The SPCA often receives motherless newborn or very young (under 4 weeks) stray puppies and kittens. The number is greater for kittens as cats breed up to four times a year, whereas dogs give birth to two litters a year. We help these animals by giving them the best chance of survival which also means finding them a temporary home under a fosterer. If you are interested in becoming an SPCA foster parent, please see here.
Puppies and kittens under four weeks of age require round-the-clock feeding (every three to four hours) and need specialised care. They do not have the antibodies from their mother's milk to protect them from falling sick. If you have found a young kitten or puppy (with no sight of the mother around), and if you can rescue it with the possibility of keeping it as pet, or helping to find it a home, we thank you for helping the animal.
Here are some tips on how to care for the young animal.
Keep it warm
As it does not have the warmth of its mother to nestle up to, you must provide a box/container with warm bedding (e.g. blanket/towel) and preferably a hot water bottle (if you do not have one, you can purchase one from a pharmacy or substitute that with a normal water bottle filled with warm water) wrapped up in a towel. Make sure the bottle is sealed tightly so that the water does not scald the animal! A reading lamp can also provide warmth, but you should keep it at a safe distance from the animal in case it gets too warm - the pet should be able to move away from the light if it wants to. The container should be placed in room temperature (not air-conditioned) and away from fans/drafts.
Feeding of very young animals can be done with a syringe (available at pharmacies) or bottle.
What to feed?
Milk powder "Pet Lac" is available from pet shops. An alternative if you are unable to get the formula readily is Carnation Evaporated Milk - one part milk to one part warm water.
When to feed?
Generally, kittens/puppies that have not yet opened their eyes will have to be fed every three hours. They will usually wake up from sleep and cry (like babies do) when they are hungry. As they get older (3 to 4 weeks), the timing between intervals can be increased, e.g. at four weeks, they can be fed - once every four to five hours.
Amount to feed?
Although bottles may be preferred by some, the hole where they suckle must not be clogged with milk, otherwise the animals will be sucking air into their system which could become life threatening. With bottle feeding, the animals go at their own pace which means that feeding could take you quite a long time, especially if there are four or more in the litter.
Syringe feeding should be done from the side of the mouth (not in the middle) to ensure that the milk goes down the right way, otherwise it could go down into the air passage. With syringe feeding, you can feed around two to three millilitres per feed. If the animal has had enough, it will turn its head away and refuse to drink anymore when you try to put the syringe/bottle into its mouth.
You will need to hold the young animal by the scruff of their neck (found on their back) whilst putting the syringe/bottle into the mouth. If you do not have control or are not firm in your grip, it will make things more uncomfortable for the animal, and the feeding session will probably take twice as long. The animal may not receive the desired amount either if you spend too much time fussing! Practice makes perfect. You may face resistance because the animal is not used to this and might struggle - the firmer and more confidently you hold it, the faster it will adapt and the faster you can get food to the hungry!
It is advisable not to play too much with very young animals as they need to eat and have a restful sleep.
Once you have fed the animal, you have to get a piece of cotton wool, dampen it and rub it along its stomach towards its rear end areas so as to stimulate urination/defecation. Normally, a mother dog or cat will lick its newborn to aid it in doing these things. In the absence of their mother, you become the one in charge of this duty. If the stool is watery and persists, consult a vet as soon as possible. If the stool is soft, it is normal.
It is important to clean up any milky messes (usually around its mouth), or any 'toilet mess' before you put the animals on their warm bedding to sleep.
Kittens and puppies that are raised by humans from very young can generally be weaned earlier - at 4 to 5 weeks old, they can be fed solids, e.g. canned animal food mixed with water. Again, this will be a messy process and should be done on newspaper. You should place the mix in a shallow solid dish and lead the animal to the food (you may need to dip your finger into the food and place it within licking reach so that they know it is food). It usually does not take long for them to pick up the scent and the taste. Meals should be fed regularly at same intervals. E.g. 7am, 12pm, 5pm, 10pm.
If you are keeping the animal as a pet, or finding it a home, do take it for a veterinary check at a clinic in your area. It is advisable to take the animal/s for deworming at around five weeks of age. Vaccinations against major feline/canine diseases will need to be done at around eight weeks of age.