Rescuing Kittens 101
Rescuing ‘Abandoned’ Kittens
• Be sure the kittens are really abandoned before disturbing their nest.
The mom cat may be nearby but hiding because you are there. If kittens are clean, plump, and sleeping quietly in a heap, they probably have a caring mom and should be left alone. Abandoned kittens will be dirty and the nest will be soiled. They will cry continuously because they are hungry.
• If the mom cat is friendly, leave the kittens with her until they are 5-6 weeks old. Whenever possible, play with the kittens to socialize them.
• If the mom cat is feral, remove the kittens at about 4 weeks. They will have received important antibodies from her milk. Kittens over 4 weeks old born from a feral mother become more and more difficult to tame. After 8 weeks old the job can be more difficult.
• In all cases, try to catch the mom cat and get her spayed.
INITIAL WARMTH AND CARE
• If a rescued kitten feels cold, it must be warmed immediately but carefully.
Place it on a heating pad set at the lowest setting. Wrap the heating pad in towels. A warm hot water bottle (about 100 degrees) wrapped in a towel and placed with the kitten will work. You can also take a cold kitten directly to your vet. He may have an incubator to warm the chilled kitten.
• Do not feed a kitten until it is warm. It cannot properly digest food when cold.
However, you can syringe feed a few drops of 5% sugar water or rub a little bit of Karo syrup on the kitten’s lips.
• Kittens under 3 weeks cannot control their body temperature.
Keep on a heating pad, set on low, wrapped in at least 2 layers of towels to cover the pad. If it’s too hot, the
kittens will try to sleep on the edges. Heating pad should be used until the kittens are about 4-5 weeks old or until you notice they are avoiding it.
• Keep kittens in a box or cat carrier in a warm, draft-free place.
Cover container with a towel to make them even cozier. Change bedding often because they do have accidents! Kitten skin is very sensitive. Enlarge their space as they grow, but keep them warm and cozy. A small bathroom is fine as they grow and need more exercise.
• Isolate these kittens completely from other animals.
• Get the kittens to your vet just as soon as possible.
He will check for dehydration and their general condition. Bring a stool sample if possible to test for worms and parasites. Kittens become dehydrated very quickly and are at risk. A dose of fluids injected under the skin (subcutaneously) is necessary if this occurs. Your vet will be happy to show you how to do this. It’s not as terrible as it sounds and will save the kitten’s life.
• Many vets will offer you a free courtesy visit if you tell them that this is a rescued kitten you are fostering. Their staff can give you advice and supplies as you need them. This is very important! You can also contact your local shelter or rescue group and ask if you can become a “foster parent” through their organization as you raise the kitten. Many of these organizations help cover the cost of raising the kittens if you are planning to put them up for adoption when they are old enough.
• If you are planning to keep your rescued kitten, try to find a “foster” momcat who is still nursing.
Your local animal shelter or rescue organization may be able to help you with this. It is crucial that a kitten gets immunity against disease that only a mother cat’s milk can provide. This immunity lasts until they are 6-14 weeks old and makes for a much healthier kitten.
• Cow’s milk is not nutritious enough for kittens.
They will slowly starve to death on it. If you cannot get to a pet store right away, there are some emergency kitten formula recipes at the end of this section. Two kitten formula brands (KMR and Just Born) are available at pet stores.
• Purchase a pet nursing kit and kitten formula, available at pet stores.
The kit should include a bottle, extra nipples, and a cleaning brush. Cut an “X” in the tip of the nipple with scissors. You’ll know the nipple opening is big enough by holding the bottle upside-down. The formula will drip slowly from it. Too small an opening will make kittens work too hard to get their formula, tiring them out before they’ve had enough to eat. Too large an opening will force too much formula into them too fast. They can accidentally inhale it into their lungs. If they accidentally inhale the formula, hold them upside down until they stop choking.
• Sterilize bottles, nipples and hands before each feeding.
Keep a special shirt or apron in the kittens’ room and wear it while feeding. (Some viruses can live on clothing.) Sterilize your hands with antibacterial sanitizer or water with a touch of bleach added. Sterilize before and after each feeding session so that the kittens and your own pets will be protected against one another’s germs. You can also purchase a box of latex surgical gloves and use a new pair for each feeding.
• Do not hold kittens the same as human babies when feeding.
Positioning for feeding is very important because this is when bonding occurs. Kittens are most comfortable in a position similar to the way they would be if they were nursing from a momcat. They should be on their stomach with the head and chest tilted slightly upward. While nursing, they will want to “knead” instinctively, which would cause the momcat to keep producing milk. Many people find it comfortable to sit on a chair with a clean towel on their lap. They position the kitten as described, propping the chest up with their free hand to get the correct upward angle for nursing. Use a fresh towel each day to avoid germs.