By Rachele Baker, DVM – Question: Roseann writes: Hello. We obtained a very young kitten from a friend yesterday. There is a stray cat in the neighborhood who had three kittens, but mom Ask The Vet: We Just Adopted An Orphaned Kittenstopped coming around and two of the wee ones died. We think the kitten is four to five weeks old. He will eat softened dry food and is lapping up milk and wet kitten food.

My question is whether we need to feed him formula right now, or are we good with the milk? Also, how soon should I get him into a vet? We live in a small mountain town and the vet is over twenty-five miles away. I was thinking of waiting a few weeks so he can get first shots at the visit. Thank you and I look forward to your reply.

Answer: Hi Roseann. Your little kitten is lucky to have found a good home where he can be loved and properly cared for.

In answer to your questions, let’s first discuss what you should be feeding your kitten.

Starting at three to four weeks old, orphaned kittens should be offered kitten milk replacer in a shallow dish as well as canned kitten food and/or dry kitten food moistened with water or kitten milk replacer. At first, the dry kitten food should be moistened until it is the consistency of human infant cereal. Gradually decrease the amount of water or kitten milk replacer used to moisten the dry food until your kitten is six to eight weeks old. By six to eight weeks of age, most kittens have learned to eat kibble that has not been moistened. Moistened food should be replenished with a fresh batch three to four times daily so that it does not spoil. Make sure that any dry or canned food that you feed your kitten is a good quality food and is specifically for kittens. You should feed good quality kitten food until he is ten to twelve months old at which time you can gradually transition to adult cat food.

You asked me whether it was okay to feed your kitten cow’s milk rather than kitten milk replacer. I would not recommend this. Cat’s milk is much different from milk of other species. Cow’s milk and goat’s milk are not good substitutes for cat’s milk since they lack nutrients that are essential for growing kittens. To see the nutrient comparison between cat’s milk, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and KMR kitten milk replacer, please see the chart below from Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th Edition:

 Nutrients

 

 Cat’s   Milk

 

 Cow’s   Milk

 

 Goat’s Milk

 KMR Liquid PetAg

Moisture (g/100 g)

79

87.7

87.0

81.7

Dry matter (g/100 g)

21

12.3

13

18.3

Crude protein
(g/100 g)

7.5

3.3

3.6

7.7

Arginine
(mg/100 g)

347

119

119

250

Taurine (mg/100 g)

27

0.13

10

Methionine
(mg/100 g)

188

82

80

na

Crude fat (g/100 g)

8.5

3.6

4.1

4.7

Lactose (g/100 g)

4.0

4.7

4.0

na

Minerals

Calcium (mg/100 g)

180

119

133

190

Phosphorus (mg/100 g)

162

93

111

160

Potassium
(mg/100 g)

103

150

204

210

Magnesium
(mg/100 g)

9

14

14

16.0

Copper (mg/100 g)

0.11

0.26

Iron (mg/100 g)

0.35

0.05

0.05

1.2

Metabolizable   energy (kcal/100 g)

121

64

69

83

In particular, please note the differences in the amount of arginine and taurine in the milk of each species and in the KMR kitten milk replacer. Arginine and taurine are amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of cells in the body. Arginine and taurine are “essential amino acids” in cats because cats are unable to manufacture these amino acids themselves and thus require that these amino acids be supplied in their diet.

Arginine is necessary for the elimination of toxic waste products from the body - specifically ammonia. Cats fed a diet lacking arginine will accumulate excess amounts of ammonia in their bodies (hyperammonemia) which will result in a disease called hepatic encephalopathy (a disease characterized by abnormal brain function which is caused by a build-up of toxins in the body - especially ammonia).

Taurine is necessary to maintain normal vision and heart muscle function in cats. A diet deficient in the amount of taurine needed by cats may result in a degenerative eye disease called Feline Central Retinal Degeneration (FCRD). FCRD can lead to irreversible blindness. Inadequate amounts of dietary taurine can also result in a heart disease in cats called Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

Since you have been feeding your kitten canned and dry kitten food, it is likely that he has been getting adequate amounts of dietary arginine and taurine from those sources. If you were bottle feeding a very young kitten and that was the kitten’s only source of nutrients, it would be much more critical that you fed kitten milk replacer and not cow’s milk. However, I would still recommend that you discontinue giving your kitten cow’s milk and offer him kitten milk replacer until you transition him to water.

You also asked me when you should take your kitten for his first veterinary visit. I would recommend that you take your kitten to see your veterinarian at about six weeks of age for a physical examination to make sure he is healthy and growing normally. Your veterinarian can then set up a schedule with you for your kitten’s vaccinations, deworming, fecal test, and FeLV/FIV test (Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). It is recommended that all kittens be tested for FeLV and FIV at about ten weeks of age. You should also make plans to neuter your kitten after he has finished his vaccinations.

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Category: Ask The Vet

One Response to Ask The Vet: We Just Adopted An Abandoned Kitten

  1. Roseann B says:

    Thank you very much for your in depth answer to my question. Little “Memphis” is now about 6-7 weeks old and we have transitioned him to dry kibble along with wet kitty chow three to four times a day. He has doubled in size, loves our Pomeranian “Spike” and in fitting in as a member of the family.

    BTW, the pic you put at the top of the page looks exactly like little Memphis.

    Thank you once again,

    Roseann


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