Since 2018, I’ve bottle fed and cared for over 50 kittens who are too young to eat on their own. Prior to that, I had one 8 year old cat of my own, but wanted many. ❤️ And I felt the need to volunteer in a capacity that aligned with one of my passions – cats!
So I began volunteer rescue work through Feline Rescue, and am now exclusively with Bitty Kitty Brigade in Minneapolis. Our mission is to save orphaned neonatal kittens who are often euthanized at shelters or animal control because they do not have the knowledge, experience, or time to bottle feed kittens. Over the years, I’ve raised orphaned bottle kittens as young as 1 day old, and have cared for them through adoption at 12 weeks. We’ve also adopted one of our fosters, our sweet Tuxedo girl we named Bleu. All that to say, I’ve learned and seen a lot in relation to bottle feeding kittens and am happy to share my experiences with you so you can successfully bottle feed too.
The first thing you want to be sure of when you have kittens in your care is that they are warm, as they cannot regulate their own body temperatures. Keep a small heating pad wrapped a towel in their bed so that they stay warm, and are ready to eat. *Never attempt to feed a cold kitten. If their body temperature is less than 102 degrees F, place the kitten on an approved heating pad safely wrapped in two or three layers of towels. Turn the kitten side to side every 5 minutes. To stimulate blood flow, you may, ever so gently, massage the kitten with hand-rubbing.
Miracle Nipples: This is the only type of nipple I use because it was developed with small animals in mind, like kittens, puppies, and rabbits. The Miracle Nipple was designed by a wildlife rehabilitator with years of experience feeding orphaned animals, and it’s foolproof. It also alleviates the chance of an animal swallowing the entire nipple and with proper use will prevent aspiration of formula.
Miracle Syringes: I find it to be much easier to control the flow of formula using a Miracle syringe and depressing it slowly as the kittens eat, rather than having to figure out the right pressure for squeezing a bottle. These syringes also don’t stick after a few uses, they continue to glide, making feeding time much easier.
Kitten Milk Replacer Formula: see notes below.
Mini Whisk: It’s very important to dissolve all of the powdered kitten formula into the water, and this is easiest when you have a small whisk. You’ll avoid clogging the nipple with chunky formula.
Kittens that are 0-5 weeks old will need to eat a powdered kitten milk replacement (not the canned liquid formula, or cow’s milk – neither have the necessary nutrition) that is mixed with water. These powder replacements are very important for kittens because they contain necessary vitamins and minerals that they would have normally received naturally through the mama’s milk, ensuring proper development and growth.
The three brands of kitten milk replacement powder I recommend are:
I prefer KMR by Pet Ag because it contains both prebiotics and probiotics, a source of live naturally-occurring micororganisms. It is formulated to provide a caloric pattern similar to mother’s milk in protein, fat, and carbohydrates. I’ve found that kittens prefer the taste of KMR over the other two brands, and it dissolves easily in water with a mini whisk.
Powdered kitten milk replacement powder must be stored in the refrigerator once the can or bag is opened. It can also be stored in the freezer for up to six months, if you use some of the bag, but not all of it and are unsure of when you will have bottle kittens again.
In my experience with bottle feeding kittens, it is best to wait until they are AT LEAST 5 weeks old to start weaning them. If they were with their mama, they would be nursing until even 6-7 weeks, so care should be taken to make sure that they are still getting the nutrition they need from the formula.
To start the weaning process, I make a slurry of wet kitten food mixed with formula, and will start with it in a 20ml syringe so they start to adjust to the taste difference. From that point, once they start trying to bite the nipple over and over, I move the slurry to a small, flat plate and put some of it in the side of their mouth with my finger. Then encourage them to start licking the plate by moving them to it.
Kittens can start eating high quality dry kitten food once they are weaned and around 6-7 weeks old, but I would recommend keeping them on a mostly WET food diet, as it is so important for them to stay hydrated. Cats get 90% of their hydration from the food they eat, so an all dry diet could be very detrimental to their health. Feeding them wet food is also very helpful in getting your cat to sleep through the night, as it dramatically helps to keep them satiated.