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Orphaned Kitten

By: Dr. Rebecca Remillard

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Kittens can be orphaned due to a variety of causes. This can include poor quality or quantity of milk production and death, loss or illness of the queen.

The most common causes of sickness and sometimes death, for neonatal kittens are:

  • Hypothermia: Neonates cannot control their body temperature well during the first 4 weeks of life and are dependent upon staying close to the queen, huddling with littermates or an environmental heat for warmth. Immediate environmental temperature of orphans should be 89 to 93 degrees F during week one and 81 to 84 degrees F during week two. Immediate environmental temperature of litters should be 75 to 81 degrees F during week one. Their shivering reflex does not develop until one week old. Therefore, orphaned neonates are highly susceptible to hypothermia, and with a fall in body temperature and decreased ability to suckle or cry, circulatory failure and death may result.

  • Dehydration: Body water content of a neonate is 8% at birth and their water requirement 60 to 100 ml (cc) per pound of body weight per day. Dehydration becomes apparent within 12 to 18 hours if the kitten neither nurses nor is given a milk substitute within hours of birth. Again, circulatory failure and death may result from dehydration.

  • Hypoglycemia: Neonates should receive colostrum from the queen within 12 to 16 hours of birth. Commercial milk replacers with a similar composition to queen's milk and those that have been tested in kittens should be fed to orphaned kittens. Most milk replacer contains 1 kcal/ml and most neonates require 38 kcal/100 g BW (body weight) per day.

    Other possible illnesses include: pneumonia, early placental insufficiency, induced hypothermia, infectious diseases, drug toxicity, congenital abnormalities, abnormally low birth weights, traumatic insults during or after the birth process, parasites, placental infections, neonatal isoerythrolysis, and undetermined causes.

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