Kitty Post: Helping Neonatal Kittens Survive By Sallie Rhodes
Updated: May 23
Did you know that kittens cannot regulate their body temperature until they are 4 weeks old. As a result, hypothermia is a major cause of death in neonatal kittens. The neonatal stage for kittens is from birth to three weeks of age. This is a very fragile time as the kittens are totally dependent upon their mother for protection, warmth, and nutrition.
Beltsville Community Cats (BCC) recently rescued three 2-day old kittens that had been outside without their mother for several hours. The kittens were immediately taken to a Laurel Cats’ volunteer with an incubator and years of neonatal experience. With the kittens being so young and no sign of the mother cat, this was their best chance for survival.
A quick check of the kittens’ body temperatures showed that they were too chilled to be fed. A kitten’s body temperature must be at least 97 degrees for it to digest its mother’s milk or kitten formula. Since kittens (and cats) should never be fed milk, young kittens without access to mother’s milk must be fed a specialized kitten milk formula.
Each rescued kitten got a shot of Penicillin (to prevent pneumonia due to exposure to the cold) and was placed in an incubator. Once the kittens warmed up, they were ready to be bottle-fed. Not all neonatal kittens take to bottle feeding. Some must be fed with a syringe or be tube-fed. All neonatal kittens need to eat formula every two hours and must be stimulated to go to the bathroom. Even with the care of an experienced neonatal specialist and access to an incubator, two of the kittens died within 48 hours of being rescued.
If you find neonatal kittens, look for their mother before you do anything. If the kittens are in a safe environment, their best chance for survival is to stay with their mother until they are about 4 weeks old. If the mother can’t be found, immediately reach out to your local cat group. Find the local cat groups serving Prince George’s County at: https://pgcatalliance.org/contact/. If the kittens are in Beltsville, contact Beltsville Community Cats immediately (email@example.com or 204-444-8353).
Your local cat group will advise you on what to do. The advice may be to leave the kittens where they are and monitor the situation until they are 4-5 weeks old and eating solid food. If the mother can’t be found or the kittens are in an unsafe environment, the cat group may want to rescue the kittens immediately. Please remember that the cat groups are run by volunteers and their capacity to take in kittens is limited.
If you are rescuing and caring for young kittens yourself, please take advantage of the wealth of information available at Resources - National Kitten Coalition. You may want to put together a “Neonatal Kitten Care Go Kit” (see NKC-Fast-Facts_Kitten-Care-Kit_5.9.17.pdf (kittencoalition.org). If you prefer educational videos over face sheets, check out the Kitten Lady’s website (Kitten Care - Home — Kitten Lady) for short videos on kitten care.
Over half the kittens born to feral mothers die before they are a year old. Let’s work together to protect the kittens born in Beltsville!