Kitten Care Basics

There are few things cuter than kittens in this world, and fostering them is always non-stop entertainment. But these little dum dums can be a bit high maintenance! Follow the guidance here to help ensure we're supporting them as they grow into adult feline companions.

Aging

As kittens grow, it's important to know what the milestones of each age range are, and what to expect at each stage of development. We love the Kitten Lady's aging chart:

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Especially if you're working with neonate kittens, constant vigilance is so important, and it's our jobs as guardians of these little kids to make sure they're getting what they need at the correct timeline.

Some other important milestones:

  • At 4 weeks, we should be 1 pound. Kittens should gain weight every day!

  • Starting at 4 weeks, get kittens used to nail trims! This will help them not be too distressed by future handling.

  • Kittens should get exposure to different people to get them socialized with strangers.

  • At 6 weeks, the kitten FVRCP vaccination series begin. We booster kittens every 3-4 weeks to keep them healthy and safe.

  • After vaccines, if all are healthy, you can begin to slowly introduce them to other animals to help socialize them to new friends!

  • At 6-7 weeks, if all healthy, we will begin to look for spay/neuter appointments. Help us keep eyes on their weight to make sure they hit 2 pounds by the day of their surgeries!

  • At 8 weeks, they should be 2 pounds, altered, vaccinated, and ready for adoption!

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Feeding

Kittens have a higher caloric need than adults, as they're growing, playing, and developing! They should be eating kitten specific food until around 9 months when their metabolisms will start to slow down.

 

Any kitten labeled food will do, but If we notice kittens are a bit on the thin side, we may ask you to feed Mom and Babycat wet and dry food to help support their weight gain.

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Since kittens should be constantly gaining weight...they need to constantly be eating! Some directions on how to best feed:

How to feed kittens:

  • Kittens should have constant access to dry food, also known as "free feeding". Provide a large bowl and keep it full. (Be sure to provide water as well)

  • Feed kittens 3 wet food meals a day (sometimes even with an extra snack if directed/not gaining weight fast enough)

  • At about 5 weeks, kittens should start to independently eat, but can require some extra urging or assistance. Try mixing the wet food into a "slurry" using warm water and touching a bit to their nose. Hopefully they'll lick it off and remember that they love eating.

  • If you have multiple kittens, ensure that one is not hogging the food- make sure everyone gets their fair share.

  • Sometimes kittens will show a preference for one type of food over another (ie dry instead of wet, wet instead of dry). Pay attention to their eating habits and offer them whatever they'll eat. Try different options, texutres, etc

Mario, Jean, Sean

Mario, Sean and Jean enjoying their own portions of dinner.

Some extra tips:

  • Use flat plates that their whiskers won't press up against. 

  • Cats prefer their food "fluffed"- smash the wet food with a fork to entice them to eat it.

  • Go stinky- the smellier the food, the more likely it will catch their interest. Fishy foods are great for this. You can also very lightly microwave to "release" the scent (yum). Just check that it's not too hot, especially in the middle.

  • Treat toppers- sprinkle on freeze dried chicken or other crumbled treats to attract them to their meals.

  • Separate kittens if one is too greedy- you can use a crate, another room, etc. Just be sure they're all getting their fill.

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Kittens CANNOT miss meals. If their blood sugar gets too low, this is life threatening! If you notice your kitten is not eating, seems lethargic or disoriented, THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. Take them to the emergency vet!

We recommend having Karo (corn syrup) in case of emergency. If you suspect their blood sugar may be too low, rub a small amount (a few drops) onto their gums on the way to the emergency room. (More on "crashing" kittens below")

Weight gain

Have we mentioned that kittens need to be gaining weight? As a kitten foster, this is your most important job!

Weighing guidelines:

  • Log kitten weights in the kitten weight tracker (coming soon).

  • Weigh kittens daily for the first week you have them. 

  • IF their weight gain is consistent, their appetite is great, and we have no other concerns, you may drop to weighing every 2-3 days (THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO NEONATES-this is for 8 week and older kittens)

  • If their appetite is poor, they have other health concerns, or seem generally "unthrifty", continue to weight them daily and alert Underdog team members.

  • Weigh kittens at the same time every day, BEFORE a meal- eating can change their weight and skew our data!

  • Weights are SUPER important, as we use that information to dose medications, book surgeries, and more. Keep us up to date on their weights!

MontyWeighIn

We're not prepping to eat him... Monty's foster used his pot to weigh him!

WEIGHING

Kitchen scale

1. Prep your supplies:

Get your digital kitchen scale, a container the kitten will fit in, and a bit of bedding to wrap the kitten in.

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2. Check your scale:

Place your container and bedding on the scale and Tare the scale.

Ensure the measurements are in the units you want

(Either pounds and ounces OR grams)

Make sure your scale is level and on a non-moving surface.

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3. Place your kitten

Wrap your kitten in the preweighed bedding and place inside the container. Place on the scale.

