How To Bottle Feed a Kitten
If you have been reading my blog for a while, then you know I have been doing a newborn kitten series.
As an extension of that newborn kitten series, I figured it would do an entire post on bottle feeding a kitten.
This process can be confusing, frustrating, and at first overwhelming. So I am here to help.
I am here to help make this process less overwhelming. Because I remember. When I fostered my kitten Binx, I remember the first night trying to feed her. Exhausting. But in time, it became easier! And it will become easier for you too!
When To Bottle Feed a Newborn Kitten
Let’s start with the very basics. When do you need to bottle feed a kitten?
Kitten needs to be bottle fed if they do not have a mother cat and are between 0 and 5 weeks old. Like human babies, young kittens need milk to grow big and strong.
One very important call out is that you should only bottle feed a kitten if they do not have their mother or a nursing mother to give them milk.
When possible, you want newborn kittens to have mothers milk because it provides so many nutrients and vitamins that kittens need to grow healthy and strong.
A kitten without her mother needs to be fed from a bottle. If you’re not sure if you should bottle feed a kitten, first try to figure out how old the kitten is. You can use my guides on two week old kittens all the way to eight week old kittens to help figure out how old they are.
Kittens that are bottle fed are also too young for a spay/neuter, so if you are bottle feeding your kitten, you know you need to wait to do that.
From there, you can decide if bottle feeding is necessary. Their age will decide how often and how much they need fed.
A kitten should eat about 8 milliliters (mls) of formula per ounce of body weight per day. For example, a kitten who weighs 6 ounces should eat about 48 mls of formula per day. To determine how much to give at each feeding, divide the total amount of formula per day by the number of feedings.
In my own personal option, if you found a newborn kitten, chances are they are hungry. So give them almost an entire bottle and see if eat it, if they do and they are still hungry, give them more. When looking at their ages, the recommended amount of food to give them is really the bare minimum they need to grow. The last thing you need to worry about is feeding an orphaned kitten TOO much. They will stop when they are no longer hungry.
What Do I Need To Bottle Feed A Newborn Kitten?
When bottle feeding a kitten, there are a number of supplies that you need to not only do it correctly, but to also make your life WAY easier.
The first thing you need is formula.
When it comes to getting formula, there are a number of ones you can use. The biggest thing to check for is that there a different types of formulas for different ages of kittens.
When kittens are between weeks one and three, they need a basic kitten milk replacer. We chose to go with KMR Milk Replacer for two reasons. First, is that was the formula we had when we first got her, so we didn’t want to change it up and potentially stop her growth. The second, and more important reason was when I spoke with our vet, this was a formula they also agreed would be best for our little ball of fur.
At around four to five weeks, kittens can start to wean, which I talk about how to do in my weaning post. You can also start to give them formula to help with the weaning process. The weaning formula that I recommend is KMR 2nd Step Milk Replacer. We preferred this brand mainly because Binx really took to it, and we were already using KMR when we got her around two weeks.You can get both types of KMR formula on Amazon Prime!
The next thing you will need is a bottle. Shocker, I know.
You want to make sure it is a bottle for feeding kittens. This will be the proper size for your newborn kitty. You can really get an bottle from Amazon under pet bottles. The biggest thing to think about when getting a bottle is to make sure you get one with multiple nipple options (good for if you cut one too big, but also good for options as your kitten grows and teeths).
You also want to get one with a scrubbing tool. The last thing you want is to have to try and figure out how to clean the bottle while trying to bottle feed. You can get the exact bottle we used for Binx on Amazon now! Hopefully take one stressor out of caring for a newborn kitten.
The final thing that would be helpful to have with kittens is a shaker bottle. The biggest reason for this is to help mix up the formula. You have a lot of stress going on caring for a newborn kitten. One thing that will make your life a little easier is having something that will help you mix up the formula and water. You don’t have to get a massive one, in fact I got the small version.
However, if you already have a shaker bottle that you don’t use very often, that’s one thing you don’t have to buy! And it’s really a personal preference to buy a shaker bottle, this was just a major time saver for me when we were bottle feeding. You can get our small shaker bottle on Amazon as well!
That is one of the easiest things about bottle feeding a kitten, you can get all of the supplies you need on Amazon and get the products in a day or two. However, if got the kitten the same day, I would recommend going to your local pet store and picking up these same items. Your kitty can’t go a day without food while you are waiting for Amazon to delivery your items.
How Much To Bottle Feed a Newborn Kitten
Now that you know that you should be bottle feeding a kitten and how often. You need to know how to prepare the formula.
Preparing kitten formula is very similar to preparing a bottle for a baby. You should never feed a kitten cow’s milk, only formula. Most kittens are lactose intolerant and giving them cows milk will just make them sick.
There are a number of ways in which you can prepare the bottle.
Formula that has been in the refrigerator must be warmed to just above room temperature. You can warm the water first either in a microwave or the stove. You want to make sure it doesn’t get too hot, but it is warm enough for the kitten. You can also place the bottle in a bowl of shallow water, then heat in the microwave for 10 seconds. Or you may place the bottle in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. If mixing up fresh KMR powder formula, use warm water.
Whether you decide to warm up water first, and then add the KMR formula, or mix everything together and then warm up the bottle is really a personal preference.
Once the water is warm, you combine the formula and mix it. When it comes to getting formula, there are a number of ones you can use. The biggest thing to check for is that there a different types of formulas for different ages of kittens.
When I had Binx, we used both a measuring cup and a small whisk. And then we moved onto a shaker bottle. The measuring cup and small whisk are great options if you kitten is well feed and only needs a small amount each day. Both of those options work, it really boils down to personal preferences.
We had measured out a few days of formula planned out so all we had to do was warm the water and add it to the bottle.
Once the mixture has been created. You want to put it in the bottle and test it before giving it to the kitten.
Similar to a baby, you want to test the formula on your wrist to make sure the formula is the right temperature for a kitten. You don’t want it too hot or too cold.
For your first kitten bottle you get, you will need to cut a hole in the top. Cut an X in the tip of the nipple using small, sharp scissors. Or you cut the end of the nipple of with a pair of scissors. Always start small and make it larger if needed, You can always take away, cannot add back on.
Once the hole is made, test it by placing the nipple on a bottle of formula and turning the bottle upside down. The formula should drip slowly out of the hole. If the hole is too big, the kittens will ingest too much formula too fast; if it is too small, they will have to work harder to eat and won’t eat as much as they should.
How Often Do You Bottle Feed A Kitten?
Ah the kitten bottle feeding schedule. Now the good news, the bottle feeding schedule for kittens will change week by week as they continue to grow. At 2 weeks and younger, you want to make sure you are feeding your newborn kitten around every two hours.
And yes, you need to feed them at night.
At week three, you can start to move to 3-4 hours, but you need to make sure your kitten is continuing to put on weight every day. And if they are finishing the bottle and wanting more, then you may want to feed them more often, or simply give them more food.
At week four and five, you can shift to between 4-6 hours between their feeding schedules. And in most cases you can feed them right before bed and then again right when you wake up.
My biggest rule when it comes to kittens is to make sure they are continuing to gain weight up through eight weeks old. This means that you are giving the kittens the food and nutrients they need to survive as they are growing!
My second biggest rule is to listen to your newborn kitten! If they seem like they are hungry, give them more than what the formula says. The absolute last thing you need to worry about with newborn kittens is giving them “too much” formula. (Within reason of course). But if they are hungry. Let them eat!
Can I Use A Baby Bottle To Feed a Kitten?
A lot of people will ask if they can use the extra baby’s bottle laying around. In nearly all cases, a baby’s bottle will be much too big for your young kitten.
The good news is, a bottle specific for kittens is fairly easy to find.
You can get a kitten bottle at Amazon for cheap! You and your kitten will thank you for this!
How to Feed a Newborn Kitten with a Bottle
Once the bottle is prepared, then you are ready to feed your kitten. It is important that kittens are fed on their feed with their belly on the ground and head up. You want to make sure that your kitten is in the proper position. Experiment with what position works best for you and the kitten.
It is also an acceptable position to be holding the kitten in the same position they would be on on the floor. It just allows them to feel safe.
I also know some scenarios where people will place the kittens on a low level heating pad while eating to keep them water and relaxed.
