Bottle Feeding 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. But what if the mother cat grows ill and cannot nurse her young? Or her she alienated a kitten from its litter due to an injury or disability? This is when the responsible pet owner needs to step in and take on the role of the mother cat, which sometimes requires bottle feeding a newborn kitten until the mother's health improves or it's strong enough to eat regular cat food. 

Bottle-Feeding Supplies

Unless you have newborn human babies in the house that require bottle feeding, chances are you don't have bottles small enough. So first, head to the pet store and purchase 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 her until she's strong enough to suck. Soft towels and washcloths will help with comfort and cleanup, and a kitchen scale will allow you to chart your kitten's growth. 

Prepping the Supplies

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. Place a large towel, a washcloth, and a bowl of warm water on a table next to a comfortable chair. Mix and fill one bottle with kitten formula (per directions on the package). Warm the formula by placing the bottle in a bowl of hot water. Test the temperature by dripping a few drops on your forearm. If it burns, it's too hot; body temperature is just right. Pinch the nipple, holding the bottle upside down to ensure ample flow.

Note: Your newborn kitten will need approximately nine to twelve daily feedings, depending on her size and condition. Count on feeding her every two hours around the clock, at first. 

Bottle Feeding

Sit in the chair with a towel folded in your lap. Place the kitten face down on your lap. You can wrap her in the towel to make sure she is warm while she feeds. Without raising the kitten's head, place the nipple in her mouth. Instinctively, she should start sucking right away. Continue to feed her until the bottle is done or she pulls away. If your kitten fails to suck or she's having trouble getting milk, re-check the nipple and then try stroking her head or gently patting her back to start her nursing reflex. 

Much like human babies, kittens need to be burped after nursing. Holding one hand under her abdomen and gently patting her upper back will best accomplish this. But do so gently—you don't want her to vomit. If she doesn't burp right away, don't worry, just move onto the next step.

Stimulating Elimination

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

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

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

Tips for Bottle Feeding Newborn Kittens

When feeding your kitten, either by bottle or dropper, proper positioning is critical. Raising her head or dropping too much formula into her mouth may cause aspiration of the formula into her lungs, which could be fatal. Pay attention and let her actions be your guide. 

Weigh your kitten every day on a kitchen scale covered with a clean cloth. She should gain 1/2 ounce every day for the first two weeks. If she fails to progress, call your vet immediately and ask for advice. She may need IV supplementation.