Bathing Feral Kittens

Newborn kittens are extremely fragile creatures.  Once the kittens are weaned (around four weeks old), a friendly mother may allow you to interact with her babies.  Let the mother set the limits for this interaction.  Notice her body language and respect her wishes if she becomes agitated.  A rapidly swishing tail is a sure sign that she's had enough.  But what if you notice that the kittens have fleas?  Maria L. writes:

At what age can you give kittens a bath? A feral cat had kittens on our neighbor’s porch. She actually lets you pet her and play with the kittens. The kittens are covered in fleas though. They are now three weeks old. At what age can we give them a bath? Will the fleas just come back since they are still nursing from the mother? We were going to not give them away until 8 weeks so they could go right to the vet for their shots. Thanks for your help.

Maria, it really depends on whether or not you intend to remove the kittens from the mother now or wait until they’re weaned. If you leave them with the mother outside, a bath won’t do them much good. They’ll simply get new fleas as soon as they’re returned to their mother. It’s a bit of a catch 22 - leaving them with the mother until they’re weaned is better for their training and care, but parasites can endanger their health. It’s up to you to determine just how bad their flea problem is.

If you choose to bathe the kittens, you should be prepared to keep them inside. You’ll need some help setting up and caring for them, as it can be an around the clock effort. For more on kitten care, we recommend visiting The Kitten Lady’s site.

If the kittens are taken away from the mother, she can be given an orally administered flea treatment. Such a treatment could be hazardous for the kittens so it should only be given if the mother is on her own.

In general, we recommend that kittens not be bathed until they are at least eight weeks old. Until then, the mother should be their exclusive caregiver.  She will bathe them and even stimulate them to pee and poop since they're unable to do this on their own.

After eight weeks, you may bathe them using just warm water.  Even Dawn dishwashing liquid, which is used by some animal rescue groups, may be too harsh for kittens.  Warm water and a flea comb are the best choices. Dry them thoroughly with a towel and never use a hair dryer.  If it's cool outside, keep them in a warm place until they're completely dry.

You shouldn't use any flea control products on kittens as the chemicals will be much too harsh for them.  They could actually damage their sensitive systems. If the fleas come back, just clean their bedding and bathe them periodically until they're old enough for flea control.

Once they've grown to a weight of five pounds, see this post for flea control options.  You'll also want to get Mama Cat spayed so she doesn't produce more kittens.  Good luck!