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Hello Your Own Vet,
My 1 year old cat gave birth to a litter of 3 kittens and they are 5 weeks old. I am trying to introduce them to eating solid foods from a wet cat food pouch designed for kittens up to the age of 1. I mushed it up and poured water on top of it as advised to do by my local vet but they are not eating it – any advice to make them eat it?
Also I have a problem – my cat was a stray cat so it is trained to do it’s business outside but the other kittens have urinated on the carpet, which I have cleaned but they still wee in the same spot. I put their nose in the mess and put them in the litter box. Still not working! They eat the clay from the litter box but they are still urinating on the carpet. Any advice you can give me on that?
Sometimes weaning kittens can be difficult because they can be very stubborn! Kittens can be weaned from approximately four weeks of age. Some people do try from three weeks, but I find that they are emotionally immature than and it’s usually very hard. Kittens with the mother cat will start eating on their own from four to five weeks of age but continue to suckle on the mother for up to six months of age. If you are hand rearing kittens, I also advise to let them have milk formula mixed specially for kittens as well as solids at this age, because of this natural behavior. To wean them, I usually try taking pieces of the pouched food or weaning pellets such as “Royal Canin Babycat” softened with warm water, and putting it in their mouths directly. For kittens that are bottle fed, one can usually judge when they are ready to start weaning because they change from sucking on the teat of the bottle to chewing on it. Your kittens are obviously hungry for solids because they are eating their litter so it is definitely the right time to wean them. They sometimes just need to be shown what food really is. Most of the food that you place in their mouths will get spat out initially but some will be swallowed. You will need to do this each mealtime for about 3-7 days and then once they take the food from your fingers you can put it in a dish for them to take when they want. I sometimes start them taking food from my fingers and then guide their heads to the plate and gradually move my fingers away. Remember to change to food regularly as it can spoil. It is also important to worm the kittens at 4 weeks of age, as they get worms from the mother through the milk, and these worms can stunt their growth or even kill them. You can pop into your vet and ask for a liquid wormer for 4-5 week old kittens and give it to them at home. Remember the mother cat can fall pregnant again when the kittens are 4-6 weeks old. Have her sterilized as soon as the kittens are eating on their own.
Kittens can be litter trained from about 5 weeks of age. Try putting newspaper under the tray and the tray on top of the spot on the carpet to stop them urinating on the carpet. Put any messes they make outside the litter tray as well as any paper you used to clean the messes up with into the litter box so it smells of urine/stools and they will get the idea. Cats in general are odor based animals, which is why it’s so difficult to stop an adult cat marking the same place over and over again. If they smell their messes in the litter tray then they will get the idea that this is the toilet. Because they are very clean animals, this should also stop them eating the litter and help you wean them more easily. I sometimes find that very small kittens struggle to get in and out of an adult cat’s litter tray. I usually start them on a margarine or two liter ice cream tub with litter in it. They also toilet train more easily with fine clay litter as opposed to standard clay, sawdust or silica litter. Wash the carpet with biological washing powder to lift the urine stains and get rid of the smell in the carpet.
HOW TO HAND-REAR ABANDONED KITTENS
I am adding this as an addendum to the question and answer because it’s something one sees a lot of in practice. Feral cats live in every major city in the world, and will breed frequently and give birth almost every season. For various reasons, such as motor vehicle accidents and illness, they sometimes abandon their kittens. People hear them crying and pick them up and bring them to the vet to see if they can be hand-reared. Hand-rearing lost kittens is easier than hand-rearing puppies and requires full time dedication for about a month, until they can eat on their own.
0-2 weeks of age: These are the most difficult kittens to hand-rear and if you have successfully done this and got a healthy kitten out at six weeks of age, you can pat yourself on the back because it’s difficult, even for people who do it all the time. The reason it is so difficult, is that newborn kittens need something called colostrum from the mother. This colostrum is taken in with the first couple of feedings after birth, Colostrum contains all the antibodies the kitten needs to fight off infection for the first few weeks of it’s life, until it’s immune system is mature enough to start producing it’s own antibodies. Newborn kittens that have not drunk colostrum often die from any small infection, so hygiene is very important if you are hand-rearing kittens. Newborn kittens have sealed eyelids and ears, so they rely on heat and touch to know where they are.
- Feed the kitten every 2 hours with a milk formula designed specifically for kittens. You can buy a kitten feeding kit with bottles, teats and brushes from most vets or pet stores. Mix the formula up freshly every time as, if it spoils, it will cause diarrhea. Don’t mix more than 1 teaspoonful of formula in the beginning as newborn kittens hardly drink anything at all. Most feeding bottles hold about twenty milliliters. You shouldn’t expect them to drink more than five mls per feed in the beginning. Test the formula by dropping a few drops onto the back of your hand – it should be at body temperature.
- After feeding, you will need to stimulate urination and defecation by rubbing the area around the anus with wet cotton wool. Newborns can’t control their own bladder and bowel movement and usually the mother does this for them by licking them clean after a feed.
- Keep them warm! If you have a heating pad, keep it on the lowest setting, or alternatively use a hot water bottle or wheat germ based heating pillow. Remember that the hot water bottle and wheat germ lose their heat after about two hours, so you will need to reheat at every feed. Tiny feral kittens that get cold can die from Herpes infections.
- Touch your kitten. They love to be stroked and this stimulation helps the bond between you as well as keeping them happy.
2-4 weeks of age: The eyes and ears start opening around two weeks of age. Some kittens can develop infections under their eyelids which remain closed. You will see an eyelid that suddenly bulges. If this happens, you need to take them into a vet to have the eyelids opened, to allow the infection to drain out. It’s also very common for hand-reared kittens to develop diarrhea at some point. Worry if it doesn’t clear up after a day, or of they go off their food. They may need antibiotics and sometimes fluids to help them get through the infection. Your vet may also recommend a pro-biotic at this point. Use pro-biotic only once you have asked your vet about it.
- You can decrease the frequency of feeds to every three hours at two weeks of age and then to every four hours at four weeks of age.
- Kittens start to gain toilet function from about two weeks. You can stop stimulating them from about three – four weeks.
- They still need warmth to stay healthy.
- They will grow up rapidly between two and four weeks. At two weeks, they start crawling around more and by four weeks of age, they are walking around on their own and you may see them start to play with each other, if you have more than one.
4-8 weeks of age: This is the age where they change from small rat-like creatures into proper kittens and their personalities start coming out. They will play a lot with each other and with you at this age.
- You can start weaning, as described above. Carry on with the milk formula throughout, until they are weaned. Some kittens will happily drink it from a saucer at this stage, and some still prefer to suckle on a bottle when feeding, as they would on the mother.
- You can worm them at four weeks, by getting something from your vet. Some people take them in to the vet for a check up as well at this age
- If they have fleas or ticks, you need to use a product that is safe for tiny kittens. Usually “Frontline spray” or “Revolution” are safe to use at this age. “Frontline spray” is safe to use from 2 days of age, if necessary.
- Their first vaccination is between six and eight weeks of age and immunizes them against Herpes, Calici and Rhinotracheitis, amongst others such as Chlamydia.
- If you wish to rehome your kitten then you can do so after the first vaccination has been done at about nine weeks of age
- Toilet train them on clay litter as described above.