Newborn kittens are very fragile little creatures. They are born with eyes shut, unable to see, unable to walk or stand and totally dependent on the mother for food and care. Sometimes a mother cat is unable to care for her babies. If she is a stray, she may have been killed or unable to return to the kittens. Some mothers want to care for their kittens but are unable to care for all of them if they have a large litter. Other cats, for reasons known only to them, want nothing to do with one or more of their newborns. While most mother cats do a good job of mothering, for the ones that can't or won't, you will need to step in and be a surrogate mother to the newborn kittens. There are a few things that must be done each day to ensure their survival.
Clean the kitten after birth, if necessary. Some cats will abandon a smaller kitten or one that has a slight deformity. If this happens, make sure all the birth sac is cleaned from the kitten starting with the area around the face so it can breathe. Use a cloth that has been dipped in warm water and wrung out completely to clean the kitten or kittens. If the kittens have already been cleaned by the mother before needing care, then they will need to be warmed.
Make a nest of clean rags, old rugs or old towels. It is very important that newborn kittens keep warm. If a kitten is too cold it will die. Put the rags and towels in a closed-in box and make sure there are enough that the kittens can burrow under the folds for warmth. You can also put a heating pad under the towels or box, but make sure it is set on low. Another way that will help warm a chilled kitten is to place it next to your skin under your clothing. Do not feed a kitten that is not warm. Doing so will kill it. The temperature for a kitten should be between 35.0 and 35.5 degrees C.
Feed your newborns often. Like human babies, they eat often. There are many homemade versions of kitten replacement milk, but they are not always safe due to misused ingredients. Remember to never feed a newborn kitten the kind of milk found in a grocery store. Their stomachs do not tolerate it well. Instead you can buy goat milk in some grocery stores and a special kitten milk replacement found in pet stores and pet aisles. Both of these will be safe for your kittens. To feed them, fill an eyedropper with the milk and squeeze drops into the mouth slowly. Make sure the head is not all the way back or they could choke. You could also use a small pet syringe or pet baby bottle sold alongside the milk replacement. Kittens will generally need to be fed in this way until they're between 3 and 6 weeks old.
Move your kitten's bowels and bladder by wiping the areas with a wet rag while applying very slight pressure. Also do this to the abdomen. Kittens have no control over the muscles to make a bowel or bladder movement yet. That is why you will see the mother licking the back of them after feeding. Since you are the surrogate mom, you will need to do it. Neglecting this part of their care can cause them to be very sick and die. In time they will be able to do it on their own.
Hold your newborns often. Don't allow overhandling by everyone in the house, but as their surrogate they will need held by you. This bonding and nurturing is essential to a kitten's growth. Each kitten needs about three hours a day of holding and nurturing. The mother cat massages and cleans with her tongue. You can use a rag to accomplish this also by stroking the kitten all over its body gently. By doing this cleaning, massaging, holding and nurturing you can increase your newborn kitten's chance of survival greatly.
Use a soft toothbrush or flea comb gently in your grooming and nurturing. It will help keep away fleas that can give a fragile newborn serious diseases. The kitten milk replacement, or KMR as it is known, will have directions on the box about how much to feed at a time. Feed slowly and allow the kitten to suck on the eyedropper or bottle. They have a natural sucking instinct.
Use a plastic eyedropper or bottle instead of glass for safety. If milk comes out the nose, you are giving too much at a time for the kitten to swallow. This is dangerous as it can aspirate it into its lungs.