How To Dilute Cow Milk For Kittens: Homemade Kitten Formula Recipes

grey tabby kitten drinking milk from a bottle

Last updated on February 2nd, 2024 at 09:30 am

by Dr. WL Wilkins, DVM, PhD

Raising orphaned kittens is a challenging yet rewarding task that requires meticulous attention, care, and knowledge. One of the primary concerns caregivers often face is understanding the appropriate feeding methods and diet for these tiny creatures. 

When faced with the unexpected challenge of feeding orphaned kittens, people often turn to what they have on hand. In most cases, what people have on hand is the cow’s milk in their refrigerators and they want to know how to dilute cow milk for kittens.

The problem is, kittens cannot thrive on undiluted cow’s milk.  Cow’s milk is not suitable for kittens, as it does not contain the nutrients they need to grow and develop normally. Therefore, before feeding any cow’s milk to kittens, the milk needs to be mixed with other ingredients to  create a suitable formula.

This comprehensive guide will answer the important question of how to properly dilute cow’s milk for kittens, dive into feeding schedules, quantities, and transitioning to solid food. 

Read on and learn the necessary information and tips to help you raise healthy and happy kittens. 

Can I Give Cow Or Goat Milk To Kittens?

When it comes to caring for orphaned kittens, providing the right nutrition is critical. Kittens who have been orphaned or separated from their mothers require milk that closely resembles their mother’s milk. Neither regular cow nor goat milk are adequate replacements; here’s why:

Differences in Composition:
Cow’s milk and goat’s milk have very different nutritional compositions compared to a mother cat’s milk. Kittens have specific needs that are best met by their mother’s milk or specially formulated kitten milk replacers.

Giving kittens cow’s milk could lead to diarrhea, so it’s best to avoid it whenever you can. Goat milk is a better choice for making a milk replacement than cow’s milk since it has more calories, fat, and protein than cow’s milk. 

Lack of Essential Nutrients:
Cow’s and goat’s milk lack the essential nutrients and vitamins that kittens require for proper growth and development. Kittens need higher levels of protein, fat, and certain vitamins that are tailored to their species.

Lactose Intolerance:
Most kittens become lactose intolerant as they get older, meaning they can’t properly digest the lactose in cow’s and goat’s milk. This can lead to digestive issues like diarrhea and discomfort. Milk should not be fed to adult cats for this reason.

Risk of Malnutrition:
Relying solely on cow’s or goat’s milk can put kittens at risk of malnutrition. They won’t get the right balance of nutrients they need to grow and thrive.

Emergency Use Only:
If you can’t immediately get kitten milk replacers, cow’s or goat’s milk can be used as a short-term emergency solution to prevent dehydration which can be fatal for the kitten. However, they can also cause diarrhea which leads to dehydration. Use of these milks should only be temporary until you can find proper kitten formula.

Plant based milks: Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need animal protein to survive. Milk from mammals contains an appropriate protein, but plant-based milks such as soy milk and almond milk do not. Never use a plant-based milk for kittens.

Consulting a Veterinarian:
If you’re in a situation where you need to feed orphaned kittens, your best resource for help is a veterinarian. They can give you advice on the best feeding options and help you choose appropriate milk replacers based on the kittens’ age, weight, and health.

how to dilute cow milk for kittens - two grey kittens in a green basket with a yellow blanket being fed milk with a syringe

How To Dilute Cow Milk For Kittens – Replacement Formula Recipes For Emergency Use

When faced with the unexpected scenario of orphaned kittens or a shortage of proper kitten milk formula, having an emergency solution at hand can be a lifesaver. If necessary, you can use one of the recipes below to feed orphaned kittens. You will note that all require egg yolk, which adds a critical level of fat and protein to the mixture.

A homemade formula can help bridge the gap until you’re able to procure the appropriate kitten formula, ensuring that the kittens receive the care they need during this urgent situation. 

However, while these recipes can provide temporary nourishment, you must remember that they are not long-term substitutes for specialized kitten milk replacers. 

Recipe #1

Kitten Replacement Formula

  • 8 ounces homogenized whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon salad oil
  • 1 drop of liquid pediatric vitamins (optional)

Mix well and keep refrigerated. Do not keep for longer than one week.

[Taken from The Cornell Book of Cats, available on Amazon]

Recipe #2

Homemade kitten milk replacement

  • 90 ml condensed milk 
  • 90 ml water 
  • 120 ml plain yogurt (not low fat) 
  • 3 large or 4 small egg yolks 

[Adapted from Hoskins JD: Nutrition and nutritional problems. In Hoskins JD (ed): Veterinary pediatrics: dogs and cats from birth to six months, ed 3, St. Louis, 2001, Saunders/Elsevier.]

