Caring for a litter of kittens
Newborn kitten care
It’s worth knowing that most newborn kittens should weigh around 100g, although some breeds can be smaller or larger at birth. If you can weigh each kitten during their first week, you will be able to see if they are growing well.
In the first two weeks, your kittens will sleep for 90% of the time and nurse from their mum for the remaining 10%. They should have rounded stomachs and seem satisfied. A crying, mewing kitten that is either restless or lacking activity may not be getting enough milk. If you think the milk supply is inadequate you may need to supplement with kitten replacement milk. Check with your vet if you think any of the kittens are not thriving as they should.
For the first 3-4 weeks of newborn kitten care, they only need their mother’s milk. Colostrum is the milk produced in the first two days after your cat gives birth and it contains all the antibodies your kittens need until their own immunity develops.
Worming and flea treatment
As part of looking after kittens, you’ll need to worm them against intestinal parasites, (roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms) and fleas when they are between 3-6 weeks old.
Weaning your kittens
At around 3-4 weeks, it’s time for kitten weaning. This is the time when you gradually introduce new foods to them. Always buy specially formulated kitten food, wet or dry. If you feed them dry kibble, moisten it with kitten milk or water so it is easier for them to eat. Regular feed times will enable you to see which kittens are eating enough and those that need extra encouragement.
Use a shallow saucer for the food and offer any kittens needing help food on the end of your finger or a teaspoon. Start by giving them tiny amounts of food and build it up over the following weeks. They will begin to feed less from their mum and consume more solids.
Stick to specialised, good quality kitten food and do not give them food for puppies or human babies. It will not contain the right nutrients and some baby food contains onion powder which is toxic for kittens.
Weaning should be complete at around the 6-8 week mark. Feed them as much food as they want, in small, regular portions. Four times a day is ideal. Unlike puppies, kittens do not tend to overeat! You don’t need to supplement them with kitten replacement milk unless the kittens are not thriving or your queen cat cannot produce enough milk for them.
Time for litter box training
Using a litter tray does not come always come naturally to kittens. You may have to teach them! Introduce a low sided box around 3 weeks after the kittens are born. Choose sand, wood or paper ‘litter’ in case some of the kittens try to eat it! Avoid silica gel- this could kill them if they decide it looks tasty.
Most kittens will watch their mum using the litter tray and copy them. If they don’t, stand them in the tray after sleeping and eating, and use their paw to scratch up the litter. Use a damp ball of cotton wall to gently massage their genitals. It will help them to do what they need to do! Leave a little soiled litter in the tray as the smell will remind them what they need to do next time.
Neutering your kittens and queen cat
Moving forward, you do need to think about neutering of the kittens and your queen cat. There are so many unwanted cats and kittens in rescue centres across the UK, it is irresponsible to add to the problem by allowing your queen cat to breed more kittens by accident.
Any cats not being used for breeding can be neutered, around the 4-month mark. Contrary to the myth, there is no health or behavioural advantages to delaying neutering. Your queen cat can become pregnant again very quickly after giving birth, so speak to your vet about neutering her as soon as possible after weaning.
By observing the kittens daily, you should be able to pick up on any that are ill or hungry.
Common signs of illness in kittens:
- Hypothermic- kittens becoming extremely cold
- Lethargy - weakness and lacking energy and movement
- Regurgitating milk - kitten throwing up milk after feeding
You will find they may lay apart from their fellow littermates, cry excessively and/or not suckle. Call your vet if you spot any symptoms as they may be suffering from ‘fading kitten syndrome’, a failure to thrive. Kittens can die very quickly so do not delay in seeking veterinary help.
When caring for a litter of kittens, the most common health issues to look out for are:
- Hypothermia- when they get too cold
- Hypoglycaemia- low blood sugar
- Dehydration, diarrhoea and constipation.
For more information on common kitten illnesses, read this article: https://icatcare.org/advice/bringing-up-a-litter-of-kittens-health-considerations/
Whilst you’re making sure all your kitten health needs are being met, you also need to put effort into making sure the kittens interact well with humans. This affects how they feel about humans for the rest of their lives so make sure you spend time with them and get them used to children and other pets. Get them used to normal household noises and activities like the washing machine, vacuum and the TV. This way, you’ll be setting them up to be sociable and happy adult cats!
If you have any worries about your kittens or their mum, always call your vet for advice.
For more detailed information on newborn kitten care and looking after kittens, click here for further advice: https://icatcare.org/advice/bringing-up-a-litter-of-kittens-health-considerations/
Breeding Risks cover from Agria protects your cat during pregnancy and both her and her litter in those early weeks; this must be set up well in advance of your next litter as there is a 12-week exclusion period before cover starts. Click here for more details
Whether you have taken our Breeding Risks cover or not, protecting your litter of kittens as they leave for new homes is easy with 5 Weeks Free Insurance from Agria.
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