Bottle Babies: Helping the Most Vulnerable Through Foster Care
Raising neonatal (bottle baby) kittens can be one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences that a foster caregiver can have. Most people don’t know many of these surprising facts before starting to care for bottle baby kittens.
Bottle babies are unable to regulate their own body temperature until they reach about four weeks of age. Keeping a neonatal kitten warm is the most important part of their care, even coming before their demanding feeding schedule. If a kitten is not warm enough, they are unable to digest their food properly. During their first week of life, their environment should be kept consistently 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature will be gradually lowered each week until they are about four weeks old, where their environment should be around 70-75 degrees.
Feeding bottle babies is a labor of love. Just like newborn human babies, they need to be fed around the clock. This rigorous meal schedule depends on their age and weight. Newborns can be as often as every two hours, but as they get older, that time can stretch up to five hours as they get closer to weaning (between 4-5 weeks old). Kittens can be finicky about their bottles at first and it takes time, patience, and practice to get things just right for them. Some kittens prefer their milk to be a certain temperature, some like a different formula dilution, some like a certain type of bottle nipple, and some have specific preferences about their body position when being fed. Always use a formula that is intended for kittens. Cow's milk and other formulas will not meet their nutritional needs and can cause digestive upset which is dangerous to these already-vulnerable kittens.
Now that they’re fed, it’s bathroom time. Bottle baby kittens are unable to urinate or defecate on their own and you have to stimulate them with a gentle cloth to get them to go. The cloth is in place of a mom cat, who would be facilitating this with her coarse tongue for each of her kittens. On average, kittens will urinate at every feeding and defecate once or twice per day.
As bottle babies grow and develop, there are fun milestones to watch for. When they are born, they are unable to hear, see, stand, or walk. Their ear canals begin to open between 5-8 days old and then their eyes start to open between 8-14 days. Looking at their eyes is a great way to estimate the age of a bottle baby kitten. Around four weeks old is when you will start to notice the kitten getting better at walking and may even start to tottle around the room a bit. Just after you see that starting to happen, they will start to get their first teeth and be ready to start the weaning process.
Fostering bottle baby kittens is a unique and rewarding experience and it takes a special person to give this gift of time and care to kittens who need it most. Learn more about becoming a foster caregiver with Dakin.
Contributed by Megan Tolpa, Foster Care Coordinator at Dakin Humane Society