Recipe #3

Emergency homemade kitten formula 

  • 1 cup (240 ml) cow’s milk 
  • 3 egg yolks 
  • 1 drop high-quality oral multivitamin solution for pets, if available
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) corn oil 
  • Small pinch of salt 

Refrigerate between uses. Discard any unused milk replacer 24 hours after mixing.

[Adapted from Lawler, D. F. “Neonatal and pediatric care of the puppy and kitten.” Theriogenology, vol. 70, no.3, 2008, pp. 384-392.]

newborn calico kitten being held in a person's hand

What Are The Risks of Giving Undiluted Cow’s Milk To Kittens?

While it might be tempting to resort to readily available options like cow’s milk, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks associated with this choice. 

Feeding undiluted cow’s milk to kittens can lead to a range of health concerns, affecting their growth, digestion, immunity, and overall well-being:

  1. Nutritional Imbalance: Cow’s milk lacks the appropriate balance of nutrients required for kittens’ growth and development. It has different levels of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals compared to mother cat’s milk or specialized kitten milk replacers.
  2. Digestive Upset: Kittens are often lactose intolerant after weaning, and undiluted cow’s milk contains high levels of lactose. This can lead to digestive upset, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, and discomfort.
  3. Malnutrition: Since cow’s milk doesn’t provide the essential nutrients kittens need, it could result in malnutrition, poor growth, and overall health problems.
  4. Dehydration: The high lactose content in cow’s milk can lead to increased water loss through diarrhea, potentially causing dehydration in kittens.
  5. Weakened Immunity: Inadequate nutrition from undiluted cow’s milk can compromise kittens’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to illnesses.
  6. Weight Loss: Due to the lack of appropriate nutrients and high lactose content, kittens might experience weight loss and fail to thrive.
  7. Long-term Health Issues: Continued feeding of undiluted cow’s milk can have lasting effects on kittens’ health, potentially leading to stunted growth, bone problems, and weakened overall health.
  8. Gastrointestinal Distress: The abrupt introduction of cow’s milk to a kitten’s diet can disrupt their delicate digestive system, causing discomfort and distress.
  9. Dependency: Relying on cow’s milk can create a dependency that’s hard to break, making the transition to proper kitten nutrition more challenging.
  10. Vulnerable Immune System: Undiluted cow’s milk can put stress on kittens’ immune systems, potentially making them more susceptible to infections.

Given these risks, if at all possible avoid feeding undiluted cow’s milk to kittens and instead seek appropriate alternatives such as specialized kitten milk replacers or consult a veterinarian for guidance on proper kitten nutrition.

What Is The Best Kitten Milk Replacer?

In an emergency, the best kitten milk replacer is the one you have available to you. It could be a home-formulated milk replacer as described above, but ideally you should use a commercial milk replacer formulated specifically to provide the proper nutrition for kittens. 

The best kitten milk replacers are those specifically formulated to closely mimic the composition of cat milk, providing kittens with the essential nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.

While there are various brands available on the market, some of the reputable and widely recommended options include:

  1. KMR® (Kitten Milk Replacer): A popular and trusted brand, KMR offers a range of milk replacers designed to meet kittens’ nutritional needs. It typically contains essential nutrients like protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals that are crucial for their growth.
  2. Breeders’ Edge Foster Care®: This milk replacer is known for its high-quality ingredients and balanced nutrition, making it a reliable choice for nurturing orphaned kittens.
  3. Nutrivet® Kitten Milk Replacer: This brand offers a milk replacer that’s enriched with probiotics, for supporting a healthy gut, digestion, growth and development. 

Kitten milk replacers are readily available in online stores as well as your local pet store. When selecting a kitten milk replacer, make sure to read the labels, consider the ingredients, and consult with a veterinarian if possible. Keep in mind that while these milk replacers are designed to be suitable for kittens, a mother’s milk is always the best option. 

If you’re uncertain about which milk replacer to choose or how to properly use it, seeking guidance from a veterinarian can help ensure that you’re providing the best nutrition for the kittens in your care.

How To Feed Orphaned Kittens

Caring for orphaned kittens may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. The best approach is to learn what is needed and make sure you have all the necessary tools on hand to get the job done.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to feed them, ensuring their health and development:

Gather Necessary Equipment

Before you begin, gather the essentials:

  • Kitten milk replacer: Choose a reputable brand that is designed to closely mimic mother cat’s milk.
  • Bottles and nipples: Use specially designed bottles with small, soft nipples that resemble a mother cat’s teats. The nipples must be the right size for the kitten’s mouth. For very small kittens you may need to use a small syringe.
  • Clean towels or cloths: To keep the feeding area tidy.
  • A digital kitchen scale: For monitoring the kittens’ weight.

