Kitten Care Basics: If you already own cats, then you’ve got nine-tenths of the Kitten Care Basics learning curve beat. Even if you’ve never owned cats before, most of the information in this guideline is pretty straightforward and common sense.
The most important thing to remember is these kittens have had a hard life before they reached our doors. Most likely they have had inadequate nutrition, lousy living conditions, and got dumped by someone. Not a great start to a young life. Our goal is to 1) get them healthy and 2) show them that people (especially us) are pretty cool. We need to nurture them and show them the love they haven’t received yet. So, read on… and good cat parenting to you all!
A Quick Evolution Lesson
You are going to read quite a bit here about monitoring the kitty’s health. Why is monitoring so important for fosters and new owners?
Let’s back up for a second and look at how cats evolved over time. Domestic cats are fairly unique in nature — they are small, solo predators in a world filled with bigger, pack-structured predators. As a survival technique, cats have developed the ability to hide any disease until practically the last moment. Otherwise if they reveal that they are weak or sick out in nature, they would be picked off by the first larger predator.
While this solution works great in nature, it hinders us in caring for them because cats are so good at hiding their diseases. It’s always best to be on the safe side and take your cat in to the veterinarian when you see any deviation from what should be the norm. Most of the time it will be nothing, but prevention is always our goal.
The Kitten Care Basics
There are some kitten care basic principles that can be applied to each and every cat. Listed below are the fundamentals with their definition and explanation following:
- WELL HYDRATED
- NORMAL STOOLS AND URINE
Although not as important in cats over six weeks old, warmth is crucial to babies! We cannot overemphasize the need for warmth in young kittens. If there is nothing else you can do or provide for a munchkin, this is it! Warmth! Babies are used to their mom providing a nice 103 degree environment for them, and we must duplicate this the best we can. In the bottle-baby section we will explore this further.
Warm also includes providing a non-drafty environment. For an older animal, all you need do, is make sure it has a nice warm, cozy spot to retreat to. For younger pets (less than four months) the entire environment should be draft-free and a refuge (box/crate/closet where there is barricading against drafts and retains heat) for them is mandatory.
If you are having trouble keeping the kittens warm and comfy, please contact your vet.
This may sound like a big ‘duh!’ instruction, but it’s not. No animal can stay healthy if it isn’t clean.
Really though, we should use the word immaculate. Each and every animal should be in pristine, beautiful coated condition, constantly. It’s certainly rougher when you have some sick kittens, but still they need to be perfectly clean as soon as you are done with them.
The criteria should be: Can you kiss the kitten/cat over its entire body (including its bottom) and not gag? That seems silly (and we’re certainly not going to ask you to actually do this!) but it forces you to take a good hard look and find those little “goobers” stuck in the fur.
Why is this so important? Glad you asked! There are several crucial health concerns that need to be addressed.
- Cats and kittens both groom themselves and each other. If you have feces, old food or mucous stuck in the hair, the animal could ingest it and make themselves ill.
- Guck on the fur can irritate the skin and make it more susceptible to ringworm infection.
- Feces, urine, milk and food left on the skin can cause burns or scalds that are difficult to treat and tap the body of vital energy.
Kittens, especially, learn to groom themselves from their mom. If they are left dirty as kittens, the kittens accept this and become poor groomers their entire lives. We need to set an example for them so they can carry on the habit the rest of their lives.
Although intangible, we all know how we feel if we’re dirty and grungy. Certainly cats/kittens seem to feel the same way. Just as we would want any human baby immaculately clean at all times, we want our fosters the same way.
And, let’s face it. Who wants to cuddle and love up a dirty, icky kitty. They’ve got to be clean so we can snuggle them!
3. Well Hydrated
Okay, this sounds intimidating, but it’s not. Hydration is basically how much water we have in our system. Since water drives all of our metabolic functions, you can see why adequate hydration is essential.
Checking hydration is a lot simpler than trying to spell it. If you pull up on your own skin, you will see the skin snaps right back down. This is called skin turgor — or how well it snaps back. A well-hydrated animal will have quick skin turgor.
Listed below are some guidelines. For healthy kids with no signs of illness, just check skin turgor once daily. It should be quick and immediate. If not, seek medical attention.
4. Normal Stools & Urine
Let’s summarize and say: Poop should be brown and formed. Urine should be yellow. We have two handy guides for you below to help you decipher what’s what, and to make sure your kitty is healthy, happy and hydrated.
1) A Guide to the Rainbow of Poop & Urine Colors (The Scoop on Poop)
Bloody — Actual red blood seen in stool. Could indicate panleukepenia. Grossly abnormal, must be seen ASAP.
Mucous — yellowish/white/clear slimy substance. Indicates severe bowel irritation. Grossly abnormal and needs immediate care.
Black — True dark black color to stool. Usually indicates bleeding high in the bowel. Severe sign, needs immediate attention.
Brown — Normal color. Be happy!
Orange — Usually indicates way too much bile in stool, can occur with reflux. Seek medical advice.
Yellow — Almost always indicates bacterial imbalance in the bowel. If has diarrhea also, usually related to coccidia. Seek medical advice.
White — Grossly abnormal color, usually indicates, severe bacterial imbalance and severe infection in the bowel. Kitten at risk of dying, needs medical attention, ASAP.
Dry/hard — Abnormal, usually indicates dehydration. Seek care, promptly.
Firm — Normal, be happy.
Formed but soft — Low range of normal. If stools change from firm to soft you should seek medical advice.
Toothpaste — Still has somewhat tubular form but falls apart once touched. Abnormal, needs medication.
Cow-patty — Never formed but thick enough it falls into a “cow-patty” shape. Abnormal, animal is at significant risk and needs immediate attention.
Liquidy — Just fluid that falls out of rectum, thin and may have mucous. Abnormal, animal is at severe risk and must be seen immediately.
The “Squirts” — Animal has no control over bowel and watery fluid squirts out of rectum. Grossly abnormal, animal in danger of dying, must be seen immediately!
2) Water Makes the World Go Round — An Overview of Hydration
Immediate snap back — Excellent hydration. Watch however at this stage for over-hydration.
Quick snap but not immediate — Hydrated. Monitor other signs to be sure the kitten is overall (full body) hydrated.
Snap back within one second — Adequate hydration. However, if any other signs, this animal is at risk and needs constant care.
Within 1–3 seconds — Dehydrated. Needs immediate attention.
Stands up on own — Severe dehyration. Dying. Must be seen immediately!
Red/dark orange — Severe sign. Severe at-risk, must be seen immediately.
Dark yellow/almost brown — Extreme dehydration or bilirubin in urine. Either way it’s BAD! Needs immediate aggressive treatment.
Intense yellow — Concentrated urine. Animal is not getting enough fluid for total body hydration. Needs immediate care.
Yellow — Mildly concentrated urine. Monitor closely and if any other signs, seek care immediately.
Light yellow — Mildly dilute urine. Overall body hydration should be adequate if no kidney disease. With sick/injured or at-risk animals, this is the color we shoot for.
Pale yellow — Dilute urine. Hydration should be excellent if no kidney disease. With any significantly debilitated or severe risk animal, this is the color we shoot for. Be aware however of possible over-hydration and keep urine this color, only if under medical care.
Almost clear — Severely dilute urine. Risk of over-hydration. Urine should only be this dilute if under constant medical supervision.
Read the next Kitten Care Handbook article: Keeping Kittens Healthy — From Six Weeks to Four Months Old.