Heat Sources for Kittens

Kittens under 4 weeks of age cannot thermoregu­late, and therefore rely completely on an external heat source to keep their body at an appropriate temperature. Typically, kittens will rely on their mothers for bodily warmth, but when orphaned, they must have a heat source at all times to keep them warm. When it comes to keeping kittens warm, there are a lot of different options you can use—from free items in your kitchen cupboard, to affordable heat pads, to more costly incubators. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each option, and talk about the best products for your kittens.

OPTION #1: Electric Heating Pad

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Can provide long lasting, consistent heat

  • Good for stationary setups like nurseries or foster rooms

Cons

  • Cannot use electric heat pads while in transit; impossible to safely take kittens on the go with an electric heat pad

  • Some heat pads are made of fabric that is difficult to properly sanitize

  • Many heat pads have an auto-timer and will turn off after 2 hours

Tips

  • Avoid buying heating pads with non-removable fabric. Remove and wash fabric covers often; spray the heating pad down with a disinfectant as needed.

  • Make sure the heating pad you’re using doesn’t turn off automatically.

  • Check the heating pad at each feeding to ensure that it is still warm.

  • Keep the heating pad on a medium setting and line it with a microfleece blanket.

  • Always provide a warm zone and a cool zone so that the kitten can move towards and away from the heat.

OPTION #2: MICROWAVABLE HEATING PAD

Pros

  • Moderately affordable

  • Can provide steady heat for roughly 6 hours

  • Doesn’t rely on an outlet; perfect for taking kittens on the go

  • Easy to sanitize

Cons

  • Potential for overheating, which can scald a kitten

  • Relies on access to a microwave

  • Heat is strongest after microwaving and dissipates over the course of several hours

Tips

  • Be cautious about overheating! Make sure you read the instructions for heating, and microwave it for the correct amount of time for the strength of your microwave.

  • Cover the heating pad with a microfleece blanket.

  • Always provide a warm zone and a cool zone so that the kitten can move towards and away from the heat.

  • Avoid off-brand microwavable pads that may contain harmful substances.

  • Spray with a disinfectant as needed.


oPTION #3: INCUBATOR

Cons

  • Expensive (~$500-1250 range; my recommendation is $760)

  • Bulky device

  • Not easily portable

Pros

  • Consistent, precise regulation of temperature

  • Ambient heat preferable to spot heat

  • Contained, quarantined space

  • Ports for nebulizer and oxygen

Tips

  • While not necessary, an incubator is a fantastic option for those frequently caring for kittens 0-3 weeks old.

  • Comes in several sizes; smaller model is perfectly appropriate for litters of kittens at the age they need it.

  • Use only distilled water in humidifier port.

  • Sanitize completely between litters.

  • Recommended temperature and humidity settings:

    • 0-1 week: 87-90°F & 60% humidity

    • 1-2 weeks: 85-87°F & 60% humidity

    • 2-3 weeks: 80-85°F & 60% humidity

    • 3+ weeks: no incubator, give kittens more room to roam and provide a heating pad

OPTION #4: RICE MOM

Cons

  • Not appropriate long-term

  • Heat wears off after ~2 hours

  • Must use multiple rice moms to properly heat a bed

  • Has a strong smell

Pros

  • Cheap or free

  • Made out of products you already likely have at home

  • Works great in an emergency situation

Watch this video to learn how to make a rice mom.

Tips

  • Use dry, unflavored rice from your kitchen cabinet and pour it into a long, clean sock. Tie a knot around the ankle and microwave until warm. Repeat until you have enough rice moms to heat the bed.

  • Be cautious about overheating! Don’t use a rice mom that is too hot for you to touch.

  • Reheat as necessary.

  • Use several rice moms to heat the kittens’ bed.

  • Watch this instructional video to see a rice mom in action!

Option #5: Single-Use Hand Warmers

Cons

  • Too small; must use several to properly heat a kitten’s bed

  • Heat wears off quite quickly

  • A wasteful product to use long-term, as it is disposable

  • Product is dangerous if ingested

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Small, easy to keep on hand

  • Work great in an emergency situation

  • Stay warm for ~8 hours

Tips

  • Only use single-use hand warmers in cases of emergency, such as in a rescue kit that you keep in your car or if traveling a short distance with kittens.

  • Cover the warmers with a soft blanket and monitor the kittens to ensure they are not biting or chewing the warmers.

  • Check on the heat and replace as needed.

  • Once you are able, get the kitten a more permanent heat source.