Newborn Kitten Care Week by Week
Your new kittens have arrived, and even though the mother cat did most of the work, you still have things to do. Before long, those helpless kittens with closed eyes and ears will be enthusiastic bundles of energy. In the meantime, you'll need to guide them through their first weeks of life.
If your kittens have a healthy and loving mother cat, they'll rely on her to perform much of the important early work. You'll help out and provide valuable care, but you'll stay out of mom's way as she cares for the litter. Or, you might find yourself with a litter of kittens whose mother cannot care for them for some reason. In that case, you'll be responsible for additional care. Either way, here is a basic outline of newborn kitten care, week by week:
1-week-old kitten care
- Make sure they nurse early and keep at it! For the first three to four weeks, your kittens won't eat any solid food and will receive all of their energy and nutrition from nursing.1 The exact timing is up to mom and the kittens, but you should check to make sure the litter is nursing regularly, and there aren't any problems with the mother's ability to feed her kittens.
- Or bottle-feed every three hours. On the other hand, you may be wondering how to take care of a newborn kitten without a mother. If this is the case, you'll need to use a kitten-safe formula (not cow's milk), and bottle-feed the kittens every two to four hours. Ensuring the kittens receive proper nutrition is a key element of newborn kitten care, whether they're nursing or being bottle-fed.
- Provide a heat source. Your cat is warm, fluffy, and cuddly, and she'll use all of these traits when caring for her kittens. The newborn litter benefits greatly from her warmth, as they aren't able to effectively control their own body temperatures during their first few weeks. But what happens when the mother cat leaves the kittens for a time? A kitten-safe heated pad with an automatic thermostat can help keep the kittens warm without becoming too hot. You may also need to supplement the blanket-lined nest box area with a safe environmental heat source. If there is no mother cat present, aim for an ambient temperature of about 90°F.
- Weigh the kittens. You don't want to handle the kittens too much at this stage, but weighing them daily will help you monitor their health and growth. Healthy kittens grow incredibly fast! (If it bothers the mother cat when you handle the kittens, you may need advice from your veterinarian before proceeding.)
- Clean the nest. You want to keep the nest area clean and change the absorbent bedding materials as often as needed.
2-week-old kitten care
- Begin a deworming regimen. Talk with your vet about deworming your kittens and get a deworming schedule from them.
- Eyes open. Your kittens' eyes should probably be open by now. If they're not open by around day 10, you can try gently wiping the lids clean and applying a bit of petroleum jelly.2 If their eyes are still closed at two weeks, your veterinarian should check them out.
- Turn down the heat. You can lower the air temperature of the nest box to about 80°F.
3-week-old kitten care
- Offer a litter box. Until they're about three weeks old, kittens require the aid of their mother (or human caregivers, if they're orphaned)3 to encourage them to relieve themselves. But at around three weeks old, the kittens begin controlling their own potty breaks successfully. Now is the time to place a kitten-safe litter box in their environment. No need to specifically "train" the kittens; they should get the idea on their own.4
- Scale back the bottle feeding frequency. If you're bottle-feeding the kittens, you can probably stretch them out to four to six hours between meals.
4-week-old kitten care
- Socialize! It's important kittens become used to being around and handled by people at this stage. Carefully handle the kittens and get them used to brief periods of human interaction; this goes a long way toward helping them grow up to be people-friendly cats. You might try introducing the kittens to new sounds too.
- Room temperature. At this stage, the nest box ambient temperature can be lowered to about 75°F.
5-week-old kitten care
- Bring on the solid food! Time to start weaning the kittens. If you're bottle-feeding, you'll handle the timing;5 otherwise, the mother cat will naturally begin the process. What should you feed a newborn kitten? You can start by offering the kittens a combination of solid kitten food mixed with kitten formula. Or, try simply soaking kitten food in water until it's very soft. (Check with your vet for solid-food-to-formula ratios.)
- Water, too. When the kittens begin weaning and transition over to solid food, it's a good time to offer them water in a kitten-safe bowl too.
6-, 7-, and 8-week-old kitten care (and beyond!)
- Vaccination time! Talk to your vet about when your kittens can begin receiving their immunizations. Vaccinations don't take place all in one day; it's a process that continues for several weeks and requires a few visits to the veterinarian.
- Playtime! Your older kittens may enjoy playing with a fun toy or two. Some stimulating play will help them develop into healthy, capable cats. Supplying a cat scratcher isn't a bad idea either.
- Full meals. Your kittens may not be fully weaned yet, but they're able to eat larger amounts of high-protein kitten food, spaced out four times a day.
- Registration. Purebred kittens should be registered with their appropriate breed association. Hopefully, it won't go to their heads!
- Saying goodbye. By 12 weeks old, your kittens may leave for their new homes. To help ease the transition, supply them with a pillow that mimics the sound of their mother's heartbeat. This can help give kittens the familiar feeling of their mother and littermates even in their new home. You can also mimic the warmth of the litter with a heated kitty bed.
The week-by-week care of newborn kittens may be a lot of work, but the process is filled with satisfaction and enjoyment as you help to raise the kittens. Good luck!
1. WebMD. "Newborn Kitten Care," 16 February 2021. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/default.htm
2. Animal Humane Society. "Caring for young kittens and their moms." https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/health/caring-young-kittens-and-their-moms
3. Shelter Medicine School of Veterinary Medicine. "Guide to Raising Underage Kittens." University of Wisconsin-Madison University School of Veterinary Medicine. https://www.uwsheltermedicine.com/library/guidebooks/guide-to-raising-underage-kittens/caring-for-kittens-from-birth-to-eight-weeks
4. KittenLady.org. "Litter Training." http://www.kittenlady.org/litter
5. Shelter Medicine School of Veterinary Medicine. https://www.uwsheltermedicine.com/library/guidebooks/guide-to-raising-underage-kittens/caring-for-kittens-from-birth-to-eight-weeks