Test the formula temperature before feeding; it should be warm, not hot, and around 100°F. You should warm the bottle by placing it in hot water or a microwave can be used. If you use a microwave, be aware that the milk may not heat up evenly. Mix the formula well and test the temperature before feeding.
Positioning is very important. Laying kittens on their backs while feeding may cause aspiration which is when kittens inhale formula into their respiratory tract rather than swallowing. Aspiration can lead to pneumonia which is often fatal in young kittens. To prevent aspiration, feed the kitten flat on their belly.
This is the position they are in when nursing from their mom. The kitten can be slightly propped up on a towel or blanket to assist with the feeding position. If the kitten acts frantic at feeding time, gently hold the kitten by the cheeks and guide the bottle into the mouth. You may need to hold their front paws down to prevent them from climbing up your hand.
When placing the bottle into the kitten’s mouth, open the mouth gently with the tip of your finger. You may need to place the nipple in from the side of the mouth rather than into the front. Once in the mouth, you can reposition the nipple to the front. Once kittens are used to the artificial nipple they will seek it out and latch easily. During a latch, you will feel a strong vacuum as they suckle. Watch for bubbles in the bottle and wiggling ears to indicate a good latch. To prevent air from getting into the stomach, hold the bottle at a 45 degree angle. Slightly pulling back on the bottle can often get the kitten to have a stronger latch. Kittens will drink at their own pace and the bottle should never be squeezed. Squeezing milk into the kitten’s mouth can cause aspiration.
If they refuse to take to the nipple or suckle, try rubbing the kittens cheeks or cupping their faces. This often encourages them to latch. If you have multiple kittens you can feed them together to encourage sibling competition for the nipple.
Quick Tip: Using a tooth brush to “groom” the kitten helps them to relax because the roughness feels like a mama cat’s tongue.