Caring Is Believing
Growth And Development
Kittens weigh an average of 4 ounces at birth and gain about half an ounce everyday or 4 ounces per week after being born. You can weigh a kitten to obtain an age estimate without having to look at the teeth if that proves too difficult for a person not versed in veterinary medicine. A 4 pound kitten would be around 4 months of age if you were going with this guideline.
Teeth can be evaluated when aging a kitten as a second verification method for correct age identification such as is needed when spaying or neutering. Female kittens will usually weigh less than male kittens but this can vary depending on several factors such as failure to thrive or runts of the litter.
Incisors come in between two to four weeks old and baby canine teeth come in between three to four weeks old. The premolars come in on the lower jaw between four to six weeks old. All baby teeth should be in at around eight weeks old.
The umbilical cord that connected mom to the kitten will fall off in 3 days. It is rare for umbilical infections to occur but this should be monitored for several days. Kittens are born born deaf and blind but do not take long to develop these organs.
The eyes of a kitten open up around 10 days of age and see very clearly by around week 5. The eyes are blue when they first open but the true eye color is not apparent until three months of age. Acute hearing is developed around four weeks of age even though the ears open up at two weeks of age. It takes time for the hearing to improve and become developed enough to pick up subtle sounds.
Crawling occurs between weeks two and three with walking being picked up just days after crawling. A majority of kittens can walk with a more steady gait by three to four weeks of age but need good traction until they are five to six weeks old. Kittens will start pouncing and stalking by week five which will include jumping and running.
I consider a kitten a kitten until they are one year of age which means they need kitten food until they are exactly one year of age at which time they can be switched to adult food. This is because kittens are still continually growing until they are 1 to 1 1/2 years of age. Kittens need three times the amount of protein that adult cats are given for development and growth. The extra protein will also help with an increased immunity to certain diseases.
Kittens need colostrum from their mother within the first 24 hours of life for the antibodies that are delivered by the colostrum. The antibodies will help them fight off infectious disease processes until they can be vaccinated at a later age. It is ideal for the kittens to nurse within the first 12 hours or less. It becomes impossible for the transfer of antibodies from mother to kitten after 24 hours if they have not nursed by this time which can create a multitude of problems.
Mother cats will typically nurse kittens that are of the same age as the kittens that she is currently nursing or nursed currently if the kittens did not make it. Do not expect the mother cat to handle two entire litters without helping out as this can be too taxing on her health. It can prove beneficial to put vanilla extract on the mother cat’s nose to avoid her noticing that the kitten smells different from her until she starts licking the newcomer.
Kittens that have no mother will need bottle fed or syringe fed if they do not take a bottle well. Some kittens don’t have good sucking reflexes at first, especially if they are premature or are the runt of the litter. The average kitten will need 8 cubic centimeters or milliters of kitten milk replacement per ounce of body weight every 24 hours. You should feed every two to three hours for kittens that are under one week, every three hours for two week old kittens and every four hours for three week old kittens. If this is not possible then take how much milk they need per day and divide by the amount of feedings you can provide everyday.
Kitten milk replacement formula can be bought from various pet stores and from Amazon. The best brand for kitten milk replacement at this time is KMR by Pet AG. You should avoid feeding cow milk as it is too high in fat and lactose which causes diarrhea and dehydration as a result. You can tell a kitten is full once they have a pear like stomach or they start bubbling at the mouth if you do not want to measure milk.
Kittens should generally urinate several times a day and defecate at least once per day at the absolute minimum. Stimulate a kitten with a warm wash cloth or cotton ball to mimic a mother cat’s tongue for about 60 seconds. You can burp the kitten after every feeding to prevent aspiration of milk. Milk must be given slowly and carefully to prevent aspiration pneumonia or drowning. Hold the kitten upright when giving milk and never upside down.
Kitten milk replacer should be warmed up to exactly 98-100 degrees prior to feeding and hot areas stirred well to avoid burns to the kitten. Cold kitten milk is hard to digest for a kitten and can cause diarrhea or vomiting as a result. The same can happen if the kitten is too cold prior to or during meal time because their metabolism does not work when it is under their normal body temperature.
Kittens grow up at different rates but many kittens can switch over to solid food at about five to six weeks old or canned food. The best route is to give both solid food and canned food to help them grow faster. Gruel may be offered during week four which is a mixture of milk and canned food. Kitten food, water, and gruel or canned food should be free fed to all kittens. Continue bottle feedings to wean off the sucking reflex for your litter of kittens. Bottle feeding can be done every 8 hours at this point.
