Taking care of a brand new fur baby is a great joy and a great responsibility, and one that requires special knowledge of newborn kitten care.
A kitten is considered a newborn from birth until the age of four months, which provides her enough time to be weaned from her mother and learn a few life skills, such as eating and using a litter box. Whether you're the primary caretaker of newborn kittens or working in harmony with a cat mom, equip yourself with the essentials to keep your new snuggle bundles in tip-top shape.
Newborn kittens are born blind (they open their eyes at anywhere from seven to fourteen days after birth), and therefore must be kept safe and warm at all times. They will curl up with each other and their mom, if possible. Provide a soft bed of layered materials such as fleece blankets, and consider making a DIY cat bed to fit your cuddle puddle of cats of all ages. Place the bed in a cozy, draft-free corner where the newborns won't be disturbed by other pets or children.
If the cat mom isn't there to nurse, you will have to bottle-feed the newborns with special formula. Speak with your vet to choose the right one. Never feed a kitten on her back, instructs Best Friends, because she could choke in that position. Instead, lay her on her side (as she would while nursing her mom) or hold her upright. Once she is fully weaned, give your tiny kitty specially formulated kitten food to help her develop strong bones, eyes and muscles.
3. Litter Box Training
An important element of newborn kitten care is litter box training. Cats aren't born knowing where to go to the bathroom, so if mama cat isn't there to help, it's up to you. Let her examine the box to familiarize her with its placement and purpose. In place of cat mom, you may need to stimulate her urine or bowel movement. As Canada's Pet Information Centre explains, "a good technique is to take a warm washcloth or cotton ball and gently wipe the kitten's urogenital area until elimination occurs." Do this on a regular basis, every few hours, until she learns the behavior on her own.
Brushing her coat and trimming her claws are two important elements of newborn kitten care, and the sooner you start routine cat maintenance, the easier it is for both of you. Regular brushing or combing removes excess hair (thus reducing hairballs) and keeps her coat clean and shiny, while nail clipping lessens her chances of a claw snag.
Experts recommend that newborn kittens have their first veterinarian appointment as soon as possible, preferably in the first week or two after birth, so that the doctor can conduct an overall wellness check. The Drake Center for Veterinary Care urges pet parents to monitor a kitten's food intake and take note of any "motor skills and coordination delays or difficulties, [or] lethargy, diarrhea or vomiting." Newborns are prone to illnesses such as upper respiratory infections, distemper, ear mites and intestinal parasites, so don't hesitate to contact your vet if you have any concerns.
6. Spaying or Neutering
According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, most kittens are spayed (females) or neutered (males) at approximately six months of age, but there are instances in which a vet may recommend the procedure at an earlier age. Spaying early is not usually a part of newborn kitten care, but once she's old enough cat experts highly recommend spaying and neutering for your cat's health as well as to keep cat overpopulation in check.
7. Preparing for Adoption
Whether or not you intend to put your kittens up for adoption or keep them, you want to socialize the newborns. The Nest suggests gently handling your kittens one at a time starting once they've reached their first week of age, letting mama kitty sniff you first if she's present. Baby kittens love to nip and paw at their humans, but once a cat is grown this behavior could be problematic. Socializing a kitten allows her to be comfortable and secure during interactions with people and other animals, which in turn prepares her to adapt to a new environment when she is adopted. Cats that don't mind being handled will also have an easier time with necessities like toothbrushing, vet visits and meeting new people.
It's difficult to imagine anything cuter than a pile of tiny newborn kittens. These fragile yet active little creatures depend upon you, their pet parent, for everything, and investing in the care and well-being of a baby cat will warm your heart.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.