Caring for Neonatal Kittens: 10 Tips


Neonatal kittens (aged 0-4 weeks old) are very fragile. Without the warmth, milk, and love of their mom, they are likely to die. Therefore, raising kittens is not an easy task. That’s why our Animal Rescue Cambodia vet team has put together 10 tips based on our experience when raising baby kittens.

10 Tips to Raise Neonatal Kittens Safely

Before you take in ‘abandoned’ kittens, make sure that the mom is not nearby, maybe just hunting for food or defending their territory. Once you have made sure of that, calmly collect the kittens, for example, with a blanket.

Keep in mind that helping a homeless street animal doesn’t mean you have to take care of it forever – although you can ;-) It’s already amazing and great karma, if you help initially, for example, by taking an injured animal to the vet or fostering baby kittens until they can move to their forever adoption home.

If you raise kittens, here are a few tips based on years of our own experience.

1. Consult a vet

If possible, take the kittens to a vet for a checkup and consultation to make sure they are healthy and to give you tailored advice based on the kittens’ age and individual health condition. If you found a kitten and need caretaking advice, contact our team. We are happy to help you get started!

2. Keep kitten supplies clean

Always wash your hands before and after interacting with kittens. Keep their area (box, towels, etc.) and supplies (feeder, water bowls, etc.) clean.

  • Wash the milk bottle after every milk change
  • Change the kitten’s basket/cage and towels daily or when they are dirty

At home, using hot water and soap (ideally organic) is sufficient. It’s not necessary to use chemical cleaners like disinfectants, but if you do, make sure to rinse it off your kitten’s supplies properly so they don’t accidentally lick it up.

3. Keep kittens warm

We all love warmth and coziness, right? To kittens, this is essential to their survival. Here’s why:

  • Kittens cannot generate their own heat and easily pass away due to hypothermia, even in Cambodia
  • Assure that kittens have a hot water bottle or heating blanket at ALL times

Who would have thought that a hot water bottle would come in handy in Cambodia? ;-)

4. Only feed special kitten formula

Kittens cannot digest cow milk and provide them with the nutrition they need to survive. Therefore, giving them a special kitten formula is a must for them to survive. Check out our ARC shop for kitten milk powder and supplies.

5. How to feed kittens (every 2 hours)!

Not feeding kittens at night is neglect and causes suffering. Night feedings are mandatory in order to provide adequate welfare to the kittens.

Feeding preparation

  • Prepare 20ml of milk per kitten.
  • Mix milk powder with warm water. Follow the instructions on the powder package EXACTLY. Note, every brand has different measurements so always read before preparing.
  • Stir or shake well, until all powder clumps are diluted.
  • Pour prepared milk into a feeding bottle.
  • Check the milk’s temperature by releasing a few drops onto your tongue or lower wrist. If it is too hot for you, it is too hot for the kitten.
  • Store milk powder in the fridge or freezer.

How to feed kittens

  • If you are caring for more than 1 kitten, feed each kitten individually, one after the other.
  • Do not hold the kitten on its back, as it may get milk in its lungs.
  • Let the kitten stand up by imitating a natural feeding posture (as if it would feed on its mother).
  • Hold the bottle with a tiny bit of pressure, to help the kitten with suckling from the bottle.
  • Feed the kitten several times, over a period of 10 minutes. It needs a little break after every suckling and may appear full, but give it 2 – 3 minutes, and it will want to suckle again.

Leftover milk

  • Leftover milk only lasts 3-4 hours (in the fridge) after preparation.
  • To warm up leftover milk, pour hot water into a mug, and place the bottle inside for approximately 2 minutes.
  • Check the temperature again, before feeding the kitten.

Let’s look at what to do after you feed the kittens.

6. Help baby kittens to pee & poop

Help kittens younger than 4 weeks to urinate/defecate after you feed them.

  • Massage the kitten’s bottom with a soft cotton ball after every feeding, by gently moving the cotton ball up and down.
  • Kittens may need longer to defecate, so continue to massage the bottom for a little while longer, after they have finished urination.
  • Kittens easily get a sore bottom! This is how you can help:
    • Dip the cotton ball in warm water, to reduce friction during the massage.
    • Do not use “rough” material. Use cotton balls or equivalent.
    • If red and sore, apply baby powder or Bepanthen cream.

Once the kitten is 3-4 weeks old and starts to urinate/defecate on its own, place it into a litter box after every feeding. If it still needs help, return to massaging its bottom.

7. Help kittens to stay clean

Kittens cannot clean themselves. If the kitten is dirty (ears, face, paws, bottom, etc.) immediately wash it with warm water and a cotton ball. Don’t use human soap or dog shampoo, only special cat shampoo (dog shampoo is toxic to cats). You can buy cat shampoo at your vet clinic.

After washing the kitten, keep it warm and observe until the fur is dry to avoid hypothermia.

8. Cuddle and play with them, keep siblings together if possible

Kittens need a social bond with their mother. Pet and spend time with kittens as much as possible. Try to assure the kitten has the company of other kittens at all times.

If there is a friendly adult cat, consider letting the kitten spend some time with the friendly adult cat. Supervise this interaction to ensure the safety of the kitten.

9. Deflea, deworm & desex kittens

You can and should deflea and deworm kittens from as young as 2 weeks to avoid deadly parasite infections.

Likewise, desexing cats and dogs is an integral part of responsible pet ownership. Baby kittens and puppy dogs can be spayed/neutered from as early as 1.5 – 3.5 months of age if they are healthy. It’s safe and responsible. Find out more about this so-called pediatric spaying/neutering. At ARC, we usually desex kittens from around 3 months of age.

10. Happy Kitten – Healthy Kitten

Keeping kittens healthy may sound like a bit of a challenge, and it is. Considering these tips give them their best chance at growing into healthy teenagers and happy cats.

Watch out for these symptoms and consult a vet immediately if you notice any irregularities. Kittens can pass away within just a few hours, so immediate care is critical! Symptoms may include:

  • Dehydration (e.g. dull skin, sunken eyes)
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, bloated belly
  • Lethargy
  • Flu symptoms, runny nose/eyes, pale gums, etc.

Lack of appetite: this is crucial! A kitten that doesn’t want to eat is VERY sick. It needs immediate help. Don’t wait! 

What’s Next?

We are always looking for foster homes to raise abandoned baby kittens for 1-3 months. Are you interested? Contact us: