Keeping Newborn Kittens Warm
Newborn kittens look so helpless, and they are! They depend on their mother's care or their human companions to help them grow into spunky, fun-loving cats. One of the most important aspects of raising newborn kittens is helping them maintain proper body temperature. Don't worry! We'll show you how to keep newborn kittens warm and introduce you to some helpful tips along the way.
Temperature is Key
Cats, like other mammals, are warm-blooded, which means their bodies can create and maintain a specific temperature through metabolization. For adult cats, normal body temperature should be between 99°F and 102.5°F;1 kittens may have slightly lower temperatures. However, newborn kittens cannot properly regulate and control their body temperatures for the first few weeks.
How to Keep Newborn Kittens Warm
A healthy mother cat will help keep the newborn kittens warm, and they can snuggle up to her as needed in your kittens' nesting box, which doesn't have to be elaborate. A shallow box about 2' x 2' will do, as long as the sides are high enough to keep the kittens in but not so high that it restricts the mother cat's ability to enter and exit the box.2 Add some soft blankets, towels, and absorbent materials underneath to complete the cozy hangout and make it just right for sleepy kittens.
But the mother cat might not always be in the nesting box, or perhaps you're raising kittens without the help of a mother cat. Once the kittens are older (after their eyes are open and they can easily move around), you can supply an additional heat source for the general nesting box area. You can try a safe electric heating pad, but choose one designed specifically for pets; don't use a regular human heating pad. You can also try re-heatable pads that are warmed in the microwave. For older kittens that are ready to transition away from their mother and littermates, a heated bed with a Mother's Heartbeat pillow can help mimic the sounds and feel of home. And when the kittens are fully grown, why not try a cozy knitted pet bed with a cute Mother's Heartbeat pillow?
When the mother cat isn't present, the overall environment should ideally be kept at about 90°F but can be gradually lowered to 75°F by the time the kittens are a month old.
Evaluate How Your Kittens are Doing
You can always use a kitty-safe thermometer to check the body temperatures of each kitten. Another helpful (though less precise) clue is to look at the behavior of the kittens themselves. Are they bundled together in a heap like the end of a feline football play? Are they spread out individually throughout the nesting box? Huddling together is common, but if they're spaced apart, they may be too hot.3 Adjust the settings on your heat source to compensate accordingly and be sure the kittens have an area of the nesting box where they can get away from the warmth if they wish.
Keeping kittens warm is an important part of caring for a litter, and it's quite satisfying to know your kittens are snug and safe inside their warm home.
1. O'Brien, Christine. "What's a Normal Cat's Temperature?" 5 March 2020. https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/healthcare/normal-cat-temperature-and-checking-vital-signs
2. Animal Humane Society. "Caring for young kittens and their moms." https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/health/caring-young-kittens-and-their-moms
3. Williams, Krista, and Ernest Ward. "Pregnancy and Parturition in Cats." VCA Hospitals, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/pregnancy-and-parturition-in-cats