Help me with my adorable new kitty!
April 26, 2011 4:10 PM   Subscribe

How do I care for a kitten who may have been taken too early from his mother? I've never cared for anything younger than a year old, and now I have an 8 week old kitten.

I just (a few hours ago) adopted a kitten (pictures coming soon!) from some friends of mine. A neighborhood mother cat had made her home in their backyard and was raising a litter of kittens out there, with some help from the friends. Unfortunately, a few days ago the mother cat was killed by a car. My friends took the kittens in, but will be leaving town in a few days and needed to get them out before then. My roommate and I already have a bit of a zoo, but decided to get a kitten to keep my (3 year old) cat company.

My friends estimated that the kittens were about 8 weeks old. My little buddy has all of his teeth in, which I've read happens at about 8 weeks, but he's small and kind of spindly, so I can't imagine he's much older than that. He's been eating a little bit of dry food, but not much. Is there a possibility he hasn't been weaned yet? Would it be better for him if I got him some milk replacer and mixed it with dry food? Can I feed a kitten that is this young wet food, and do I need a different kind of wet food? He'll be going in for a checkup and shots in about a week. Would it be better for him if we left him in the bathroom when we leave for periods of time with a litterbox, food, water, etc?

I got my cat (obligatorybad picture about a year and a half ago, and didn't have to do anything with her, so I'm a little lost. What do I need to know about raising a kitten that's different from taking care of a cat?

(Bonus question: how do we introduce our super excitable Beagle/Jack Russell mix to the kitten? She loves cats, and I'm afraid she'll be a bit overbearing.)
posted by kro to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
8 weeks is a tad early, but not by much--12 weeks is ideal, but plenty of kittens get adopted out at 8 weeks old without a problem.

I wouldn't feed him dry food though--I've always heard to start off with wet food. Just get the stuff that's designated for kittens. You can get the fancy food from the vet if it'd make you feel better.
posted by litnerd at 4:13 PM on April 26, 2011

If you want to replace milk just use evaporated milk with some water and an egg yolk.A vet can give you a precise recipe. I bottlefed a two week old kitten when I lived in Florida and he made a magnificent cat.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:16 PM on April 26, 2011

8 weeks is well beyond KMR. Kitten food is what he needs, wet is better.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:16 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

But 8 weeks old, kitty can have wet food. You should be fine.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:16 PM on April 26, 2011

If you have crunchy kitten food, soak it in some water so the babe can eat it without ouching his face.

Then, go get some wet kitten food.
posted by bilabial at 4:16 PM on April 26, 2011

I also took in a rescue kitten of about that age -- she weighed only 1 pound. I did use the dry kitten food, but we it with water just to make it a bit easier for her.

The main issue re: the dog is just that the cat is so very little. I would definitely leave her in a separate room when you go out.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:17 PM on April 26, 2011

As for the dog -- standard introduction stuff is good (separate rooms by default, slowly introduce while supervised, etc).

But probably wait a little bit until the kitten is less freaked out and well fed.

Also, I see a disturbing lack of pictures of this kitten.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:18 PM on April 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

We had two teeny kittens who weren't eating much yet. They really liked gently cooked scrambled egg (you can do it in the microwave). I don't think they were even 8 weeks, and they did fine.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:24 PM on April 26, 2011

Datapoint: I got my kitten when he was no more (gauging by size and what the seller kid told us) than ~4 weeks old out of a birdcage on the side of the road in the Congo. Given that proper "cat" food was upwards of $30 for a bag about the size of a small shoebox, we opted to feed him (Tim!) canned tuna mixed with a little water and sometimes powdered milk and egg. Five years later and he's a healthy, happy kitty!

(Not recommending that you should feed your cat tuna only, I know it's not super great for them to eat only that but our options were limited; point is that baby kitties can be resilient, so you'll be fine!)
posted by hapax_legomenon at 4:24 PM on April 26, 2011

8 weeks is more than old enough. It's not ideal, but the kitten is unlikely to suffer because of this.

Wet food is probably easier to eat than dry food. It is better to give him babycat food, which usually comes before kitten food. If this isn't available, kitten food is okay. Kittens have a lot of energy, especially overnight. If your kitten will not eat, human baby food of pureed chicken (no onions) plus kitten milk replacer is very popular.

I might keep him locked up when you're away if the dog is loose, at first. Once the kitten is eating normally -- which might happen very quickly -- you should be okay to introduce him to the dog. Don't forget to give your older cat lots of attention, both alone and in front of the kitten.

Kittens are very tough to break.
posted by jeather at 4:29 PM on April 26, 2011

I just want to say (or second) that I can't possibly give any advice without visual aides to inspect the aforementioned kitten. It's just not possible.
posted by Kronur at 4:34 PM on April 26, 2011 [15 favorites]

Make sure kitty gets lots of handling, he may not be very used to people.

I would keep him confined when you aren't around. My experience has been that baby kitties may know how to use a litterbox, but they often can't find their way back to it when let loose in a house or an apartment.
posted by Shal at 4:39 PM on April 26, 2011

Royal Canin makes a type of dry kitten food called "Babycat" (not sure of spelling) which has teeny tiny kibbles. Those seemed to be much easier for my litter last year to eat at first. It's also a fairly good brand of food. You can get it at Petco or Petsmart.

Lock up all the string and tie up the blind cords! Seriously, Google "kitten proofing".
posted by amtho at 4:42 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, for about a week I slept in a separate room with my kitten -- keeping out husband, child, and other cat. Just to give the kitten a chance to chill and get used to the sounds and smells of our home, but also a warm body to cuddle up with. (Also, now my kitten loves me best!)
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:47 PM on April 26, 2011

Kro, yes, 8 weeks is a little young. The main issue with kittens of this age is that they still need to learn manners from other cats. Still introduce gradually, but the sooner your cat can be teaching the kitten manners the better. Reward your cat with treats for being around the kitten and not hissing or growling. Make interactions with the kitten times of great pleasure for your cat.

Be religious about squealing if the kitten plays too rough with you -- this is the age where they should be learning bite and scratch inhibition. Squeal and ignore the kitten for a few seconds. Yes, it feels silly, but you're reacting to ouchies the same way the kitten's littermates would have.

Foodwise, you want to give it as much wet food as it wants. Have crunchies out at all times for Kitten to snack on. You cannot overfeed a baby kitten. This is also a great time to introduce the kitten to any kind of food you might want it to eat -- raw, wet, dry, etc. You can do kitten food, or you can feed a good grain-free high protein food like Orijen, Evo, Before Grain, or Blue Buffalo. Nature doesn't make different mice for kittens, so if you feed a food that is closer to what cats evolved to eat, you need to worry less about kitten vs. adult. Mama cats start weaning around 8 weeks, but most kittens aren't fully weaned (if Mama decides when to wean) until 12-16 weeks or so. This is why if you buy a purebred kitten from a responsible breeder, you won't get the kitten until 12-16 weeks. Feel free to supplement the kitten with KMR for a bit of bonding time between you and Kitten, but like a Mama Cat, it's comfort suckling, not full nutrition.

This is a great time to introduce the kitten to handling. Play with its paws, hold and extend toes like you will for claw trimming, lay the kitten on its back and give it treats, gently restrain the kitten and give it treats, touch it all over its body (and give treats, see a theme here?), do anything and everything you can think of physically that you think you or someone else might ever want to do.

If you don't have a scratching post, get one. Pretend to scratch on it, treat the kitten for showing interest in it or scratching on it.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions -- we found our third cat as a starved 8 week old stray, and he's a fantastic cat now.
posted by Concolora at 4:47 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

we opted to feed him (Tim!) canned tuna mixed with a little water and sometimes powdered milk and egg.

Tuna is a source of taurine, a protein that cats cannot synthesize.

However, tuna alone provides too little taurine for a cat's needs. Insufficient taurine can lead to blindness and cardiomyopathy in cats.
posted by orthogonality at 4:58 PM on April 26, 2011

Everyone else had decent advice, so I'll skip repeating mine. But I needed to point out that although kittens are resilient is terms of food, etc, they are very fragile creatures if they get sick at all. For the wee ones, vet sooner than later when ill, and make sure the little one is checked for all the usuals and gets their shots.
posted by cgg at 4:59 PM on April 26, 2011

Now is a good time to leave a cat carrier on the floor with the door open and an invitingly soft blanket or old t-shirt in it. You want to introduce the idea that the carrier is a safe place, so future trips to the vet won't be so traumatic. I failed to do this early enough, and now as soon as my cats see a carrier they immediately run and hide.

Also, once you are sure that kitty is healthy, invite other people to hold him and play with him too. It's a good idea if a cat will allow someone other than his people to pick him up and to handle him, should he ever escape the house, or for trips to the vet. (When one of my cats has to get his annual shots, the vet and vet tech have to wear welding gloves that go up to their elbows. His behavior mortifies me every time. Learn form my mistakes!)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:00 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

or from my mistakes, even...
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:02 PM on April 26, 2011

Lots of constructive play, socialization, teaching the rules of the house. Mother cats are not averse to giving their kittens gentle swats when they misbehave. Not actually suggesting you do this, but find some way to reinforce behavioral "lines" which must not be crossed. Kitty can chew on things they are allowed to, but need to be taught what not to chew on. You have to do this through behavior modification. A little finger tap on the nose and redirection of interest ought to do it. If they are chewing on a wire, say no and give them the approved chewing-on thing. But don't remove them or the wire on the first shot, or you are creating a game. Instead, make sure they learn to ignore the wire. Or something like that.

