Essentials for Raising an Orphan Kitten

Orphan Kittens Napping
Dr. Ann Hohenhaus

Kitten season is in full swing. Because the breeding season for female cats begins as the days get longer, the first kittens of the season start to appear in early March after a 60-day pregnancy. If you are a family who regularly works with a rescue group like my family does, or if you just happen to be an accidental kitten rescuer, then you probably already have a tiny foundling or two in your spare room. From their first kitten toddler steps to their crowning achievement — scaling the sofa to reach the sunny windowsill — hand-raised kittens are a joy, but they are also hard work. After rearing a couple of dozen orphan kittens, I have a list of essentials that can help make this fun job a little easier.

Kitten Scale and Notebook

My kitchen scale does double duty when we are raising kittens. Not only do I use it for cooking, but I also use it for keeping tabs on the kittens’ weight, which is essential to monitor food intake. We keep a kitten-sized cardboard box to hold the kitten safely on the scale during weighing. Each kitten’s weight is recorded in a notebook, and a weight gain of 10 to 15 grams per day means success. I like to use a 5 cc syringe to feed my kittens and typically use kitten milk replacer mixed with a high-calorie cat food formulated specifically for syringe feeding.

Kitten-Safe Toiletries

Like most children, kittens are messy, but orphan kittens have no one to clean them up but you! Without a feline mother, kittens are prone to diarrhea because they don't get the special immune system boosters contained in the queen's (mother's) milk and may need bathing more than once a day. Because lavender has calming properties, I keep pet-safe lavender shampoo on hand for daily bathing of dirty kittens. For spot cleaning, I use unscented pet wipes.

Kitten Palace

What new baby doesn’t deserve a safe and cute bed? We use a collapsible puppy playpen, affectionately called the “kitten palace,” as the safe space for our kittens. The palace has mesh walls, the floor is impermeable to spilled water or litterbox misses, and it features a front and back zippered door as well as a zippered, retractable roof for easy cleanup. When kitten season is over, the palace is folded up into a briefcase-sized bag and stuck in the back of a closet until the next set of kittens arrives.

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