Rearing kittens by hand is the most common occasion when force feeding kittens is necessary, but in some cases you may have to administer liquids to a sick cat to keep up the body fluid level.
There is usually no need to force feed adult cats, and this is not something that you would undertake at home in any case. But you may have to face up to an emergency situation if you have a queen who dies during pregnancy or is run over soon after giving birth, leaving you with a litter of orphaned kittens who are incapable of feeding themselves. A queen may also fall ill, particularly with mastitis, so that you have to feed her offspring on a temporary basis.
There is a range of feeding equipment and special foods available to make the task of force-feeding kittens easier, increasing the chance of success.
It is important to bear in mind that young cats gain immunity directly from their mother’s milk for the first 48 hours of life. The milk provides them with protective antibodies which are absorbed at this critical early stage directly across the wall of the intestines. Should kittens not receive this protection, having been born by a Caesarean with their mother dying before they could suckle for example, then they will be far more vulnerable to infections in the early stages of life until their immune systems are fully functional. The ideal solution is to foster young kittens to a queen who has just given birth. Most will accept one or two extra kittens without problems.
Cat’s milk contains far more protein than cows’ milk, and there are vital differences in terms of other ingredients as well, such as the raised level of calcium and phosphorus. As a precautionary measure, it is worthwhile investing in a powdered cat milk replacer therefore, before your cat gives birth, just in case of an emergency. The milk will have to be made up freshly for each feed, ensuring that the powder is completely dissolved, by stirring it in water heated to 38°C (100°F). Special feeders simplify the task of feeding the young kittens, but always take care to allow them to feed at their own pace. Otherwise, you may inadvertently choke a kitten by forcing milk down its throat and into the airways, where it is likely to cause a fatal pneumonia.
How often should I feed young kittens?
Kittens need feeding every two hours during the day, and every three hours or so at night, until they are three weeks old. After every feed, wipe the kitten’s mouth and rub its body gently to mimic the way in which the female cat licks her offspring, causing them to relieve themselves.
How should I disinfect the equipment?
Thoroughly wash all the items with detergent, then rinse, and submerge in a solution made up with sterilising tablets used for babies’ bottles. Rinse again thoroughly.
Are hand-reared kittens different from those raised naturally ?
Hand-reared kittens can be more vulnerable to illness at first, and it has been suggested they may not to be as well-adjusted as kittens reared by their natural mothers.
- New-born kittens will require about 5ml of food per feed, doubling after a fortnight.
- Hand-reared kittens can be introduced to solid food from three weeks onwards, at the same time as those reared naturally.
- Warmth is vital for hand-reared kittens, with an infra-red lamp being valuable for this purpose.
- Kittens should grow at the rate of about 80-100g (3– 3 .5oz) for the first weeks of life.