Growing kittens need more calories per pound than normal adult cats. When lactating, breeding cats may also need up to four times more calories than usual, to provide for their fast-growing young. Talk to your veterinarian about finding a special diet to meet these high-energy needs.
If you can't find a suitable foster mother to raise orphans, you will have to raise them yourself. You can feed kittens less than six weeks old on a suitable kitten milk substitute. Please check with your breeder or vet. You might also use milk substitutes for supplementary feedings if the mother is not able to provide suitable quantities of good milk for her litter.
Kittens less than one week old need to be fed six times a day. That's every four hours, day and night. After they reach two weeks, the routine can be reduced to four meals a day, or every six hours. Use either a syringe or a kitten feeding bottle. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to feed your kittens. By the time the kittens are about three weeks old, they should be able to lap milk substitute from a bowl, and start to nibble food, as well.
Kittens must also be kept warm, but not too hot. For heat sources, use heating lamps, hot water bottles covered with towels or blankets, or heating pads covered with blankets. The positioning of the heat source is important: kittens younger than about 10 days will have trouble crawling away from a heat source that is too hot. .
Kittens less than three weeks of age need to be stimulated to pass urine and feces. Their mother would have licked them -- you can mimic her behavior by stroking their rears with warm, damp cotton batting.
For the first few weeks of their lives, kittens feed only on their mother's milk, but by about four weeks of age, they start to eat her food. At this time, you can begin to wean them, gradually. Feed them a cat milk substitute or moist kitten food in a shallow dish. The kittens will need a diet that tastes good and is highly nutritious; your veterinarian can recommend a special, concentrated diet.
The mother may continue to suckle and clean her kittens until they are six to seven weeks, but by then, you will be providing them with 80% to 90% of their food requirements. From about three to four weeks of age, kittens become more interested in their environment, including their mother's solid food. When you give them their first taste of solid food, be sure to chop it finely or soak it, if it's dry. Offer it in a shallow dish. They will gradually eat more solid food until they are fully weaned, at about eight weeks.
At about eight weeks of age, kittens are ready to leave the mother. Until kittens are a year old, give them as much as they want to eat. Unlike puppies, most kittens are unlikely to overeat, and they won't get the bone and joint problems that fat puppies can develop.
Your kitten should grow rapidly on a balanced, high-energy diet, and at about six months, it should reach almost 75% of its adult weight. Give growing kittens several meals a day, or leave dry food down for them all the time. As well, kittens and adult cats should have clean fresh water to drink at all times. As your kitten gets older, your may find that feeding her milk causes diarrhea.
Caring for your breeding cat
Your pregnant cat will gain weight steadily throughout her pregnancy. Feed her as much of a suitable prepared cat food as she wants. After she starts feeding her kittens, her food requirements will increase so she can provide adequate amounts of good-quality milk. At this time, she may need two to four times more than her normal amount of food, and several meals per day. Your veterinarian can recommend a concentrated diet suitable for your breeding cat.