Bottle feeding a kitten requires special nursers designed for hand-feeding kittens. Gently insert the nipple into the mouth of the kitten – preferably while he/she is resting on his/her stomach –– then slowly pull up and forward on the bottle so that the kitten will have his/her head slightly elevated and extended while nursing. Be sure that the kitten is actually suckling by checking the level of formula in the nurser bottle.
How much to actually bottle feed the kittens? It is actually better to under–feed rather than over–feed a kitten in the first few days. A bottle–fed kitten will usually stop nursing when it is full. If, however, you notice milk coming out of its nose, the milk is being delivered too fast, which means that the hole in the nipple is too large. (If the kitten continues to bubble the formula out of his/her nose each feeding, you will want to have a vet check the kitten carefully to be sure the inside palate are of its mouth has fully developed.)
You will need to warm the formula before giving it to the kitten. The bottle should be warm but not hot to the touch. Put the sterilized bottle into a warm bowl of water to warm it rather than use the microwave, which can cause “hot spots“ in the formula.
We have found it is easier to start young kittens off using a plastic syringe (without the needle of course!) From the newborn stage until the kittens are about 1 1/2 weeks old, use a 3 cc. syringe, and feed every 2 hours. At 1 1/2 weeks old, they are ready for the 6 cc. syringe size and feeding every 3 hours, and at about 3 weeks old, move them up to a 12 cc. syringe, feeding them at least every 4 hours.
An average meal for a 3 week old kitten can vary from a single syringe full (12 fluid cc) to three syringes full (36 fluid cc) for a large and hungry kitten!!! We like and use the KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer) formula, available in most large pet and feed supply stores. While the powdered form is more economical, it does not always reconstitute as lump–free as needed to flow through the syringes (best method is to mix a small amount with cold water first, similar to the process of making lump–free gravy, then add the mixture to the rest of the batch), so we usually purchase the liquid form in the cans. If you shop around, you can find the best economical source for purchasing the formula in your area.
How much formula to give? Normally, it is recommended that you give 2 tablespoons of liquid formula for every 4 ounces of body weight per day. For very young kittens, you will need to divide their total daily amount into six equal sized feedings, and yes, this does mean during the night, also!! As the kittens grow, the number of feedings and their frequency can be decreased. Also as they grow, they can let you know better when they are actually hungry. Kittens that are not getting enough nourishment may cry continuously, suck on each other or on themselves, and they may have prominent hips or backbones.
Do I need to burp the kitten? After each feeding, you will need to hold the kitten against your shoulder and gently burp him/her. Another technique is to hold the kitten so his/her back is against your chest and gently cuddle him/her under your neck while rubbing his/her tummy.
A steady weight gain of about 10 grams (or 1/3 of an ounce) per day is recommended, but do not be surprised if a kitten may stay at the same weight for a day or two, then suddenly the weight gains are seen. After feeding, burping and weighing the kitten, check to see if the bedding in the nest box needs to be changed, and that the temperature is correct. Then, put the kitten back in the box so that he/she can sleep. A properly fed kitten will sleep through to the next feeding.