How Long Do Kittens Nurse and Other Weaning Kitten Questions

If you happen upon a newborn kitten, you might have a ton of questions in your mind all at once – such as “how long do kittens nurse?” or “how to feed a kitten”, “the best way of weaning kittens” or “what should I feed a neonatal kitten?”  After all, that tiny life is literally now in your hands!

Here is a list of the things you should, and absolutely shouldn’t do when feeding a newborn kitten.

How Long Do Kittens Nurse weaning kittens
Shutterstock | Weaning Kittens

What to Do If You Find a Baby Kitten?

What do you know about weaning kittens, or making sure they actually need your help? The very first thing you should always do is simply wait and watch to see if the mother cat is nearby.  Having their own mother is absolutely a kitten’s best chance for survival.  That is unless the kitten is alone in a cold, frigid environment.  In that case it might be better to move the kittens if the mother doesn’t return within a reasonable amount of time.

If the mother cat does return, consider helping feed the mother cat until the kittens are at least six weeks of age.  That is when they’re more likely to survive after being separated from their mother.  It is also important to try helping the mother out if at all possible, otherwise she may keep having more litters – and cat populations can explode pretty quickly.

How to Feed a Kitten?

If no mother is to be found and there are no local rescues with staff on hand to handle a nursing kitten, you may need to do this on your own.  You will need the following supplies:

  • A towel or blanket – so that you can hold the kitten and help stimulate them (will explain below)

You might wonder why we aren’t recommending cow’s milk.  This is because cow’s milk can cause kittens to have diarrhea, which can be fatal.  The usual powder to water measurement for powdered formulas is 2 parts water to 1 part formula, but pay attention to the packaging’s directions to be safe.

Before feeding the kitten, make sure that the kitten isn’t cold. Feeding a cold kitten can have some pretty serious consequences, so it is best to make sure the kitten is snug and warm.  If you aren’t able to warm up the kitten, you should contact a veterinarian immediately.

When feeding a kitten, make sure you don’t hold them like you would a human baby – you should never feed a kitten while it is laying on it’s back.  The kitten should be on it’s stomach, or you can gently support it in a slightly upright position.

How Long Do Kittens Nurse
Shutterstock | Weaning Kittens

Gently hold the bottle in front of the kitten and allow one drop to come out before placing it into the kitten’s mouth.  Your goal is to have the kitten start suckling on its own.  You can try rubbing the nipple back and forth a bit against their mouth to see if that helps stimulate them if they seem reluctant.  It is ok to wait a few minutes before trying again.

You can also try stroking the kitten’s forehead or back, as it might make it think of it’s mother cleaning them.  If you cannot get the kitten to eat on its own, please contact a veterinarian for more assistance.

How Much Should I Feed a Kitten?

Kittens need about 8 mls of formula for each ounce of their body weight each day.  That means if a kitten weighs 5 ounces, they should eat 40 mls of formula throughout the day – so divide the daily feedings by the proper mls to know how much you should feed them at each time.

How Often Should I Feed a Kitten?

How often you feed a kitten depends on the age of the kitten.  If they’re less than a week old, you should feed them every 2-3 hours.  When they’ve reached two weeks, you can extend the time to every 4-6 hours.  Keep in mind that the kitten’s tummy after feeding shouldn’t be hard or distended – just nicely round.

If the kitten is larger or smaller than average, keep that in mind while feeding.  Smaller kittens will obviously be ok with a bit less, while larger kittens may need a bit more.

After Feeding a Kitten

When the kitten is nice and full, it is important to burp them just like you would a human baby.  This is actually quite sweet!  Just lay them on your shoulder or on their stomach and gently pat their back until you hear their tiny burp.  The kitten might need to burp more than once per feeding.

You will also need to make sure that the kitten is properly pooping.  That means that after each feeding, you need to take a soft cloth, paper towel or cotton ball (soft being the key word!) and gently rub the kitten’s bottom.  This will usually cause them to eliminate after about a minute, and they’ll need your help to clean up afterwards.

How Long Do Kittens Nurse?

The question “how long do kittens nurse” can sometimes differ.  Generally, kittens will continue to nurse until they’re about 3 ½ to 4 weeks of age.  At this time, you can start trying to feed them formula from a spoon instead of from a bottle.  This will help teach them to properly lap their food and will make it easier to start introducing solids.

After they’ve got the hang of lapping milk, start adding small amounts of a high quality canned kitten food.  Until you’re sure they’re eating enough canned food on their own, continue bottle feeding in between.  Again, make sure they aren’t eating so much that their bellies get hard or distended.

weaning kitten how to help a kitten eat
Shutterstock | Weaning Kittens

When the kitten is eating more solid foods on a normal basis, start making sure that they have fresh water available at all times.  This is important to help ensure that they’re staying well hydrated after they are no longer being bottle fed.  You can add small bits of the powdered formula to help entice them to try water for the first time if they seem reluctant.

Happy and Healthy Weaned Kitten!

By the time all is said and done, you should have happy and healthy kittens who will be ready for new homes around the age of 8 weeks.  This is also a prime time to consider having them spayed and neutered, along with their first vaccinations.

You can now sit back and admire your work, as you’ve helped ensure that the kittens were able to get the best start in life.  Absolutely a win-win situation!


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