Remember, you have what amounts to a toddler child that is going to go through adolescence and be pretty much a grown up in a year or so.

And teach the existing cat that the new cat is a new friend and if the existing cat is in tune with their instincts, they will probably help the new cat learn the ropes. My experience with this is that little swats and snipes here and there are OK, but not actual fighting.
posted by gjc at 5:06 PM on April 26, 2011

Please do not listen to the bad advice telling you to give a kitten milk that comes from cows (evaporated milk, powdered milk). Most cats cannot properly digest cow's milk and can cause upset stomach and severe diarrhea. Cow's milk is formulated for the needs of calfs, not kittens. There is milk replacer you can buy in the store that is formulated for the needs of feline kitties, use that instead. Otherwise wet food would be fine.

Secondly, you need to take that kitten to the vet before introducing her to your other cat to make sure it isn't carry a transmittable disease.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:07 PM on April 26, 2011

hapax_legomenon - I rescued a cat (approx 4 weeks) in a similar situation, and she got by on beef bologna cut up into tiny pieces that she could suck in. Of course there weren't food processors either so we spent a lot of time cutting meat into the smallest pieces we could.

But really what I've dropped in to say is - Do not give your cat cow's milk - this is the one mistake we made, and it made her so sick it almost killed her.

(She also got more cake than any kitten should, but I hold my now-husband responsible for that atrocity).
posted by scrute at 5:25 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the responses! Here is a picture of little no name, who has been bounding happily around the living room. Other than a lot of mewing, he seems to be pretty happy. I picked up the nicest cat food I could find at the store- unfortunately, the only pet store on my side of town closed about an hour ago, so I'll go out and see what I can find tomorrow. I didn't realize that I picked up pate food at the store, so I mixed it with a little bit of Whiskas cat milk (my older cat loves it so we always have it around) and little no name is happily chomping on it.

Now, everything I've read about teeth, etc has pointed to him as being ~8 weeks, except his eyes- they're grey-blue, when they should've already started changing color, but some of his littermates had eyes that were already changing color. Could his just be taking longer? His mom was a black cat and I'm pretty sure he doesn't have any siamese in him, so I doubt they'll stay blue.
posted by kro at 6:05 PM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Those are actually my roommate's hands- the scratches are a combo of her being clumsy and my cat really disliking her. Luckily, the kitten has already adopted a stuffed giraffe of mine as his new littermate.
posted by kro at 6:39 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

My mother's cat was the only one of the litter + mom that didn't get squashed on a road. The kitten was several days old, eyes closed, tiny. My sister fed that kitten from a dropper every four hours or so for several weeks. When her eyes opened she found the letters my dad was sending me at the time irresistible and there are still some papers around that bear the marks. She grew into a mostly-normal cat who loved to jump on top of the folded laundry in the basket and meow until someone came along to swing the basket. She had a proclivity for kneading or "making bread" on anyone whose lap she adopted as a perch. Other than those oddities she was a wonderful, friendly, normal inside/outside cat with the ability to intimidate any dog that came along. She never did learn to hunt. She never had to, for the seventeen years she lived, all of them with my mother.
posted by jet_silver at 6:54 PM on April 26, 2011

He's not too little, I adopted two kittens at 8 weeks old. To settle them at night I snuggled them down in their bed with a poodle nightdress case, which had a ticking clock inside it. The ticking soothed them and they seemed to accept this as their 'mother', but also bonded strongly with me, as the one who catered to their every need. Your kitten will probably bond very strongly with an available human (of his choice) as a mother substitute.

Something I'd really recommend with your kitten is that you get him used to the vacuum. You do this by vacuuming in short bursts while you hold the kitten, gradually increasing the vaccuming time until he is quite comfortable with it. He's little enough to learn to not be scared by it. (Otherwise buy a Roomba, teach him to ride it and post the videos on YT.)
posted by essexjan at 11:18 PM on April 26, 2011

Aww - you found Oscar!
posted by likeso at 2:03 AM on April 27, 2011

I adopted my boy at 8 weeks, and he's perfectly fine. I do second the poster who gave you tips on how to teach him to play nicely without claws - I didn't do that with Sora, and he's never quite grasped the idea that kneading me with his claws out HURTS.

And this video shows my solution to the problem of my older cat discovering that she really liked kitten food and gaining weight on it.
posted by telophase at 2:03 PM on April 27, 2011

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