How to Bottle Feed Your Newborn Kittens

Om Feeding
Kellinahandbasket/Creative Commons/Flickr

To ensure the survival of a newborn kitten, ample nutrition must be provided within the first few days of life. Sometimes, however, the mother cat grows ill and cannot nurse her young or she alienates a kitten from the litter due to an injury or disability. In these situations, you will need to step in and take on the role of the mother cat. This often requires bottle feeding a newborn kitten until the mother's health improves or the kitten is strong enough to eat regular cat food.

Preparing to Bottle Feed Your Kitten

Depending on its size and condition, your newborn kitten will need approximately 9 to 12 daily feedings. At first, you will need to count on feeding the kitten every two hours around the clock.

In order to bottle feed the kitten, you will need to gather a few supplies. Regular human baby bottles will likely be too big, but most pet stores have newborn kitten bottles and nipples, as well as a commercial formula specifically designed for kittens. If your kitten is a preemie, you will need to dropper-feed it until it's strong enough to suck on the bottle.

What You Need

  • Newborn kitten bottles and nipples
  • Dropper (if needed)
  • Kitten formula
  • Soft towels and washcloths
  • Kitchen scale

Prepare the Formula

Just as with human babies, it's important that you feed your kitten with sterilized bottles and warm the formula before offering it to the kitten. Taking a few minutes to prepare everything properly will make each meal go a little smoother.

  1. Sterilize the baby bottles and nipples in a boiling water bath for about five minutes. Allow them to drain on a clean towel before using.
  2. Place a large towel, a washcloth, and a bowl of warm water on a table next to a comfortable chair.
  3. Mix and fill one bottle with kitten formula according to the directions on the package.
  4. Warm the formula by placing the bottle in the bowl of hot water.
  5. Test the temperature by dripping a few drops on your forearm. If it burns, it's too hot; body temperature is just right.
  6. Pinch the nipple, holding the bottle upside down to ensure ample flow.

Bottle Feed the Kitten

Sit in the chair with a towel folded in your lap. Place the kitten face down on your lap. You can wrap it in the towel to make sure the kitten stays warm while it eats.

Without raising the kitten's head, place the nipple in its mouth. The kitten should instinctively start sucking right away. Continue to feed the kitten until the bottle is empty or it pulls away.

Burp the Kitten

Much like human babies, kittens need to be burped after nursing. The best way to accomplish this is to hold one hand under the kitten's abdomen and gently pat its upper back. But do so gently—you don't want the kitten to vomit. If it doesn't burp right away, don't worry, just move onto the next step.

Stimulate Elimination

The mother cat stimulates her kittens' elimination by licking their anuses and genital area with her rough tongue. You can imitate this process by placing a warm, damp washcloth in the same general region, wiping softly. It may take a couple of feedings to see results, so don't despair. Urination may take even longer.

Let the Kitten Sleep

After nursing, your kitten will fall sleep. Place it on its back in a warm cat bed and let the kitten sleep undisturbed.

illustration of how to bottle feed kittens
Illustration: Elnora Turner. © The Spruce, 2018

Tips

  • When feeding your kitten, either by bottle or dropper, proper positioning is critical. Raising the kitten's head or dropping too much formula into its mouth may cause aspiration of the formula into its lungs, which could be fatal. Pay attention and let the kitten's actions be your guide. 
  • If your kitten fails to suck or is having trouble getting milk, check the nipple again. You can also try stroking its head or gently patting it on the back to start the nursing reflex. 
  • Weigh your kitten every day on a kitchen scale covered with a clean cloth so you can chart its growth. It should gain 1/2 ounce every day for the first two weeks. If your kitten fails to progress, call your vet immediately and ask for advice. It is possible that your kitten may need IV supplementation. 
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.