While the queen will usually provide her kittens with warmth and nutrition, it's good to know what kittens require, in case you need to help. If you're concerned about how to look after kittens before they are eight weeks old, take a look at our video below.
Newborn kittens should get all of their nutrition from their mother. This will continue until they gradually transition to solid foods when they are around four weeks old (weaning).
The first milk produced, called colostrum, is rich in antibodies and will help protect kittens against diseases. These antibodies last for six weeks or more. Kittens can only absorb colostrum during their first 16 to 24 hours of life and they should feed within two hours of birth. It is essential that kittens receive colostrum to protect them against disease. If any kittens do not receive the first milk, contact your vet.
Newborn kittens need to feed every two to three hours. Kittens suckling well from their queen will sleep between feeds and do not need additional nutrition until three to four weeks of age. Kittens not receiving adequate nutrition from the queen may cry and constantly seek the teats. Contact your vet if you think a kitten is not getting enough milk.
Distressed newborn kittens may be restless, cry excessively, stay awake for long periods, leave the queen and kittening area, appear neglected by the queen or stop feeding and have a reduced sucking reflex.
If the queen is relaxed, you can gently weigh the kittens at birth and then weigh them daily to ensure they are gaining around 10-15g each day, doubling their birth weight by two weeks of age. Kittens typically weigh between 90 and 110g at birth.
If kittens are rejected by their mother for any reason, or if the queen is unable to feed her kittens, you may need to hand feed them.
Talk to your vet to find out which treatments the kittens need and when.
Flea and worming treatments may be recommended for kittens as young as two days old, depending on the risk to the kittens.
Vaccinations are essential to protect the kittens from disease, so ask your vet when the course of vaccinations can begin.
Neutering - the kittens should be neutered when they're around four months old. If neutering is not carried out by then, you should separate males from females and the queen to prevent inbreeding. Ask your vet if you need help sexing the kittens.
If any of the kittens are rejected by their mother - or the queen is too ill to care for them - then you will need to help care for the kittens.
Hand reared kittens need:
See also: Hand rearing