How to Nurse a Lethargic Kitten

Take special care when nursing a lethargic kitten.
Take special care when nursing a lethargic kitten. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

On average, kittens sleep 16 to 18 hours per day. If you notice that your kitten sleeps more than usual or seems lethargic, it could be ill. Since kittens under four weeks old need to nurse, you may need to help stabilize and feed your kitten to ensure its recovery. Nurse your lethargic kitten and get it to a veterinarian for a checkup as soon as possible.

Things You'll Need

  • Infant thermometer
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Washcloth
  • Heating pad or hot water bottle
  • Towels
  • Blankets
  • Cardboard box
  • Bowl
  • Infant electrolyte replacement solution
  • Pet nursing bottle
  • Light corn syrup
  • Kitten milk replacement formula

Take your kitten's temperature with an infant thermometer. Lubricate the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly and place it into your kitten's rectum. Normal kitten temperatures range between 95 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. For kittens with a lower temperature than this, you need to warm them before feeding, as kittens cannot digest food when chilled and may die when fed. Wipe kittens with a higher temperature using a damp washcloth to cool them slightly before feeding.

Wrap two to three blankets or towels around a heating pad set to low or a hot water bottle and place it on one side of a cardboard box. Line the other side with soft blankets or towels. If the kitten is chilled, place it in the box on the side with the heating pad to warm it before feeding. Check its temperature again before you feed it. Put an overly warm kitten on the side without the heating pad while you prepare the formula.

Fill a pet nursing bottle with human infant electrolyte replacement solution and place it in a bowl of hot water to warm it to between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Test the solution on the inside of your wrist to ensure it is comfortable to the touch and not too hot.

Place a towel on your lap and put the kitten on top of it, belly-side down. Rub some light corn syrup on its lips to entice it to nurse. This will also help stabilize the blood sugar of lethargic kittens, which may suffer from hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.

Open the kitten's mouth with your finger, and with the bottle at a 45-degree angle, place the nipple into the kitten's mouth. Squeeze a drop or two into the kitten's mouth until it begins to suckle and feed it about 1 ml. of the solution. For a kitten that does not suckle, try stroking its back or rubbing its forehead. If it still will not suckle, slowly drip the solution into its mouth, one drop at a time.

Feed the kitten the infant electrolyte replacement solution every 30 minutes for two to three feedings until the kitten has a stable temperature and appears more alert. Increase the time between feedings to about 2 hours. For subsequent feedings, give the kitten 2 ml. per feeding of a mixture of equal parts kitten milk replacement formula and infant electrolyte replacement solution for about a week, until the kitten recovers. During the week, increase the percentage of kitten milk replacement formula in the mixture, reducing the amount of infant electrolyte replacement solution.

Tips & Warnings

  • Sterilize your kitten's nursing bottle before use by boiling it in hot water for 1 minute.
  • Wear disposable gloves when handling a sick kitten to prevent passing along bacteria or other germs.
  • Make a hole in the bottle's nipple large enough for a drop or two of formula to come out when you turn the bottle upside down.
  • Bring a lethargic kitten to a veterinarian as soon as possible since this can indicate a serious, life-threatening health issue.
  • A kitten that refuses to suckle may need tube feeding, which involves the insertion of a small tube directly into its stomach. A veterinarian can show you this procedure.
  • Take a flea comb or tweezers and use them to remove fleas from the kitten. Fleas bites can cause anemia and lethargy in kittens.

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