It is rarely planned, and more typically a matter of chance, but one day you may find yourself holding a completely helpless — and motherless — kitten. There are a number of reasons why kittens, alone or with an entire litter, may be orphaned. Perhaps the mother died while giving, or you searched for the sound of mewling kittens and found them abandoned by the side of the road. An otherwise good mother may simply reject, or fail to nurse, one or more kittens because the litter was too large. Whatever the explanation, a newborn, orphaned kitten cannot survive without someone’s intervention. Of course, you’d like to be the one who helps give this vulnerable, tiny animal a chance at life, but where to begin?

Kittens are totally dependent upon a mother’s care for at least the first four weeks of life. They require warmth and shelter, regular feeding with a nutritious formula, and exposure to others–feline and human–to ensure good socialization. Vulnerable and dependant, they’ll need the attentiveness of a loving foster parent to have all these needs met.

The ideal alternative to a natural mother is another queen who is already nursing; if you happen to know of such a feline family, try placing the kitten with this foster mother. Queens will usually accept an orphaned kitten, especially if the baby is close to the age of her present litter. If there is no mother cat available, get ready for a time-consuming, but ultimately very satisfying, experience.

The equipment you will need:

  • Cardboard box
  • Towels
  • Flat diaper pads
  • Lamp or heating pad
  • Kitten infant formula
  • Nursing bottles
  • Thermometer
  • Pots for sterilization
  • Cotton balls
  • Scale in grams
  • Notebook

The Nest Box

A simple cardboard box works well as a nest, and can be replaced as needed. Be sure the sides are tall enough to prevent accidental wandering, and the box itself is large enough to permit some crawling or locomotion (especially toward or away from a heat source) but not so large that the kitten will feel lost in it. A cardboard pet carrier would be adequate and is easily cleaned. Be sure that there are no loose sides or box flaps to trap the tiny animal. Line the bottom of the box with towels and place a waterproof diaper pad on top (with the absorbent surface facing up).

Kittens cannot regulate their own body temperature, so you will need a heat source, which can be a 60-watt light bulb placed two to three feet above the kitten, or a heating pad (placed below the box) covering only half its surface area. One word of caution: Heating pads can be dangerously hot, and should never be placed in direct contact with kittens. The pad should extend to only a part of the nest area, to allow kittens the choice of moving toward or away from the warmth as needed. For the first week of life, the nest box temperature should be approximately 88