A few kittens eating

A newborn kitten should be fed at least every two hours.

© Shutterstock

What can you feed a newborn kitten?

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

With newborn kittens needing to be fed every couple of hours, here's what you need to know.

Newborn kittens desperately need their mum so that they can feed very regularly. So in the absence of a mum, it's up to you to keep giving them milk – the right kind of milk. Read on to find out what to do and when you should see a vet, if it's not going as planned.

What do you feed newborn kittens in an emergency?

Newborn kittens are so small that they have very little energy reserve, if they are not fed regularly. They can have low blood sugar, and can become cold and dehydrated rapidly, all of which can be life-threatening. It important to correct blood sugar and hydration and then gradually warm the kitten to revive it. A newborn kitten in an emergency may be too weak to suckle, with attempts to feed milk resulting in it pouring back out of their nose or mouth. It may be possible to give one drop at a time. If they are not swallowing at all, then rubbing sugared water on their gums can help, but they are likely to need an injection of fluids and sugars by a vet. Once they are able to suckle and swallow, then kitten milk replacer is the best option.

How long can a newborn kitten go without eating?

A newborn kitten should ideally be fed at least every two hours throughout the day and night. Their stomachs are small and they would be suckling from mum little and often. Water will fill their stomach but their blood sugar may drop, so ideally they should be given only kitten milk as a newborn.

What do you feed abandoned kittens?

There are kitten-specific milk replacers available. But if a kitten is abandoned and you do not have immediate access to kitten milk replacer, then giving a small amount of sugared water will help to keep the kitten hydrated until you can source some. Most veterinary practices will stock kitten milk replacer and should have 24/7 cover if you need some urgently, so call the vet asap.

How do you take care of a newborn kitten without a mother?

A mother cat (or queen) will not only feed her kittens, she will keep them warm and stimulate them to pass urine and faeces by licking under their tails after each feed. You can contact a local shelter to see if they have any nursing queens who will sometimes accept a foster kitten. If not, then as the foster carer for a newborn kitten you will need to ensure the kitten is kept warm, fed and toileted.

It can be helpful if they are able to share body heat with other kittens in a warm room, or you will need to provide a well covered heat mat or pad; being careful to ensure it is not too hot as kittens may also overheat. They will need to be fed kitten milk replacer every two hours, day and night, until they are 4 to 5 days old and can take slightly larger feeds less frequently. After feeding, you will also need to toilet them by gently rubbing under their tail with moist cotton wool (mimicking the mother’s licking) until they pass urine and faeces.

When should I talk to a vet?

If your newborn kitten is unable to swallow or is cold or limp, it is urgent to take them to a vet. They will need food, fluid and warming to recover. Warming them if they have low blood sugars can cause their blood sugar to drop further and become life-threatening.

What should I ask a vet about nutrition and diet for newborn kittens?

If you speak to a vet, they will advise you about suitable cat milk replacement. Cat milk is very different from the milk of other species with high levels of protein and fat, so feeding other types of available milk (cow, sheep, goat or non-dairy milks) can cause diarrhoea, and will not be giving the kitten the correct balance of nutrients for healthy growth and development. Kittens need to be fed kitten milk exclusively for the first 3-4 weeks of life, when they can then start to be weaned onto solid kitten food.

More advice on...

What did you think of this advice article?

Thanks for your feedback !

Thanks for your feedback !

Leave a comment
Connect to comment
Want to share this article?