Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have just adopted an abandoned kitten from work. She is now 4 weeks old and I am bottle feeding her. I bring her to work every day but I can’t keep bringing her, so I wanted to know when it’s safe to leave her home. When she’s 6 weeks old, will I be able to leave her alone for 9 to 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, with a bowl of food, water, toys, scratch mat and litter box, or will she still need to be fed three to four times a day? I love my little angel and I don’t want anything to happen to her!
Siouxsie: First of all, Amanda, thank you for taking on the care of this little one and helping her grow up to be a strong and healthy cat.
Thomas: If this kitten were still with her mother, she would start becoming interested in solid food by about 4 weeks old, but she could continue to nurse for 6 to 10 weeks. But the good news for those humans raising bottle babies is that kittens can be started on weaning at about 3-1/2 weeks of age.
Dahlia: So if you aren’t already doing so, we’d recommend that you start giving her regular cat food for some of her feedings. Be sure that when doing so, you give her kitten food; she needs the extra nutrition it provides.
Siouxsie: This will be easier if you start with canned food, because at her age, she’s still much too small to manage dry kibble. Mama adopted my sister Sinéad and me when we were 6 weeks old (it was a long time ago, and she didn’t know better back then), and when she fed us dry food we couldn’t eat it!
Thomas: The authors of the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook say to begin with two parts of canned food to one part of water or kitten milk replacer. Stir it together and let it warm up to room temperature (cold food will shock your kitty’s tummy and might maker her vomit), then put it in a shallow saucer and dip your finger into the mixture and let her lick it off, in order to get her interested. This mixture should be offered three or four times a day.
Dahlia: Or you can do what Mama did for Sinéad and Siouxsie, which was basically the same procedure as above, but she mixed one part dry kitten kibble with three parts water or kitten milk.
Siouxsie: Most of the sources we’ve seen say that kittens should be offered food three to four times a day until they’re 7 weeks old. By that time you should be able to offer them two feedings a day.
Thomas: Cat rescue groups in your area might have some good advice, learned from experience, on how to wean bottle-fed kittens in the healthiest possible way.
Dahlia: You’ll find a good collection of advice about feeding, developmental milestones, and vaccinations online at the Kitten Rescue site.
Siouxsie: Rose Hines, a veterinarian, has written a guide to hand-raising and bottle feeding kittens. This starts with the assumption that you’ve found an infant kitten, but it does go on to provide advice about the later stages of your kitten’s growth, too.
Thomas: One thing you’ll find is that these resources often offer conflicting information about when to vaccinate, what to feed, and so on. So we have one more recommendation for you: If you’re not already working with a veterinarian, you should.
Dahlia: A vet will be able to give you the best instructions for making sure your kitten gets the best possible nutrition. Because the vet will actually be able to see and examine your kitten, he or she will be able to tailor advice just for your kitten, as opposed to the general information we’ve given you here.
Siouxsie: Your vet will be able to help you keep your kitten healthy in all kinds of other ways, too. Vaccinations, deworming and spaying (when she’s old enough) are only a few of the things vets can do.
Thomas: Vets love to help people understand the best possible ways to take care of their pets, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll get a vet like our Doctor Jim, who’s glad to answer any questions Mama has about how to take good care of us — and even the random nerdy questions she comes up with from time to time!
Dahlia: Good luck, Amanda. Please let us know how things turn out with your sweet little angel!