Feeding Wild Cat Kittens and Cubs
There is no substitute that is as good as a cat’s own mother. Big Cat Rescue has evolved since its inception in 1992. By 1997 we had seen enough of the abuse and abandonment caused by the pet trade that we had previously engaged in to know that there was no reason to breed exotic animals for lives in cages. As a result we increased our efforts through spaying, neutering and cage building to ensure that we would no longer be a part of the problem. As we have continued to learn about the causes of so much suffering we have become active in stopping the exotic pet trade through education and legislation. The following is provided only for those who have already made the mistake of supporting the pet trade so that the animal in your care does not suffer even more after being ripped from his mother.
For Cougars and larger, we use a baby bottle, with a preemie nipple if they are very small. For smaller cats we use a little 2 oz. pet nurser from Pet-Ag, but we have to special order a gross of the longer, pointed nipples called N -30 Veterinarian N ipples from Four Paws at Central Islip , N ew York 11722 . Most of these nipples do not have holes in them and getting the right hole size is so important that you will probably throw away more nipples than you actually use. The object is to make the hole large enough that when you turn the bottle upside down it drips out slowly. The little things you use to hold corn on the cob are great for burning the hole into the nipple. The prongs are just about the perfect size and the little handle gives you something to hold on to. Heat a burner and then hold the metal prong to the flame or coil until it glows orange. Poke the glowing prong through the nipple and let it cool before trying it out. If the milk flows too quickly the cub will choke and if it flows too slowly the cub will tire before he can finish his meal. An alternative to the corn cob thing is a hypodermic needle and syringe. The syringe works as a good handle and the needle can be heated the same way, only it does not seem to retain the heat long and you may have to make several attempts. Human baby bottles usually have the holes cut already and they are usually sufficient, but check first. If your cub has teeth, you may wish to use the hard rubber juice nipples.
You should boil the bottle and nipple (take it apart first) before filling it at each meal. As soon as the cub finishes his meal we dump and rinse the bottle and drop it into a pail of bleach water to soak until the next feeding, at which time we will wash with soap and a bottle brush, before boiling. Pour about a quarter more formula than you think your kitten will drink, because sometimes they surprise you and if they stop nursing for you to refill, it can be difficult or impossible to restart them.
After filling the bottle and putting the nipple assembly back on, set it in the pot of hot water to warm the milk to about 100 degrees, until it is just warm to the wrist. The outside heats faster so slosh it around and ALWAYS test it on yourself before offering it to a cub. Sometimes they are so hungry that they will slurp down half a bottle of very hot liquid and scald the insides of their stomachs. We take a coffee cup of the hot water with us to the area where we will feed, so that we can occasionally rewarm, during the meal. Once the milk has been warmed for the kitten do not try to save it for a later feeding. When a kitten is fussy and doesn’t want to eat, it is easy to reason that the milk “wasn’t out that long” and try to avoid the bleaching, washing, boiling and re-filling process. N O MATTER WHAT, DO N OT RE-USE MILK OR THE BOTTLE, without going through the entire sterilization. N o amount of money or time saved will be worth the consequences.
It is easiest for me to sit at a table while feeding, but some like to have the cub in their lap. Whatever the surface, it should be easily cleaned and comfortable for the both of you. Put the kitten in a position tummy down, with all four feet on the table or lap. If you are right handed, use your left hand to hold the kitten’s head up and forward. As the kitten nurses it will pull itself forward, resulting in the neck bending backward, resulting in the milk having a straight shot down the wind pipe. This can cause the cub to choke, so you will need to keep the face pulled forward of the chest. This cub was not a resident of Big Cat Rescue, but is shown to illustrate the proper positioning.
With your right hand, grasp the bottle firmly near the nipple ring with your thumb and index finger. Guide to the lips and just barely touch them. Sometimes this will cause an involuntary sucking response and you can slide the nipple right in. This response diminishes almost entirely before three weeks, so you may need to acquire a little more dexterity. Using the remaining three fingers on your right hand, try to softly guide the kitten’s mouth toward the nipple. You may even have to press slightly at the jaw joint with your middle finger and then substitute the nipple in the corner. Once the nipple is in the mouth, half your battle is won and now you can concentrate on trying to get the nipple around to the front of the mouth and in between the canine teeth. One trick that has helped us greatly is to slide the left hand up and over the eyes, and wrap the thumb around the face, as if to muzzle the cat with your hand from behind. The lack of outside stimulus helps the kit concentrate on eating. Gently stroking the side of the mouth will stimulate the sucking response. If you are feeding more than one kitten, do not let anyone down to play until all have eaten.
