Pet Advice from Nurse Bec

Author: Nurse Bec


What is a Neonatal Kitten?


A neonatal kitten is a newborn. They rely on their mother’s for round the clock care including feeding, toileting and grooming.

How do neonatal kittens come into care?

Sometimes as part of rescue work, we take in pregnant strays. When they give birth, sadly complications can occur especially if they were part of a colony or mated with a relative cat. The result of birth can sometimes lead in injury or illness to mum or her babies and may mean that either mum or the babies require specialised care and attention and need to be separated.

Other times when born on the streets, kittens can unfortunately be exposed to a number of illnesses and issues including the loss of their mother to sickness or injury.

In cases like these, neonatal kittens are brought into care and a specialised foster carer takes over the big task of becoming their new mum.

What is required when raising a neonatal kitten?

Raising a tiny, newborn kitten sounds cute but it’s a lot of hard work, weeks of sleep deprivation and at times, heartache. There are of course many joys to raising neonates as you watch them grown and develop but getting to that stage is quite the process.

Neonates require feeds every 2 hours (that includes throughout the night!) with a specialised kitten formula. Feeding a newborn can be a challenge as often kittens can struggle with the change in taste and texture of the replacement milk -nothing will ever be the same as mum. Other issues foster carers face is the type of teat a kitten will latch to. There are many different options, but some kittens have preferences making it a challenge to find something that will work for an entire litter. Another challenge a foster carer faces is the risk of aspiration -cutting a teat hole too large can result in a kitten inhaling their milk and drowning. Its risky business!

Neonatal kittens also need help to go to the toilet and to stay clean. Foster carers must stimulate a kitten to wee and poo and keep their bodies clean from milk and urine to avoid skin and coat issues. Carers also must be careful when raising litters of neonates that they don’t become exposed to illnesses since their immune system is often compromised at this age. This means constant hand washing and quarantine procedures including keeping neonates away from other animals and people.

A carer must take care in watching such young babies since neonates are born with their eyes and ears closed and rely on their sense of smell and touch. When they’re so young, it is an innate behaviour to search for mum’s teat so at times, when there is no mum to find and you can’t see, neonates may suckle on their siblings’ toes, umbilical cords or even genitals which can lead to serious injury.

What should I do if I find a neonatal kitten?

The best thing to do is report the kitten to a vet or rescue. If the kitten is not in immediate danger, Mum might be hanging around somewhere and moving her baby may distress her. Taking a neonate away also reduces our chances of getting mum off the streets and stopping the breeding cycle from reoccurring.

If there are no other options or you’re advised to, scoop the kitten up gently and place it in a warm blanket or box. Ensure it has access to warmth such as a hot water bottle or your chest but ensure it does not overheat and has the option to move away from the heat source if it needs to.

Neonates require specialist care and they are a lot of work! If you find a neonatal kitten you are best to get it to a vet or rescue asap to start initial treatment. Please never attempt to feed a kitten yourself.

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