Kitten supplement formula–sometimes referred to as "kitty glop" among breeders or as "cat milk substitute"–is needed when kittens won't nurse or there is no lactating mother cat available for the kitten to nurse on. It is most often used with orphaned kittens, but if you find yourself with a hungry newborn kitten, you'll need to know how and what to feed it.
When kittens are born, they are tiny and helpless. Under normal circumstances, this is not a problem because they are cared for and fed by their mothers. Their mother's milk provides them with all the nutrition they need for the first month of their lives. But challenges may arise that make a mother cat's milk unavailable.
- The mother cat may not survive giving birth.
- The mother cat, if an outdoor or indoor/outdoor cat, may be killed by a car or outside animal.
- The mother cat may abandon her entire litter.
- The litter may be too large for the mother to handle on her own.
- The mother may reject one or more kittens because they are too small or weak.
- The mother may be sick and/or have post-natal issues.
When mother's milk is not available, a kitten will die unless it is fed by a human being. Because they are so tiny, very young kittens don't have the ability to eat solid food, so they need very specific nutrition to survive their early days.
Kitten formula may also be given to nursing mother cats who require additional nutrition, cats recuperating from an illness, and older cats who need nutritional supplementation or who have difficulty eating because of dental or gum problems.
How Do You Make Your Own Kitten Formula?
A variety of recipes for homemade kitten formula exist, but if you can purchase a kitten-milk replacement from the pet store to use, that is ideal. For times when store-bought milk replacement is not an option, find a recipe that you have all the ingredients for until you can get some milk replacement formula. A homemade kitten replacement formula should not be used for more than 24 hours.
The following formulas are from The Cornell Book of Cats by the Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine:
Kitten Replacement Formula #1
- 1 quart whole goat’s milk
- 1 teaspoon light Karo syrup
- 1 tablespoon nonfat plain yogurt (made with goat’s milk preferably)
- 1 egg yolk
- Unflavored gelatin
- Newborn to 1 week — 1 package gelatin
- 2nd week — 1-1/2 to 2 packages gelatin
- 3rd week — 2-1/2 to 3 packages gelatin
- 4th week — 4 packages gelatin
Put the goat’s milk in a saucepan and add the proper amount of gelatin based on the kitten's age. Heat the mixture just until the gelatin is dissolved and then remove it from the heat. Mix in the remaining ingredients and refrigerate. It will keep up to one week in the refrigerator.
Kitten Replacement Formula #2
- 8 ounces homogenized whole milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon salad oil
- 1 drop liquid pediatric vitamins (optional)
Mix well and keep refrigerated.
Kitten Replacement Formula #3
- 1 part boiled water to 5 parts evaporated milk
- 1/2 teaspoon bone meal per 16 ounces fluid
Mix well and keep refrigerated.
Kitten Replacement Formula #4
- 1 can evaporated milk
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup
- 1 drop liquid human pediatric vitamins (optional)
Mix the milk, egg yolk, and syrup well and store it in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator. At feeding time, mix half of the estimated feeding amount with an equal amount of boiling water. Once a day, mix one drop of the human infant liquid vitamins in each kitten's formula portion.
How Do You Feed a Newborn Kitten?
If you need to bottle feed a kitten, you'll need to use special baby bottles. Tiny baby bottles with tiny nipples for kittens can be purchased online or in pet stores. These bottles typically hold small amounts of formula so they are easy to handle while also holding a small kitten. If you can't find a tiny baby bottle, you can also try using a syringe without the needle, especially if the kitten won't take the bottle readily. Oral syringes can usually be purchased from a pharmacy and used for this purpose.
Heat your homemade or store-bought formula until it is warm and test a few drops of milk on your wrist first. It should feel just a little warm or even cool, not too warm or hot. It is not recommended to use a microwave. Most people put the formula in the bottle or syringe and then place the bottle or syringe into a bowl of hot water to heat it up. Once the formula passes the skin temperature test, you are ready to feed the kitten. Keep the kitten in a natural feeding position on its belly and offer warm formula every three to four hours until the kitten begins to wean to solid food. Kittens should eat about eight milliliters of formula per ounce of body weight a day. This means if the kitten weighs four ounces, they should eat about 32 milliliters of formula total in a day, so you can give eight milliliters of formula every four hours.
If constipation occurs, add one drop of vegetable oil to each kitten's formula no more than once daily until the problem is resolved.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT