Dr. Rebecca Remillard
Bottle Feeding Many people prefer to bottle feed kittens with a vigorous suckle reflex because they will suck until they are satiated and reject the bottle when full. Bottle-fed kittens require an appropriately sized bottle and nipple, i.e., avoid sizes that could be swallowed. Nipple bottles made for feeding orphans (or infant preemies) should be used. Ensure the nipple hole is properly sized to allow flow (so when bottle is inverted, milk will ooze). The nipple hole can be enlarged with a hot razor blade by making a horizontal slit that allows the neonate to suckle easily.
A hole too large can cause gagging, drooling of milk from the corners of the mouth and increased risk of aspiration (inhalation). A hole too small requires extra time and energy to consume a meal, which may cause fatigue. The bottle should be inverted, a drop of milk squeezed onto the nipple and then the bottle should be gently placed in the mouth. Kittens should be held horizontally with the head in a natural position. The milk should be sucked, not squeezed, out of the bottle into the mouth. Great caution should be taken because, if done in haste, this can cause aspiration, pneumonia and death.
Tube feeding is faster and especially handy with large litters. Tube feeding is useful in kittens less than 10 days of age or those that are weak or have poor suckle reflexes. The procedure for tube feeding uses a soft, rubber feeding tube (size # 5 French feeding tube is good for many kittens). An equivalent-sized soft rubber urethral catheter can also be used.
The tube should be pre-measured from the tip of the mouth to the last rib. Re-measuring is essential because, as the neonates grow, the distance will increase. The kitten should be positioned horizontally with the head in a normal position. The tube can be moistened with water for lubrication, inserted into the mouth and gently pushed into the stomach. The tube should go easily to the mark. If the tube does not go easily, it may be in the trachea and should be removed and reinserted. The tube should be attached to a syringe preloaded with milk formula. Ensure there are no air bubbles in the syringe. The meal should be given slowly over 2 minutes. If resistance to feeding is felt, stop and wait until the next feeding to give any additional formula.
Regurgitation is infrequent, but if it occurs, stop feeding and wait until the next feeding to give additional formula.
Follow all manufacturers' directions on formula preparations. Refrigerate milk formula between meals but warm to approximately 100 degrees F before feeding. Prepare only a 48-hour supply of formula at a time.
Cold milk, rapid feeding and overfeeding cause regurgitation, bloating, diarrhea and/or aspiration. Formula, both liquid and powdered forms, should contain 12-15% total solids (12 to 15 g/100ml water). Greater total solid values cause diarrhea and bloating whereas lower values may lead to volume overload before the animal's nutritional requirements are met.
Milk replacers consist of water, sugar, fat, proteins, minerals and vitamins. The composition of dam's milk differs with species and even the stage of lactation, however, the composition of milk replacers is the average nutrient profile based on available research. Avoid feeding cow or goat's milk to kittens because its lower protein and higher lactose content make them poor substitutes. If feeding problems occur, reduce the volume and/or total solids in the milk replacer, then re-feed at required rate after problems have been resolved.