Stray cats will often have litters and leave their kittens spread out over the neighborhood, which begs the question, how long can newborn kittens go without food?
What should animal lovers do when they come across a kitten on the street? Should you take it home or leave it there for its mother to find? Let’s find out!
How Long Can Newborn Kittens Go Without Food?
Any cat parent will tell you that caring for a kitten is no different than caring for an infant. Your little feline may not be making any noise or asking for food, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hungry. Ideally, you need to feed a kitten every 4 to 6 hours for it to grow healthy and physically fit.
And while abandoned cats can survive up to 4 days without food, kittens can only go up to 12 hours without their mother’s milk.
What Issues Can Starving Kittens Face?
Going a few days without food will leave kittens with many short and long-term defects, including poor immunity, liver conditions, and muscular damage. When kittens are born, they are completely dependent on the mother cats.
Newborn felines are blind and need help navigating through the world. Even after they regain their sight, kittens rely on their mothers to teach them important skills, from big things like learning how to hunt to small things like sheathing and unsheathing their claws.
Abandoned kittens aren’t learning any of these essential skills, which will have far-reaching consequences.
When Should You Feed Your Kitten?
So what can you do if you have gotten hold of a kitten?
First of all, understand that kittens have extremely small stomachs. So if you’re feeding your newborn every 3 hours, and that includes during the night, you’re going to have to tend to them 8 times a day.
Once you’re done, make sure they take a trip to the litter before you tuck them back in, similar to how you’d burp a baby.
While you shouldn’t wake up your kitten if it’s asleep, you do need to establish a routine and stick to it. Over time your kitten will adjust to your schedule. So if you’re feeding it at 11 pm and then 2 am, you will hear it cry out at 2:15 if you miss a meal.
As they grow older, you won’t need to feed them during the night, and daytime meals will suffice.
What Should You Feed Your Kitten?
For newborns, a mother’s feed is the only good option.
Similar to humans and all other mammals, breast milk contains essential nutrients that the child needs. That is why even when kittens are put up for adoption, it is only once they stop taking their mother’s feed, usually at 6 weeks or older.
But what can you do if you find an abandoned kitten? There are some milk alternatives that have been designed especially for newborns. In such a situation, you should purchase formula from a reliable brand and feed it to your kitten every 2 to 3 hours using a syringe or feeder, depending on its age.
For kittens that are around the 5-month mark, you can start giving them softened cat food. You can get canned food options or simply soak some dry food in the water. It may take your kitten a while to adjust to the new food.
Why is Your Kitten Not Eating?
Once your kitten is past infancy, you’ll want it to feed independently throughout the day. If your young kitten has not been eating for a while, you are right to be concerned.
But there may be several reasons for this behavioral change.
If you’ve brought home a stray, the kitten will feel uneasy because it misses its mother. Alone, newly abandoned, and relocated to a strange location, it may spend most of its time hiding or even rejecting food.
Cats do not like being observed when they are eating or pooping.
Often newer pets will wait until you are either asleep or in another room to do their business. So if your kitten isn’t eating, try moving its food to a more isolated location, away from you and any other pets you may have.
If your kitten is in a new environment, it may stop eating because of stress. Similarly, visits to the vet, interactions with new people, loud noises, or even long periods alone could make your cat anxious.
- Aches and Pains
Kittens like to explore, but just like infants, they rarely know what’s good for them.
You may find your young feline bumping into doors, sticking its head into small places, or even trying to run through glass (transparent surfaces often don’t register with cats.)
You’ll see kittens that are teething bite a variety of surfaces that may give them toothaches. Regardless, if your kitten is in pain, it may stop eating for a little while.
What to Do if Your Kitten is Not Eating?
Once you identify why your kitten isn’t eating, the next step is to resolve the problem.
Remember, cats will not starve themselves if food is available. Aside from newborns who don’t know any better, kittens will eventually start eating. So what can you do?
Keep your kitten’s food in a private yet easily accessible area, and don’t change it.
Your kitten doesn’t want to worry about people staring at or interrupting it while it eats. Also, make sure the food and water are not near the litter box. That’s another reason why your kitten may be avoiding eating.
Cat parents may hate how dry food stinks up the entire room, but kittens love it. In fact, the stronger the aroma, the more likely it is to eat it. So if you recently changed your food brand or tried getting a less smelly feed, your kitten might stop eating out of protest.
- Food Type
Cats are carnivorous, and you can start feeding it chicken at around 3 weeks old.
One of the reasons young cats stop eating is because the food no longer appeals to them. Make sure you’re feeding your kitten food that is age-appropriate. Dry food packets generally have target age ranges on them.
Is Force-feeding Bad?
Force-feeding your kitten can be extremely painful and should only be used as a last resort. Take your kitten to the vet before you attempt to do so, and always use a syringe to drop milk directly into its mouth.
If none of the above changes work, take your kitten to the vet because there may be an underlying medical issue causing your kitty pain.