Things You Need To Know About Kittens – The very thought of handling juvenile kittens usually overwhelms many organizations. Their vulnerability, the time it takes to stay alive and the fear of a bad outcome add to the stress on employees who are already juggling many daily tasks. (Just seeing someone walk into a shelter with a litter of newborn kittens can trigger an anxiety attack!)
But we’re here to tell you that you don’t have to fear newborn kittens. This toolkit is designed to help any organization build a prepared, educated and confident team that will be more than ready to guide those little ones through the system the next time a box full of babies arrives at the door.
Things You Need To Know About Kittens
Even if it’s not yet the time of year when newborn kittens wander through your door, it’s always a good idea to advise your community on what to do when they find babies that appear to be abandoned. Best Friends offers infographics in English and Spanish that you can download and share on social media.
New Kitten? We Can Help With That!
Additionally, there are many great campaigns that emphasize leaving kittens where they are, such as the Jacksonville Humane Society’s (JHS) “Don’t Kit-Nap Kittens.” (The JHS webpage also includes the Best Friends video showing what to do when you find kittens!)
It’s always easier to manage kittens if there aren’t many of them to be found in the first place. If your shelter has not yet implemented trap-kauter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) and return-to-field (RTF; also called shelter-kauter-return or SNR), this is the perfect time to begin such efforts to prevent possible most pregnancies. Our Cat Community Programs Guide can help organizations get started with robust TNVR/RTF programming.
Once you start getting calls from community members finding kittens, you’ll want to have a basic list of questions ready for them:
Gathering such information is helpful in determining whether kittens are fine to stay where they are or need help. In the case of the latter, this is the perfect time to convert the seeker into an adopter instead of encouraging them to bring kittens to the shelter. For more information on how to do this, see the Tips and Tricks for Recruiting Foster Parents section.
New Kitten Essentials Checklist — Woofpurnay Veterinary Hospital
Once newborn kittens begin arriving at your facility, the first 24 hours are critical for planning the path to success. Assessing the age and health of the kittens are the first steps you should take when they arrive.
A newborn kitten requires much different care than a two-week-old kitten, which has different needs than a four-week-old kitten, so it’s important to determine the kittens’ age right away. Having a handy cheat sheet for those dealing with admissions can streamline the process and remove any doubt about the steps to take during the entrance exam. Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends have developed good guides with photos and details for each stage of growth.
Assessing the kitten’s health status begins with determining the baseline temperature upon admission. A kitten’s ideal body temperature is 100 to 102 degrees. If they are not in this range, they will need to be cooled or warmed before feeding, because feeding kittens that are either hypothermic (too cold; temperature below 98°F) or hyperthermic (too hot; temperature above 104°F) can be extremely dangerous.
Your organization’s veterinarian will establish standard operating procedures around other critical steps in the intake health assessment for this vulnerable population. These should be written guidelines that are prominently displayed in the reception area, the clinic and the kitten boarding area.
Bringing A Kitten Home
To reduce disease transmission to these immunocompromised infants, limit handling to a minimum of key personnel. Some additional tips to reduce disease transmission during their entrance exam are:
Kittens under four weeks of age cannot regulate their own body temperature and should ideally be housed in a small basket or crate with a heating pad or pad placed under a blanket. NEVER place kittens directly on a heated surface!
Also, place a small stuffed animal (nothing for non-retractable claws to get stuck in) and a nursing blanket in the bassinet to help them curl up in a “mommy” shape. Commercially available “cuddle kitties” are another option, and they have a heating function as well as a heartbeat to soothe orphaned kitties.
While kittens between four and eight weeks of age should not be confined in such kennels, even after being moved into cages, they should not be with the rest of the general population. (Although the AVMA’s shelter guidelines recommend that shelters put kittens under five months into their own space, if your shelter can’t accommodate that, at least create a private space for those under two months.)
How To Litter Train Your Kitten
Before starting the feeding process, gather everything you need so that it is within arm’s reach. Recommended items are a scale that reads in grams, a bottle or syringe and formula, wet wipes or a warm washcloth, gloves or hand sanitizer, and a blanket for the baby to lie on while feeding.
Before feeding the kitten, it is useful to first stimulate the kitten to urinate and defecate, as it will feel more comfortable when eating. Use a warm washcloth, baby wipe (sensitive and unscented) or paper towel and gently rub the rear end in a circular motion. Continue stimulation until they are done.
Kittens should ALWAYS be fed in the breech position, meaning they are lying on their stomachs with their heads slightly up, as they would be when nursing from their mother. Feeding a kitten upright or on its back can lead to aspiration, which is dangerous and potentially fatal. While some kitties do great with a bottle, others may prefer a syringe as a method of transporting formula.
Remember, patience is key! The National Kitten Coalition has some additional bottle feeding tips that can be used not only by shelter staff but also by foster parents.
Our Top Tips For New Kitten Owners
Tracking your kitten’s progress is extremely important. Weight loss, failure to eliminate in 24 hours, or decreased appetite can be early indicators of health problems. A tracking document helps monitor changes and avoid any surprises.
Kittens, unlike puppies, do a great job of communicating when they are full. They will start to turn their heads avoiding the syringe or bottle nipple. It’s common for kittens under two weeks to fall asleep while feeding from the bottle, so just pay attention to when they stop sucking and remove the bottle then. If you guessed wrong, don’t worry, they will tell you and start calling for the bottle again. If you’re right, they’ll just keep napping. To finish, it is advisable to stimulate once more, then place them back in their carrier or case location.
Kitten U from the Salt Lake City location of Best Friends has put together a series of videos to help you with each of the steps listed above. Not only can this link be helpful for shelter staff, but it would also be a great resource to provide foster parents so they don’t have to think about what steps to take.
Kittens should begin their weaning and litter box training journey around three to four weeks of age. The most common mistake is to think that kittens can learn these things quickly. Some kittens have a hard time changing their eating habits, and others may not grasp the litter box right away. These journeys take time and patience, and if you don’t think your kitty is ready, it’s okay to wait.
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Weaning is the process of transitioning kittens from bottle feeding to eating porridge, then wet food, then dry food (usually at eight to nine weeks of age). You’ll know they’re ready to start adding wet food to their diet when they start chewing on the kibble.
Wet food should be placed in a shallow bowl or dish and you can even make a slurry by mixing milk replacer with it to entice them. It is helpful to offer this at every meal, but do not force the kitten to eat only porridge. Allow them the option to continue to bottle feed to ensure they are getting the right number of calories and complete nutrition at each feeding. Solid food should not be introduced until the molars appear. More information on opting out can be found here.
Litter box training is the process by which we get kittens comfortable with urinating and defecating in a box. It is important to choose a litter that is safe for kittens as some may try to eat the standard designs. Shredded paper or pellet litter can help train your kitten safely.
Make sure the litter box is low enough for the kittens to get in and out easily. A cardboard tray from a tin can works well and can be tossed and changed often. When you encourage the kitten to eat, when it starts to urinate or defecate, immediately place it in the box to finish. Give them lots of pets when
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