How to take care of newborn kittens
A litter of kittens is exciting! Arming yourself with knowledge will give you the confidence you need to take care of newborn kittens successfully. You'll be well-equipped to handle any issues that may come up along the way. Here are some kitten-raising basics to get you started.
You and the Mother Cat are Partners
Assuming the birth is normal and everyone is healthy, the mother cat (the “queen") will actually do most of the true work of raising the kittens, at least at first. She will be the one feeding the kittens multiple times throughout the day and night, and your job is to provide her with the things she needs to make her job easier.
Location, Location, Location
Your cat will need a safe location to raise her kittens. The nesting box doesn't need to be elaborate or fancy. A shallow 20" x 24" box will work, with sides around 10" high so the kittens can't accidentally get out.1 The box should be layered with some newspapers or similar material, followed by blankets or towels to create a soft, warm bed. Keep additional blankets and towels on hand to swap out as needed when cleaning. It's important to choose a good location for the nesting box. It shouldn't be in a busy area of your home with lots of foot traffic, and it shouldn't be near drafts.
Keeping Them Warm
Newborn kittens aren't able to properly regulate their body heat during the first weeks of their life. The mother cat's body heat will keep them warm, but you can help out during times when she leaves the nest. You may need to supply additional heat to keep the nesting box around 90°F. After about a month, the temperature can be lowered to about 75°F.2 Placing an adjustable heating pad in the nesting box can help, but always pay close attention to make sure the kittens don't get too hot.
Keeping Them Healthy
Keep an eye on each kitten. Regularly check for signs of health problems, such as excessive crying, lethargy, diarrhea, etc., and have your veterinarian examine any suspected issues promptly. Be sure to get your veterinarian's advice regarding vaccinations and a deworming schedule.
Feeding Your Newborn Kittens
So what do you feed a newborn kitten? At first, the kittens receive all their nourishment from their mother's milk. But by four weeks or so, kittens should start to become curious about their mother's food. They may think it looks tasty and smells good, but she may have other ideas about sharing her bowl. She will naturally begin the weaning process, and you can help by offering the kittens their own solid food in a separate location for short periods.3 Start by soaking wet or dry kitten food until it's quite soft. Then you can slowly switch them to harder food over time.
Get Them Used to Touch
Newborn kittens sleep a lot! Use their active periods to get the kittens comfortable with being handled. This is something to try after two weeks of age. Gently pick up and hold each kitten. If you wait until the kittens are large and full of spunk, socializing them might be more of a challenge. As the kittens grow, you can increase the time and type of socialization, adding in grooming and playtime.
Have fun and enjoy the kittens through every stage of the process!
- Animal Humane Society. “Caring for young kittens and their moms," https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/health/caring-young-kittens-and-their-moms
- Williams, Krista. VCA Hospitals. “Raising Kittens," https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/kitten-raising-kittens
- Fetch by WebMD. “Weaning a Kitten," https://pets.webmd.com/cats/weaning-kitten