Prepare a Clean and Sterile Feeding Area

Find a quiet, warm, and clean space for feeding. Wash your hands thoroughly and ensure that all equipment is sterilized by boiling or using a sterilizing solution. This prevents any potential contamination that could harm the kittens’ delicate immune systems.

Ensuring Proper Temperature for Feeding

Warm the kitten milk replacer to a suitable temperature, approximately 100°F (37.8°C). Do not use a microwave, as it is too hard to control the temperature this way. 

The best way that we have found is to place the bottle with milk in warm water – this way it never gets hotter than the water it is in. 

Test the milk on your wrist to ensure it’s not too hot or too cold. It should feel comfortably warm. If you don’t have a means of heating it, use room temperature milk.

Feeding Schedule and Quantities

Establishing a Feeding Routine: Kittens require frequent feedings, similar to how they would nurse from their mother. Newborns need to be fed every 2-3 hours, while older kittens can go around 4-6 hours between feedings. 

Determining Appropriate Feeding Amounts Based on Age and Weight: The amount of milk needed depends on the kitten’s age and weight. Kittens need around 8 mL of formula for each ounce of their body weight daily. For example, newborn kittens usually weigh about 3 ounces, which means they require 24 mL of formula, divided into feedings every 2-4 hours. At each feeding allow the kitten to eat until they stop on their own – they will know when they have had enough milk.

Monitoring Kitten’s Behavior and Adjusting Quantities Accordingly: Observe the kittens’ behavior during and after feeding. A well-fed kitten appears content and has a rounded belly. There is no need to wake them up for a feeding – if they are sleeping, they are content. If they cry persistently after feeding, they might still be hungry. A growing kitten will consume more at each feeding and sleep longer in between feedings as they get older.

three week old kittens just learning to walk on a wood floor

One Final Task To Do After Every Feeding

Caring for an orphaned kitten goes beyond just providing food. It’s crucial to ensure the kitten stays warm without overheating and to maintain cleanliness. Feeding every 2-4 hours isn’t a choice but a necessity, meaning you might have sleepless nights for a while.

There is also one other thing that you absolutely MUST do after each feeding – bathroom duty! Baby kittens under three weeks old require assistance with bathroom functions. Typically, the mother cat attends to this by licking the kitten’s backside. 

Without her, this duty now falls to you. Gently rubbing the kitten’s bottom with a damp, soft cloth in a circular motion accomplishes this task. Remember to perform this after each feeding. Failure to do so puts the kitten’s life at risk.

Transitioning To Solid Kitten Food

Transitioning kittens from a milk-based diet to solid kitten food is an essential step in their development. Kittens are usually ready to start eating solid food around 4-5 weeks of age. Signs of readiness include showing interest in their mother’s or caregiver’s food, being more active and curious, and attempting to explore their environment.

Begin the transition by offering a small amount of wet kitten food or specially formulated kitten pate. Choose food with high protein and moderate fat content to support their growth.

Start by mixing a small amount of the wet food with their milk replacer to create a semi-liquid mixture. Allow them to lick or taste it to get accustomed to the new texture and taste.

Over the course of several days, gradually increase the proportion of canned food in the mixture while decreasing the amount of milk replacer. This helps kittens adapt to the new diet without causing upset to their sensitive digestive systems. 

As kittens become more comfortable with the mixture, you can start mashing the wet food to create a slightly thicker consistency. This helps them transition to chewing and swallowing solid food.

Once kittens are confidently consuming the mashed mixture, offer small amounts of plain wet food as standalone meals. Monitor their reaction and appetite to ensure they’re adjusting well.

Observe their behavior, energy levels, and bowel movements during the transition. If they experience any digestive issues, consider slowing down the transition process or consulting a veterinarian.

Around 8 weeks of age, kittens should be fully transitioned to eating solid kitten food. You can introduce dry food at this stage as well, ensuring it’s appropriately sized for their small mouths.

If you plan to switch to a different brand or type of kitten food, do so gradually by mixing it with their current food over the course of about a week.

Conclusion

Caring for orphaned kittens demands a comprehensive approach that encompasses their nutritional, hygiene, and developmental needs. One of the first things to remember is that using undiluted cow’s milk is not an appropriate milk replacer for kittens. 

But with proper preparation, the right formula, and care, you can successfully provide a nurturing environment to help them grow into healthy cats. By closely monitoring their behavior during feedings and throughout the diet transition process, you can ensure that kittens receive all the nutrients they need to thrive. 

You might have sleepless nights for a while, but your hard work and dedication will be worth it in the end. With a little patience and lots of love, you can help your kittens have their best start in life!

Other resources: Check out our complete guide to kitten milk replacer here!

Want to know more about a kitten’s life stages? Head on over and read our article on the subject by clicking here.

a black and white newborn kitten snuggled up with an orange and white newborn kitten on a soft white blanket

Sources:

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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