For the first twenty four to thirty six hours we only offer a mixture of purified water, electrolyte solution and a little 50% dextrose for added energy, in a pet nurser for lynxes and smaller, and in a baby bottle for cougars and larger. You should wait for the merconium, or the first stool, to be passed before offering any formula to the cub if he has been taken at birth. A kitten won’t starve to death in the first day and a half without milk, but it must get plenty of fluids. A bacteria imbalance in the intestines can cause mal-absorption and diarrhea and if not corrected immediately can kill the cub. The water mixture for the first few feedings will help eliminate the mother’s milk from the intestines and give the flora the chance to stabilize before the introduction of new milk. The new milk should be added VERY gradually. Watch the stool after each feeding to determine whether or not more milk should be added to the water mixture at the next feeding. As long as the stool is yellow and of at least toothpaste consistency, and has no sign of blood, mucous, chunks of undigested food or traces of green then you are probably on the right track. By the third day you should be up to 50% milk and 50% water mixture and do not increase the proportion of milk for at least a week.
It can be very tempting to increase the mixture or change the mixture abruptly and then reason to yourself that it was okay, because the cub ate it, but a couple of days later when the kitten is refusing to eat anything you offer, it is too late and the damage has been done. Once you have upset the bacterial balance in the intestines, you have set yourself and your cub up for disaster. Some of the signs that a kit is in bacterial induced distress are: drooling, nursing and then making a face like the milk was sour (when you know it isn’t), eating less at each feeding and acting cranky like he is hungry but won’t eat.
How often you feed depends on the age, size, breed and individual needs of the cub you are raising. Your kitten will let you know by it’s growth rate, stool formation, and attitude what kind of a schedule it needs. The perfect schedule is one that most closely resembles that of it’s mother. In the wild a mother cat gorges herself before kittening so that she can remain in the den with her new young for several days with no need of leaving for food. The placenta and afterbirth she consumes are concentrated protein and calories she will need to remain close to her young. By the third or fourth day, she will leave only long enough to eat and drink, and the rest of the time she is laying with, suckling and cleaning her cubs. Kittens expect this and deserve this and it is our obligation to make their transition as smooth as possible. N o matter how old the kitten is when we pull it, we offer food and cleaning and cuddling every two hours for the first two days.
The following is strictly a guide and is too much or too little in individual cases: Formula required is 15-20% of the kitten’s body weight, divided into the number of feedings per day and offered as follows:
Age in Weeks Feeding Intervals and Food Stages
0-2 weeks every two hours, formula diluted with unflavored electrolytes
3-4 weeks every four hours, add strained baby chicken or turkey or A/D
4-6 weeks every five hours, sleep through the night. More solids/less milk.
6-12 weeks morning, noon and night. Remove milk entirely.
over one year nightly (6 days per week) Well balanced meals and vitamins.
A novel little trick to help you get up every two hours through the night: While feeding your kit, drink a glass of water. It is great for your health and in two hours nature will awake you without the necessity of an alarm clock waking the both of you.
Too often, the Novice caretaker will assume that their kitten is ready to go further between meals, when the kitten begins refusing the bottle. This is an easy assumption to make when you are sick of getting up every two hours day in and day out to feed a kitten who isn’t acting hungry. If your baby is usually active and feisty and then suddenly becomes, as gentle as a lamb, then he may be ailing. You must take the entire picture into account before assuming that your cub is ready to go longer between meals. Refusal to eat an entire meal may be the first obvious clue that the kitten is ailing and allowing the cub to worsen and not be kept fully hydrated can be disastrous. NEVER have we seen a kitten refuse a meal, and then eat well at the next one, although it may be some better than the first “food fight”. Do not be fooled into thinking that the situation will rectify itself, because it won’t, and by the time you resign yourself to take the cat to the Veterinarian, it may already be dehydrated, stressed and overloaded with bacteria. See Bacterial Overgrowth.
