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Neonatal Care



     At times, we need to care for a newly born cat or dog, or at least help the mother.  During the first month of life, a neonate has trouble regulating their body temperature, especially the first week.  We recommend that you keep the litter and its mother at a room temperature of 85 degrees for the first two weeks and above 75 degrees for the 3rd and 4th week.  It is important to check the kittens or puppies every few hours for a change of behavior.  A weak animal may indicate a low body temperature, while a crying baby may indicate hunger.  An animal’s temperature should be 99?101 degrees rectally; a temperature of 97 degrees indicates warming is needed, and a temperature of 95 degrees or less is a severe problem that needs to be closely monitored, or calling a veterinarian.  Quickly warming a dehydrated animal will usually cause the neonate to go into shock.  Warm slowly and feed small amounts frequently.  If used, heating pads should be placed on low, with a blanket over the pad so that the pad is not in direct contact with the animal.  Electrical cords should not be near animals who chew.  Always have an area where the animals can get away from the heat.  A 60-75 watt light bulb, placed 12-18 inches above an area, is usually adequate to heat the area and/or cold neonate.  We prefer the light bulb method in one corner of a box, and a thermometer left in the area with the baby to measure the air temperature.  If using a heat lamp, be sure that the box is not overheated.  It is important to weigh and record the weights periodically, expecting a 5% increase in daily weight.  As a general comment for any species, feed 10% of their body weight a day in milk or milk replacer if in doubt.  Check the skin for dehydration on all “quiet” animals.  Ask us about the two second skin test demonstration for dehydration, if you are unsure.

     Expect neonates to mostly eat and sleep; crying indicates a closer observation or feeding is required, and if ignored this may lead to dehydration and hypothermia.  A small baby kitten or puppy requires feedings 4 to 12 times daily, with a total amount of 2?3 ounces per pound daily (60?70 ml or 60?70cc/#/day).  A 1# (16-oz) baby would then require approximately 5cc every 1-2 hours to start.  If the temperature is below 95 degrees, absorption is limited and 1/4 the amount should be used initially.  Increase the amount slowly until food is left in the stomach from the previous feeding, indicated by aspirating back on the syringe before the new food is given.  For a 1# animal (16 oz) the feedings would be 5cc every 2 hours on average.  Once the baby is alert you can feed as often as they are hungry.  By the 4th week of age, 3 1/2 oz./#/day may be required.  The suggested feeding amount on the milk replacement’s label is usually 10?20% or more than the requirement; and over supplementation may lead to diarrhea.  Green stools can indicate possibly the beginning of over feeding.  One to three ml of Milk of Magnesia or Mylanta helps in diarrhea, along with feeding a 10% sugar solution or Pedilyte formula for 2-3 feedings; puppies can have some Pepto-Bismol but because it contains an aspirin type product it should not be given to cats.  A puppy or kitten usually gains about 5-10% of their body weight a day, or doubling in weight every 10-20 days.  As they age they will gain less per day.  Overfeeding animals and causing obesity is not healthy for them.  

     We prefer to see more frequent feedings, such as every two hours using 4?6 ml/feeding, if one has to tube feed the neonate.  This is done using a special feeding tubes, measured 3/4 of the distance from the nose to the last rib.   You should be able to see or feel the tube go down the LEFT side of the animal’s neck.  Always aspirate before slowly giving the formula.  Any volume should be given over a period of 5 ? 15 seconds.  A cold neonate does not have any intestinal movement, and a sugar solution should be used carefully, using frequent feeding of 1?5 ml.  After feeding the baby, the bottom and genital area should be rubbed with a warm moist wash cloth; this is similar to the mother licking this area to stimulate the baby to go to the bathroom.  You may need to rub this area till the neonate is 3?4 weeks of age, or until they are defecating normally.  If the urine appears dark they maybe are dehydrated; check the amount of formula to ensure you are giving enough and/or increase the amount until the urine appear more normal/light yellow.  After 2-3 weeks of age you can also look at their eyes to see if they are sunken in.

     The eyes and ears usually open by two weeks of age.  At three weeks of age you may start to supplement the neonates a warm gruel formula of hot water + dry puppy or kitten food.  Provide foods indicated for that species, cats should not receive dog food, nor should cats be fed human baby food with onions.  Onions cause an anemia in cats.  Rub the gruel on their nose to give them the idea of solid food.  By 6 weeks you should have the litter eating mostly moistened food.  Weaning occurs at around 7?8 weeks of age, with their vaccinations being required shortly afterwards.  If an orphan animal was raised by themselves, without another member of their species present, please ask us for more information.


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic




     The are many other handouts regarding the care of small pet orphans, including the slow warming up if their temperature is very low, giving SQ fluids, which milk replacers to use for what species, etc.