Five Peas in a Pod

I just found a neonatal kitten! Now what?

Before jumping in, I’d just like to touch on the potential concerns about taking advice regarding kitten care from someone who is not a licensed professional (i.e. not a vet). I am not a vet and have never undergone any formal training to do what I do as a foster. So please note that the below advice is completely based on my own research and own experience. Others may have different views and that’s okay! Please always take caution when using the advice given by someone else who is not a vet.

This guide is intended to be used in emergency situations only and is not suitable for long-term neonatal care.

So, why am I writing about this then?

During kitten season, rescuers are constantly getting messages from members of the public who have found teeny tiny kitten(s).

Neonate kitten care is a particularly niche part of the animal world; it’s a subject very few people have knowledge on.

When a neonate is involved, time is often of the essence.

In a South African context, many people don’t have the financial resources to rush a found kitten to the vet.

Rescues are completely overwhelmed with huge numbers of kittens needing help. Immediate assistance and advice may not be possible.

I have seen the devastation of what happens when a finder does not know what to do.

So with that out the way, let’s jump in!

Step One: assess the situation and check for mom

The majority of kittens found will have a mom cat nearby. Please do not take her kittens away if she is around and looking after the kittens. This will put the kittens’ lives at risk and mom will just have another litter. Please keep a close eye to see if she moves them and contact a rescue to take care of the whole family. This is a great guide to follow if you’re unsure.

If you haven’t seen mom, but the kittens are plump, warm, and wriggly; then she is probably looking after them. Keep an eye out for her and monitor the condition of the kittens for the next 24 – 48 hours.

Kittens are happiest with mom!

Step Two: there is no mom around and/or the kitten(s) aren’t looking well

If you notice any of the following, it would probably be safe to say the kitten is in need of help:

  • She is alone and/or in a place you wouldn’t expect to find a kitten. (examples of my own are: on the side of a highway, in a drain, in a discarded biscuit tin).
  • There is no sign of mom or mom is confirmed deceased.
  • She is cool to the touch.
  • She is lethargic and not wriggling around.
  • She is thin.
  • She is dehydrated.
  • She has pale gums.
  • She is breathing with her mouth open.

Step Three: I have the kitten, what do I do next?

Neonate kittens aren’t able to regulate their body temperatures. The very first order of business is to provide the kitten with a heat source. This can be a hot water bottle (not too hot), a heating pad, or even a bottle filled with hot water if you have nothing else available. Place the kitten in a box or basket with some blankets or towels and place her next to the heat source. Make sure there is some room for her to move away if she gets too warm.

*If the kitten is cool to the touch, be sure to warm her up very slowly.

Once the kitten is warm, begin networking for a rescue to assist. Please do not try and take care of the kitten yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. I can’t count the number of cases where finders have tried to care for the kitten themselves and only surrendered them when it was too late.

Step Four: check hydration

While you wait for a rescue to assist, it’s essential to keep the kitten hydrated and energised. These little ones crash fast and once they start, it’s hard to bring them back.

If the kitten is looking a bit sluggish or unwell, offer electrolytes to try and stabilise her. You can rub a bit of honey on her gums if she’s lethargic, then slowly drop electrolytes in the side of the kitten’s mouth with a dropper or syringe. A teaspoon will work too if you don’t have supplies on hand, just be sure to go slowly as kittens can easily aspirate.

Step five: feeding

If you have not been assisted within the hour, it’s a good idea to start thinking about feeding the kitten. Your best bet is to purchase some kitten formula, but if you can’t access a shop, this at-home formula will do in the meantime (not as a long-term solution).

Before you can feed the kitten, you need to know how old she is. This is because age and weight will determine how much she will eat and how frequently. Tiny kittens will generally have 2-5mls every two hours.

Use this chart to help age your kitten. This feeding guide will tell you how much to feed the kitten.

Step Six: the ‘nevers’ of feeding a neonatal kitten

-Never feed a cold kitten. If a kitten is cold, her body will have already started to shut down her digestive system to conserve energy. You need to get the kitten stable and offer electrolytes instead of formula for two feedings to avoid disaster. Here is a recipe for electrolytes that can be made at home.

-Never bottle feed a kitten on it’s back. This can cause formula to enter lungs, which can be deadly. Here is a guide on how to correctly feed a kitten.

-Similarly, never squirt liquid into a kittens mouth. Slowly drop it into the sides of their mouths.

-Never feed a kitten cow’s milk. This can result in severe diahrea and result in dehydration which is deadly to neonates.  

-Never feed formula that is too hot or too cold.

Step Six: stimulating

Neonate kittens are unable to urinate and defecate by themselves. Their mom cats will lick their behind areas to help them go. As the kitten’s new caretaker this becomes your job!

Gently rub the bottom and genitals of the kitten with a piece of warm, wet cotton wool or some tissue. Be sure to do this before and after each feeding to avoid complications. Check out this guide to stimulating by the Kitten Lady before attempting to do it yourself.

These are all (I hope!) the essentials you need to know about how to take care of a neonatal kitten in distress. Thank you for doing your part in helping to save lives.

1 Comment found

  • Thank you so much this is absolutely on hands advice! That’s a learning channel for the finder and the delicate kitties!

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