WEIGH YOUR KITTENS! Use a gram scale or an ounce scale that measures in no less than tenths of ounces. In a small cat, Bobcats, Servals, Caracals, etc. a weight loss of one half of one ounce can be the red flag that if noticed will save the kitten, and if overlooked, may well lead to it’s near immediate demise. Weigh at the same time every day and in the same manner, with preference being given to that early morning, before I’ve eaten time. Keep a log of the weight, the date, the kittens age, and at each meal how much formula or food was consumed (in tablespoons, cc’s, ml’s or ounces) and the quality and quantity of urine and the colour, consistency and frequency of stool. An exotic can be dead within twenty four hours of the first good strong clue they give us that they are in distress. Only by monitoring and taking seriously the subtle changes in all of the factors listed above will you have any hope of catching a problem in time. Your well kept charts will help your Veterinarian in diagnosis and will give them much more insight to the cat’s health. If you ever raise another kitten, then this information to refer back to will become invaluable. See Figure ____ for a sample of the type of chart we use.
Breed :___________________ Age :________________________
Date of Birth ______________ Name :______________________
When the kitten is first taken from it’s mother a weight loss for the first day or two is expected and normal, because at our best, humans can only fall short of the natural milk and mothering provided by the cat. As long as the loss does not persist past the second day and is not more than 10% of the kittens initial body weight, there is no immediate cause for alarm. Check the kitten for fleas and ticks and ear mites which can quickly deplete a small cub of it’s life-sustaining blood. Use a flea comb to remove fleas. Wipe the comb with alcohol or a safe for kittens, flea spray and wipe with a towel to remove the excess. This will stun the fleas briefly so that you can pick them off. Few people can kill a flea with their bare hands, so have ready a cup of soapy water (use a safe soap) to rinse the comb in. Fleas can swim in tap water and while you’re picking off the next flea, they will be swimming to the edge of the cup and jumping back on the kit. If the water is soapy they can’t seem to get a grip on the sides of the cup. Even though most commercial flea shampoos say that they are safe for kittens, they don’t mean purebred or exotic kittens. Several years ago, one of my best friends (a five year old Himalayan) died from a toxic reaction to a well known flea shampoo available in any grocery store and when I complained to the company they said that they couldn’t guarantee the results on a purebred cat. N o where on the label was there any warning that it could be hazardous to specialized felines. Often Veterinarians will sell flea dips and shampoos to owners of exotic cats without any knowledge of the effect it may have on their systems. For this reason, unless fleas have reached epidemic proportions, we prefer to comb and drown. No cat was ever combed to death and this is great bonding time for you.
Take the first stool sample that you get in to a Veterinarian for analysis. Worms and parasites, such as coccidia can rob the young one of all of the nutrients it takes in, so while it may seem to be nursing frantically, it won’t be able to maintain it’s weight or gain. You cannot always tell when a kitten has worms by his appearance, but some tell tale signs are: Dullness in the eyes, a ragged, dull coat, very thin, or bloated with skinny legs or vomiting. Make a habit of taking in at least one stool sample per week to catch any early traces of worms or bacterial overgrowth. The oocyts only show up in the stool during certain stages of the parasite’s life, so a clean stool check is no guarantee that trouble isn’t festering. We worm with a mild formula such as Nemex or Pyrantel Pamoate whether we see worms or not, and whether the parents were wormed or not. If the parents had been wormed and no sign of worms is found in the kittens stool, then we worm at three weeks, once a day for three days and then once a week for three weeks and then quarterly for life. If we don’t know the status on the parents, or if we see worms in the stool, then we worm immediately once a day for three days, then again at three weeks, four weeks and five weeks and then quarterly for life. By the time they are six months old we move on to a stronger wormer, such as ivermectin and inject it into a treat or give it to them orally. Worming is such a common thing that it is often overlooked and parasites could be starving your cub to death, right under your nose. After the first couple days away from the Dam, the cub should ALWAYS gain or maintain it’s weight. N o loss is acceptable or normal.
