Foolproof way to feed baby kittens?
April 23, 2013 6:06 AM   Subscribe

I've got three new baby kittens with no mother, and I need to feed them. I don't have access to any good pet stores or veterinary clinics, but I do have lactose-free baby formula and a plastic syringe with the needle removed, which I've been using to feed them so far. But is there a foolproof method of holding them or something to get them to drink from it? I can usually get them to drink, but only about half of the amount recommended. More details inside.

Last week, I walked into my kitchen and saw three white kittens mysteriously sleeping on my counter. My kitchen is built as an add-on to my apartment, and the roof doesn't go all the way to the walls, so what I'm thinking is the mother cat jumped in through the roof and deposited her kittens on my countertop and then left. I've since been taking care of them (and I already had nine cats, so this makes 12!).

I've been feeding them lactose-free baby formula (Enfelac brand) out of sterilized plastic syringes with the needle removed, but about half of it usually dribbles down their chin while they meow, or they try to fight it away. They're not a big fan of the plastic syringe. I try to do this roughly every 2-3 hours.

I notice when they lay down together that often times they try to nurse on each other, or sometimes they try to nurse on my feet or the flesh between my thumb and my forefinger, so that tells me they have a need and desire for more food, but they don't want to accept it from the syringe. Unfortunately, none of the stores in my neighborhood have either kitten bottles or specialized kitten formula (I live in a third world country, it can sometimes be hard to even find cat food—most people just feed their cats table scraps or release their cats to the streets to find food).

I've been told different things by different people. Hold the kittens so all their legs and stomach are supported, such as on my leg. Pick them up by the scruff of their necks to 'freeze' their movements. Etc. But none have worked.

Is there any other particular method I should try to get them to drink more of their formula?
posted by ferdinandcc to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Here are pictures so you can get an idea of how old they are. My guess is about two weeks. One had fully opened eyes, but the other two had only partially opened eyes until yesterday.
posted by ferdinandcc at 6:08 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not a veterinarian, and not a very-young-kitten expert, but: my first thought is they may not be getting enough protein. Cats need a lot more than humans do. Most recipes I found for homemade formula have egg yolk (1 or 2) added to one cup (250ml) of milk, and recommend a drop of vegetable formula if the kitten gets constipated. A lot of sites also mention mixing in a drop of pediatric vitamins, but I don't know how appropriate those would be for cats...

As for getting them to eat, is the formula warm when you feed them? Having it warmed up might help.
posted by fraula at 6:23 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My sister hand-raised a baby kitten of roughly similar age without access to kitten formula or kitten bottles. She used pasteurized buffalo's milk and suggests beefing up the milk you're giving them with 1 egg yolk and 2 tbsp butter per cup of milk.

She also used a syringe, and held the kitten in one hand, upside down, with her (the kittens) paws in the air. The kitten seemed to enjoy the milk, she used to scrabble at the syringe to try to get more - maybe you should try some other kind of milk, they might like that more. Also, it might help to warm the milk so its lukewarm, but not hot.

Her kitten grew up fine by the way (aside from the slightly neurotic behavior, but cats!). Good luck!
posted by MFZ at 6:29 AM on April 23, 2013

Best answer: Be sure you're using a washcloth to stimulate them to poop and pee and to clean it up - really young kittens don't go on their own - their mother will clean them, stimulating them to produce.
posted by leslies at 6:40 AM on April 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

If it's dribbling, I would guess that it might be coming too fast? I fostered teeny kittens once and I think I had them on their stomachs on my lap or the counter and syringed the food in that way.

nthing the need for extra protein.

But also, they are too young to keep their body temp regulated -- we either put a heating pad under half of their box (so they can crawl away if they get too warm), or fill a sock with rice or beans and microwave it for about 20-30 seconds and put it in with them (and then re-heat it every couple hours).

If you have a porch or something, I would be tempted to put them out there and watch from inside to see if the mom comes back -- maybe try it for 15-30 minutes?
posted by MeiraV at 6:51 AM on April 23, 2013

Response by poster: I did not know that about the washcloth! Thanks! I'll also try adding an egg yolk to their formula.

Re: their mom coming back—I live in a very slum neighborhood in the Philippines, heavy with fast traffic and way over-populated with cats of various levels of health. That's the reason I already had 9 cats. When I see kittens on the sidewalk, I take them if I can. I see dead cats on the road almost every day, so IF the mama cat comes back, I'd prefer to try to take her in too, at least temporarily, to feed her kittens. I've actually tried luring her in by keeping my second floor window open and hanging a blanket from it that she can climb from the roof of my first floor (where she dropped her kittens into my kitchen) up to my bedroom, but no luck yet.
posted by ferdinandcc at 6:57 AM on April 23, 2013

Yes, cats have warmer body temperatures than people and love heat. If it was me, I'd make sure the milk was about 100 deg F and lay them on my chest while trying to get them to eat. Baby mammals like to feel cuddled when they feed.

And yes, lots of petting and washing with warm washcloths.

I would also try to find some formula meant for kittens. Cats have different amino acid needs than people and not having what they need can cause trouble. I would make a concerted effort to find a pet store or a veterinarian to get advice. They will also be able to get you a feeding bottle. The cats probably don't like the hard plastic of the syringe.

