air bubbles from entering the kitten’s stomach. The nipple should be gently inserted into the kitten’s mouth and squeezed slightly to release some KMR. The kitten should suckle on the nipple and swallow the KMR at its own pace.
Orphan kittens should be fed on a regular schedule according to their age and weight. The following table shows a general guideline for feeding orphan kittens. Please note that this is a general guideline and the exact feeding requirements may vary based on the kitten’s weight, health, and other factors. Always consult with a vet for the best advice.
|Age of Kitten
|Amount per Feeding
|Newborn – 1 week
|Every 2-3 hours
|2-6 ml of kitten formula
|Every 2-3 hours
|6-10 ml of kitten formula
|Every 3-4 hours
|10-14 ml of kitten formula
|Every 4-5 hours
|14-18 ml of kitten formula
|4-5 times a day
|Begin introducing wet kitten food
|4 times a day
|Wet kitten food, supplemented with kitten formula
These amounts are approximate and may vary depending on the individual kitten’s appetite and health. It is important to monitor the kitten’s weight and adjust the feeding accordingly. A healthy kitten should gain about 10-15 grams (0.35-0.53 oz) per day. A digital kitchen scale can be used to weigh the kitten before and after each feeding.
Orphan kittens should be fed until they are full but not overfed. Overfeeding can cause diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, or aspiration pneumonia. Signs of overfeeding include:
• The kitten’s abdomen is distended and hard to the touch.
• The kitten has difficulty breathing or makes gurgling noises.
• The kitten regurgitates or spits up some of the KMR.
• The kitten has loose or watery stools.
If any of these signs are observed, the amount of KMR should be reduced or the feeding should be stopped until the next scheduled time. If the signs persist or worsen, a veterinarian should be consulted.
How to avoid common feeding problems?
Feeding orphan kittens can be challenging and sometimes result in problems that can affect their health and well-being. Some of the common feeding problems and how to avoid them are:
Dehydration occurs when the kitten loses more fluid than it takes in. This can happen due to diarrhea, vomiting, fever, or insufficient water intake. Dehydration can cause lethargy, weakness, sunken eyes, dry mouth, poor skin elasticity, or shock. To prevent dehydration, the kitten should be given enough KMR and water to meet its fluid needs. The KMR should be mixed with water according to the instructions on the package and not diluted more than recommended. The kitten should also have access to fresh water at all times. To check for dehydration, gently pinch the skin on the back of the kitten’s neck and release it. If the skin snaps back quickly, the kitten is well hydrated. If the skin stays up or returns slowly, the kitten is dehydrated and needs immediate veterinary attention.
Constipation occurs when the kitten has difficulty passing stools or passes hard and dry stools. This can happen due to low-fiber diet, lack of exercise, stress, or illness. Constipation can cause discomfort, pain, loss of appetite, or intestinal obstruction. To prevent constipation, the kitten should be given enough KMR and water to keep its stools soft and moist. The KMR should contain adequate amounts of fiber from sources such as maltodextrins or lactulose. The kitten should also be stimulated to defecate after each feeding by gently rubbing its anus and lower abdomen with a warm moist cotton ball or cloth. This mimics the mother cat’s licking and helps the kitten eliminate waste. If the kitten does not defecate for more than 24 hours or shows signs of straining or distress, a veterinarian should be consulted.
Diarrhea occurs when the kitten passes loose or watery stools more frequently than normal. This can happen due to infection, parasites, food intolerance, stress, or sudden diet change. Diarrhea can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, malnutrition, or inflammation of the intestines. To prevent diarrhea, the kitten should be given a high-quality KMR that is suitable for its age and digestive system. The KMR should be mixed with water according to the instructions on the package and not diluted more than recommended. The KMR should also be stored properly and discarded if expired or spoiled. The kitten should not be given any other food or supplement without consulting a veterinarian first. The kitten should also be kept in a clean and sanitary environment and protected from exposure to other animals or sources of infection. If the kitten has diarrhea for more than 24 hours or shows signs of blood, mucus, or worms in its stools, a veterinarian should be consulted.
How to wean orphan kittens?
Weaning is the process of transitioning orphan kittens from liquid to solid food. It usually begins around four weeks of age and ends around eight weeks of age. Weaning is an important step in the orphan kittens’ development as it prepares them for independent eating and introduces them to new flavors and textures.
To wean orphan kittens, follow these steps:
• Start by offering a small amount of wet kitten food mixed with some warm KMR in a shallow dish. The wet food should be high-quality and specially formulated for kittens’ nutritional needs. It should also have a smooth consistency and a strong smell to attract the kittens’ interest.
• Place the dish near the kittens and let them explore it on their own. Do not force them to eat or push their faces into the food. They may lick it, nibble it, paw at it, or ignore it at first.
• Gradually increase the amount of wet food and decrease the amount of KMR in the mixture until it is mostly wet food with a little KMR.
• Offer some dry kitten food in a separate dish along with some fresh water in another dish. The dry food should also be high-quality and specially formulated for kittens’