The opposite of babies, you don’t want to feed your kitten on their back. That is the equivalent to hold a baby on their ankles and trying to the feed them.
It is helpful to place the kitten on the ground. Gently but firmly place their head upwards towards the bottle. And place the bottle into the kitten’s mouth. You want to make sure they are swallowing the bottle. You can tell neonatal kittens are consuming the bottle by watching their ears start to wiggle.
Another important call out that I almost forgot to mention in the tilt of the bottle. The reason you want to tilt the kittens head up is so you can tilt the bottle. In order for them to get the formula from the bottle, it needs to be turned at a pretty high angle, around a 45-degree angle or higher.
Almost upside down, and sometimes completely upside down as the bottle draws to an end. Finding just the right angle can be challenging so you want to test it out on your wrist first, and see what angle your kitten is comfortable with.
This will be clunky at first. They may not get it the first time. Kittens see a bottle and nipple as fairly similar, and they are known to be clunky with their mother the first few times too. They may push it away the first few times or get frustrated with it.
That part is very similar to having a baby. It won’t always be easy. But once you get the hang of it, it all comes together.
I recommend never trying to bottle feed a kitten the first few days in a hurry.
That will lead to you being stressed, and the kitten sensing your stress and pushing away. Keep calm and know that it will come with time and practice.
How Do You Bottle Feed A Kitten That Won’t Eat?
Sometimes, you can have a difficult kitten to bottle feed. Fear not. That does not mean that your feeding will be forever difficult. That just means that you will need to find some new techniques for caring for the kitten.
One thing that people can do when they have a difficult kitten to bottle feed is to do a ‘barber shop’ technique.
Basically, this involves wrapping a towel or small blanket around the kitten similar to a bib or a barber shop cape.
This helps prevent the kitten from using their legs to push away the bottle while still keeping your hands available to hold their head up and tilt the bottle.
Binx, our foster kitten, was a difficult kitten to bottle feed at first. We later found out it was because she was absolutely starving.
But we had tried the barber shop technique unsuccessfully, we had also tried having one person hold her while the other fed her. And both were unsuccessful.
What we later had figured out was what was best for her was proximity.
She didn’t have a mother, or siblings. She only has us.
And being as close to use as possible while feeding provided her a lot of comfort. So what we would do was cross our legs, sit her on our legs, or knees or thighs. Let her grab onto the bottle with her mouth and tilt it upwards once she had a grip.
She would also hold the bottle with her hands.
It was adorable and we figured it also provided her a certain level of comfort and control to “hold” the bottle while she was eating so we stopped with the barber shop technique and let her legs go as they needed.
Once we figured out what she needed, she became an easy kitten to bottle feed, until she was ready to ween off of course. But that is another blog post.
How Long Does It Take To Bottle Feed a Kitten?
It is important to know the basics when bottle feeding a kitten.
When, how often, how much, and how to feed them. And that is what the intent of this post is about. If you find a newborn kitten and find out that it needs to be bottle fed, follow these simple tips.
First, use the different age guides to help you decide how old they are. This will help you figure out how much they should be eating and how often.
This will also provide a weight gauge to ensure your kitten is gaining weight as they should for their age group.
Next, use this post to figure out preparing the bottle and the actual bottle feeding process for kittens age 0 to 5 weeks.
You will want to find your own techniques for feeding the kitten because while some things works for some kittens, they may not work for all. Listen to your kitten and work to figure out what he or she needs. Do they need to be on the floor with just a bottle?
Do they need to be wrapped up for comfort? Or do they need to be on your lap while you feed them.
Each kitten is different and will have their own unique challenges to bottle feeding.
Which leads me to my final tip.
Be Patient. I cannot stress this enough. Be patient. As someone who cared for a newborn kitten, I know the stress that accompanies a newborn kitten. Even me! Someone who enjoys researching cats in my free time. I was overwhelmed. I had plenty of meltdowns and scary moments.
But I made it through it. One day at a time. And guess what?!
You can too. You can do it!
It is one short part of your life that will be uncomfortable for a few days. And that will lead to a lifetime of happiness for your kitten and hopefully for you.