The urine should be clear to light yellow and should not sting or burn the kitten. If the kitten screams when he relieves himself, then it is burning. If the genital area is raw, red or fur-less, then the urine is burning the cub. For the first three weeks the cub will need you to stimulate him to urinate and defecate. The muscles of a kitten are too weak and undeveloped in these first few weeks for them to be able to control their bowel movements. After eating, take a warm, wet wash cloth and gently massage the abdomen and genital areas. You will soon learn to feel a full bladder, like a hard rubber ball, which sometimes needs to be tended to before the kit can comfortably nurse. Instead of a rag we often use human type baby wipes that are Hypoallergenic and contain aloe or lanolin to keep the skin soft and protected. These need to be warmed before using on the kit as they tend to feel cold right out of the box.
Some thought should be given to your cubs’ den. Depending on the type of cat, it may grow very quickly and may need a succession of dens to accommodate him. Many people keep kittens in carriers, but it needs to have a raised wire mesh floor so that the kitten is not forced to lay in it’s own urine. Thick towels are a poor substitute, because any mess made on the towel will be rolled in by the kitten. Kittens don’t have the mental capacity, or in some cases the motor ability to soil one area and then crawl to a drier area. Any mess a kitten makes will be all over the kitten in no time at all, unless you have provided a goof proof enclosure. Exotic kittens produce a fantastic volume of urine and their den should be made with this in mind. If the urine is scarce or dark yellow it could indicate kidney failure and immediate Veterinary attention is required. If the urine stings, it is usually from rawness caused by diarrhea.
Diarrhea can deplete the cub of vital fluids, leaving him dehydrated and lifeless. A healthy kitten’s stool should be yellow if the cub is on formula and should have the consistency of toothpaste. It should not be foul smelling, watery, mucous laden, blood stained, green or hard. A kitten on food should have a brown to brownish black stool of firm consistency. The frequency of stool is an individual matter. There should not be more than one stool per feeding, but less is normal. We’ve had healthy kittens that only had two bowel movements per day and as long as the colour and consistency are okay there is no cause for alarm.
Stool Characteristic Indications Remedy
Yellow, runny Formula too rich Dilute formula
Watery Malabsorption Dilute Formula See Veterinarian
Green Bile Malabsorption Kaopectate See Veterinarian
Mucous Infection or worms Antibiotics See Veterinarian
Undigested Intestines not working Balance flora See Veterinarian
Hard, dark May be blood from worm damage Worm appropriately
Not enough fluids being given. Increase fluids See your Veterinarian
Blood stained Intestinal bleeding See your Veterinarian
Diarrhea Many causes See your Veterinarian
Any of these signs can be reason enough to take your kitten to a good Veterinarian for a professional analysis. In most cases your kitten will get sick five minutes after your Veterinarian leaves for a three day weekend in the Bahamas . As a temporary measure you can help a kitten with diarrhea by giving 3-5 cc of Kaopectate with every feeding. This will help coat the intestines so that they are not stripped raw in the interim. It also helps to keep the anus from becoming so raw that the cub cries in pain while trying to relieve itself. Put diaper rash ointment on the genitals to help dissipate the burning. Whatever you are feeding, cut the strength with Pediatric Electrolyte Solution to keep the kitten hydrated. Taste the unflavored Pedialyte before expecting your kitten to. Walgreens has a store label that is actually flavorless and acceptable to kittens. Pedialyte taste horrid and it is no wonder that cubs won’t drink it, but it is the most commonly available form of electrolytes and will do in a pinch. You can find it in pint jugs in the baby department, next to the formulas. For the most part, cats won’t drink anything that is fruit or bubble gum flavored. Sometimes when a kitten is sick, it will accept pure water from a bottle or syringe, when it won’t accept food. In an emergency you can tube feed the cub, but a common problem in exotic kittens is bacterial overgrowth in the intestines and even though you may be able to force food into the stomach, you cannot force the intestines to absorb it properly and you may cause the kitten to bloat and die. If the stool is mucousy, has chunks of undigested materials in it, watery or blood stained it may be better if you have to force fluids to only force Electrolytes, such as Pedialyte or pure water, until you can get your kitten to the hospital.
If you detect any sneezing, coughing, wheezing, runny nose or runny eyes it is very serious and demands the attention of a licensed Veterinarian. I know how expensive it can be to run a cat to the Veterinarian at every little indication. We spend between $15,000.00 to $22,000.00 per year in medical bills, but to fail to get an early and proper diagnosis will cost you much more financially and in the health of the cat.
Note: I am not a veterinarian. If your cat is bleeding get him to a licensed veterinarian immediately.
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