Kittens can be given dry kitten food and canned food after they are weaned and is typically available at all times unless a medical issue prohibits it. Wet food is replaced two to three times per day to renew the freshness since it can mold and lose appeal after several hours of sitting out. Kitten food should be food of 35% or higher protein with the aim around 40% protein. Royal Canin makes a dry kitten food that is very small and palatable.
Environment And Enrichment
A warm environment that is free of drafts and cold surfaces is preferred. Small kittens need to have a heating element available to them as they cannot conserve body heat or shiver to create new heat. Heat can be provided by an incubator, heat lamp, heated bed or an electric heating pad. A 25 to 30 watt light bulb can be installed over one end of a whelping box or wire cage to keep the kittens warm if there is a small budget for this project. An idealistic whelping box would provide enough space for the mother cat to lay down and for the kittens to nurse from her or sleep away from her so she can have a break when she is not nursing. You can use newspaper or puppy pads as lining to help absorb any excess moisture if you need to.
Use common sense in determining if the kittens are too hot or too cold. Kittens that are huddled together all of the time and not playing may be cold while kittens too far apart from each other all of the time can indicate they are too warm. Cheap solutions like a water bottle filled with hot water and placed inside of a sock or a rice sock heated up by a microwave can make good warming tools.
Avoid overheating your kitten and monitor heating pads when they are used. Kittens that are weak in strength may not move away from a heating source if it becomes too hot. Air temperature should always be between 80-90 degrees and the relative humidity is ideally around 55 to 65 for the first week. You can decrease the temperature to 75 degrees once they are three weeks of age. Change the bedding everyday as kittens may accidentally pee or poop until they have mastered the litterbox.
Kittens that are hypothermic can quickly become hypoglycemic which can lead to coma and death as a result. Hypothermic means they are too cold and hypoglycemia means they have very low blood sugar. All hypothermic kittens must be warmed up slowly to their normal body temperature of 97 degrees. The normal temperature of a neonatal kitten will reach 100 to 102 degrees by three to four weeks of age. Kittens will learn how to conserve their heat and shiver to create heat when they are around eight weeks of age.
The environment should be fun and stimulating for kittens who are actively exploring and playing as they grow older. Plenty of cat trees, scratching surfaces, interactive toys, and novel stimuli is the answer to boredom and stress. View my favorite list of cat toys to leave out for your kitten by clicking here. Stuffed animals are completely invaluable when you have orphan kittens even if they are older. I use stuffed animals as the number one enrichment for orphan kittens until they are about 16 weeks of age because it helps with being happy and less stressed out.
It is crucial to socialize the kittens throughout their life so they can go to a new home where they will be cherished and fit in well. Offer playtime through wand toys which I call interactive play and hold them constantly when they are about 3 weeks old. This is called the social period where every encounter will shape their perspective of the world and people. Allow them to see strangers and become accustomed to new events or stimuli. If the kitten is feral or half feral then please read my article on socializing feral kittens here. Read about my favorite interactive toys and how to play with your kitten here.
Kittens can start being trained to the litter box around 4 weeks old. They typically require little training since they have an innate drive to bury their waste. Do not use clumping cat litter until the kitten is around 4 months old because they do not have well established grooming habits yet. Kittens may accidentally consume clumping cat litter which can clump in their stomach and cause blockage or death as a result of the blockage.
Disease And Parasites
Kittens are at a heightened risk of becoming infected with an upper respiratory infection. An upper respiratory infection can spread quickly and cause sneezing, coughing, lethargy, lack of appetite, and ulcers of the eye or mouth which can lead to death. It is very important that vaccines are started once the maternal antibodies have waned or earlier if the kittens never got any colostrum. Treatment of upper respiratory infection includes a plethora of supportive care protocols which can be found by clicking here.
Vaccination for kittens not in the shelter should be started at eight weeks of age and repeated every three to four weeks until four months old. Kittens in the shelter should get a vaccination starting at six weeks and every two weeks until four months. Kittens that never got maternal antibodies should have their first vaccine at six weeks old then repeated every three to four weeks until they are four months of age. It is an important reminder that each vet is different in their approach so do not take this vaccination protocol as the only protocol that you should follow although it is the gold standard.
Kittens are generally infested with roundworms and hookworms. These worms are easily transmitted from the mother to the kittens from the milk that they ingest. Pyrantel is the most commonly administered drug for these worms since they are safe for pregnant or nursing mothers. The dewormer can be started at two weeks of age and given again every two weeks until they are four months old. You can buy this popular dewormer by clicking here.
Flea infestations are treated with supportive care since flea medications cannot be given until they are six to eight weeks old and two pounds. Flea combing is the single best way to scout out and eliminate fleas. Dawn dish soap can be used to bathe the kitten safely if they have too many fleas. Kittens must be held for about twenty minutes afterwards and dried thoroughly before being returned to their mother or cage to prevent hypothermia.
Check the ears every few days for evidence of ear mites which look like coffee grounds. Ear mites are common among orphan or young kittens because it is very infectious. Ear mites cause intense scratching and pain which can lead to bleeding ears and ear hematomas. Ask your vet for a safe medication to give for ear mites if the kittens are currently nursing. Ivermectin may be used if the kitten is old enough and is not nursing from the mother cat.
Fading Kitten Syndrome
Every rescuer will come to know what fading kitten syndrome is eventually if they foster enough kittens from the street or brought in from less than optimal conditions. Fading kitten syndrome does not define any specific disease but a set of problems or medical conditions which result in a kitten not growing or thriving like they should.
Fading kitten syndrome can be prevented with intensive care and a solid monitoring system. Weigh kittens every single day and keep tabs on their weight as this is the first sign of an issue. Watch the stool and make sure it is solid each day they go to the litter box or are stimulated. Other early signs can include lethargy, lack of interest in playing with litter mates, sleeping away from other kittens, constant whining, and dehydration.
Subcutaneous fluids, vitamins B6 and B12, kayo syrup and iron supplements will often be used to save crashing kittens. The vitamins and iron supplement are extremely important in kittens who have anemia as the result of flea bites or another illness. The iron will help make new red blood cells which stimulates breathing and organ function. You can have this valuable collection of drugs on hand just by going to Amazon.
You can buy kayo syrup at the store and pet tinic without a prescription which has vitamins B6, B12, and an amazingly high amount of iron. Pet tinic is even better than nutrical for recovery efforts and can be bought by clicking here. I also recommend having critical care canned food from science diet which you can get form a vet for syringe feeding if it comes to that.
One unique treatment plan I have includes the usage of an internet protocol camera. I setup a camera in my house that can be monitored by my phone while I am at work so I can identify a crisis early on and implement a strategic intervention. This can be done as cheap as one hundred dollars and is worth peace of mind.
Crashing Episode Step By Step
Your kitten is crashing and what you do now matters more than ever. Acting sooner rather than later could mean the difference between life and death. Crashing kittens are often lethargic, cold to the touch, gasping for air, crying out, have pale gums, and are not responsive to stimulation. There is no set in stone time for this syndrome to become corrected.
It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours for you to reverse fading kitten syndrome. Know that you want to stop yourself from feeding a kitten who is suffering with fading kitten syndrome and wait until they fully recover. You are wanting the kitten to stand and move around rather than stumbling or not being able to get up.
First address the hypoglycemia. You need to start by giving them kayo syrup on their gums by a syringe every 3 minutes. Do not go over the 3 minutes or you will erase everything you have done. Give three to five drops of kayo syrup at a time or rub some on their gums if you do not have a syringe.
Address the hypothermia at the same time. Roll up your cat into a type of burrito. The outer layer will be a heating pad and the inner layer will be a cover or towel to prevent burning the kitten. If you do not have a heating pad then you need to constantly heat up new towels and replace those towels every 5 minutes to keep your kitten warm. A cold kitten cannot survive as they have no metabolism once they start becoming chilled.
The last option for heat is heating up sock with rice in it every 30 minutes and using that for the kitten. Make sure to have a backup sock once your sock starts getting cold as one minute being cold is one minute too long for a crashing kitten.
Have someone call the vet and attempt to give subcutaneous fluids that are warmed up if the kitten is dehydrated at this point in time. The prognosis for fading kitten syndrome is always low but the chances of success can be increased by having a kit of remedies and armed with information on what to do.
It is important that you do not give up if you lose a kitten to this syndrome as it is the cause of many deaths per year. About 27% of kittens die before nine weeks old due to this syndrome. It is heart wrenching and sad to lose a kitten who you tried hard to save but be happy about the time you spent together and know that time with a kitten is never wasted.
All littermates should receive a full examination and diagnostic workup if a kitten died of fading kitten syndrome. It is important to watch mother cat in case she rejects any of the kittens which is completely possible. Premature kittens, orphaned kittens, kittens with birth defects, and runts are the most at risk along with poorly vaccinated kittens. Litters of more than four are also at an elevated risk of being hit by this syndrome.