Wait for the number to settle. Once you consistently see the same number, that is the weight of your kitten.

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4. Record the weight

Make sure that you're tracking the data.

Make sure you have the right kitten! For lookalikes, you may need a distinguishing collar or way to tell them apart to make sure they're both gaining correctly.

WEIGHT GAIN CHART

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Follow this guideline for unweaned kittens.

For kittens older than 5 weeks, you should see a 3-4 oz weight gain per week, and weight gain every day.

A good rule of thumb is 1 pound per month (1 pound = 4 weeks old, 2 pounds, 8 weeks old). This slows down as they get older, but is a good way to remember weight gain goals.

REMEMBER: Not gaining weight is a sign something is wrong! Let us know ASAP!!

Crashing

It is a very unfortunate reality of animal rescue that even the most experienced fosters and rescuers can lose a kitten. It's easy to forget that these little souls are fragile, and if we're not careful, can fall victim to "fading kitten syndrome".

What is a Kitten Crash?

There are many names for this phenomenon- Fading Kitten Syndrome, Failure to Thrive, Crashing. It used to be believed that these were just conditions with no treatment or cause, thought to be comparable to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). 

Luckilly, as science and research has progressed, and neonate health advocates such as the Kitten Lady have worked to educate, more light has been shed on some of the causes of a kitten Crash, the term that we choose to describe this phenomenon.

A Crash is when a kitten appears to be fine one minute, and then all of a sudden we see a rapid decline in their mental status, health, breathing, etc. This is why it's called a Crash- their health just seems to plummet. It can be very scary, but the important thing to do is to remain calm. There ARE ways to prevent kitten death.

Causes of Kitten Crash

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Blood Sugar

It's so important for kittens to eat to maintain a consistent blood glucose.

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Body temperature

Kittens can struggle to thermoregulate.

If their body temperature drops too low, this can be dea

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Dehydration

Dehydration can kill a kitten in a matter of hours.

If your foster is vomiting, experiencing diarrhea, not eating or drinking, all of these may cause dehydration.

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Parasites

Coccidia and other similar parasites can cause sudden death. That's why diagnosis and treatment is so vital.

We give all kittens under six months a prophylactic treatment for Coccida.

In some rare cases, there may be a genetic or unknown medical condition such as congenital deformities that may cause acute symptoms and sudden downturn. Unless this is caught early by medical professionals, there's often little we can do, though we always try everything we can.

WHAT TO DO

GET THEM WARM

Hypothermia will kill the fastest. A kitten's body temperature should be 99.8-102.5 Fahrenheit.

  • Wrap them ENTIRELY in a fleece blanket, covering the top of their head. DO NOT REMOVE FOR ANY REASON, NOT EVEN TO CHECK ON THEM.

  • If you have a SnuggleSafe, place them on the disk (make sure there's a buffer, don't place directly on the disk)

  • Place them on a heating pad if you have one

  • If you have neither a heating pad nor a snuggle safe:

  • Keep your dryer running full of towels. Grab a new hot one every 5 minutes and wrap it around the “burrito” towel. After 5 minutes, trade that towel out for a new hot one.

  • Fill 2 socks full of rice, tie the ends so it doesn’t spill out. Throw them in the microwave for 3 minutes. Keep them next to the kitten on the outside of the burrito towel. Every 30 minutes reheat one sock and leave the other next to the kitten, so she doesn’t cool off.

  • Don't raise their temp too quickly- this can send them into shock.
     

Don't rely on your body heat to rewarm them- their body temperature needs to be higher than a humans!

RAISE THEIR BLOOD SUGAR

Hypoglycemia will also kill a kitten.

  • Pour either corn syrup (Karo, etc), honey, NutriCal, or warm sugar water into a small bowl. You will need to administer this sugar substance with a syringe to the kitten while they are warming. Do not remove from warmth to give sugar!

  • Give the kitten about 1 drop (.05-.1ml) every 3 minutes. 

  • DO NOT attempt to feed the kittens- if they are hypothermic, they cannot handle food.

IF THEY DO NOT IMPROVE WITH HEAT AND SUGAR:

GIVE WARMED FLUIDS

Warmed SQ fluids can help raise a kitten's body temperature as well as help with dehydration.

  • Give 10-15cc WARM SQ fluids per pound of body weight.

  • Do not attempt to give fluids if you are not trained.

  • Do not remove from heat to give SQ fluids.

PROCEED TO EMERGENCY SERVICES

Have someone drive you to the emergency vet while you continue to keep the kitten wrapped and on heat. If possible, have them bring a recent fecal sample with you. 

Please know...

This is a very sad and difficult reality of kitten fostering. Even if you were unable to administer the above steps, just know that you already played a massive part in saving their life by taking them into your home. If a kitten passes while in your care, please know that we hold no judgement and are mostly concerned for your emotional well being following such a hard event. It is a difficult thing to do, and even the most experienced fosters and rescuers will lose kittens from time to time. Sometimes there just wasn't anything we could do.

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206-413-8596

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