Good luck!
posted by gjc at 7:00 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As far as the dribbling, yeah, the milk may be coming out of the syringe too fast for them. But sometimes bottle-fed kittens are just messy eaters and need to have their faces cleaned up with a warm cloth afterwards when they're just starting out.

Here's a video of the purrito method:
Another good syringe-feeding video:

It may or may not mean anything, but I've had bottle-kittens who also tried to nurse on anything that stood still, including my fingers and chin.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:12 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Chiming in that the egg yolk/butter combo is a good place to start. Also, I think it is wonderful that you are doing this - those kittens are incredibly lucky to have you :)
posted by bahama mama at 7:36 AM on April 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'll try wrapping them snuggly like a burrito next time. I just got them fed and cleaned and settled down now, finally. They were really yowlin' up a storm for a bit there.

Also, that washcloth advice? One of the most disgusting things I've ever done. Thanks. Blegh! I'll keep it up though.

Thanks, bahama mama!
posted by ferdinandcc at 7:38 AM on April 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

gjc: I would make a concerted effort to find a pet store or a veterinarian to get advice. They will also be able to get you a feeding bottle.

Yeah, you should call the veterinarians and pet stores nearby and see if you can find what might be called (in English, at least) a "feeding bottle" or "pet nurser". If you don't have any luck, MeMail me and I can look into mailing you one.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:48 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: One of our board members is a founding partner of CARA (Compassion and Responsibility for Animals) Philippines and she had given me advice on what types of formula to get and what to use to feed them with (a kitty bottle or a plastic syringe sans needle), but she was doubtful that anyplace near me would have the kitty bottle and when I checked yesterday (Monday, here, the first day any of those places would be open since I found the kittens Friday night) nobody knew what I was talking about. I might go to one of the more affluent areas to get one, but unfortunately it'll need to wait until the 1st when I have enough money for transportation.

The kittens are drinking their formula out of the syringes, it just seems like I'm losing half of it every time I feed them and I'm never sure they're getting enough, and at a certain point they stop trying. But I'm seeing definite improvements in their health. When I got them on Friday, they wouldn't even crawl around in their tub, but now they're constantly pulling themselves out of the tub and walking all over my bedroom floor. So there's that, at least!
posted by ferdinandcc at 8:15 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

A kitten milk formula will have taurine, which cats need for their eyesight.
posted by SillyShepherd at 8:31 AM on April 23, 2013

Best answer: If you could find a rubber glove or latex surgical-type glove, you could simulate the bottle nipple experience by cutting a hole in the end of a finger and fastening that to the syringe. Maybe they wouldn't lose so much formula that way?
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:44 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, a doll bottle will work in a pinch - something you might find at a toy store or as a novelty item in the toy aisle at a grocery store (at least, here in the States, don't know what is in the aisles of stores in the Philippines!). Good on you for taking on these kittens and best of luck!
posted by Lynsey at 9:59 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have had many batches of small kittens w/o mothers over the course of my life (at least 10 batches usually consisting of 4-8 kittens per batch), they take a lot of care the first few weeks, but it will get easier. Don't worry about how much they eat in one sitting, as long as they are getting about the right amount over the course of the day they will be okay. Many times I have had to feed kittens every hour until I was sure they had enough. Warm milk will go over better than cold milk, hot milk is never a good call.

N'thing the warm wash cloth thing, recommended every two hours or so, also anytime you pick up a kitten and it feels bloaty-er than usual.

If you haven't already, I recommend providing them with a warm towel in their area. It will be a good place for them to rest and snuggle and conserve energy, better to use what energy they have to grow rather than use the energy to stay warm.

On the topic of actually feeding them with the plastic syringe, I've had best luck by putting the tip of the syringe back by the corner of their mouth, near the hinge of the jaw and literally squirting a little bit of formula at a time in. Kittens don't really like the hard plastic of the syringe, so they won't nurse on it like you would hope. They may whine a little bit and they may cough a little, but they won't choke and it's the easiest way to make sure that more gets in than gets out.

Feel free to me-mail me if you want more help. Best of luck to you and the growing kitties!
posted by carnivoregiraffe at 10:04 AM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I've gotten a lot of great advice. I'll leave it open for a few more hours (it's 1:22am here) to see if anything new comes in, and then I'll mark it resolved. You guys are great!
posted by ferdinandcc at 10:23 AM on April 23, 2013

Also, that washcloth advice? One of the most disgusting things I've ever done.

Hah, yes. The first time I took care of abandoned kittens I was like "I have to make them poop?".

Pretty good advice here. I just wanted to add --- this is a difficult thing to do and kittens that young without a mother have a hard time of it. If the worst should happen and one or more does not make it, that doesn't necessarily mean you did anything wrong. They're lucky to have someone taking care of them, you're giving them the best shot you can at life. But don't be too hard on yourself if they don't thrive.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:25 PM on April 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

You're earning a crown in heaven.

I can help fund the kitties, do you have a paypal or a smartypig?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:55 PM on April 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, wow, thanks! I have a paypal, but it's linked to my nonprofit so I'm hesitant to use it for other stuff... I'll message you.
posted by ferdinandcc at 8:21 PM on April 23, 2013

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