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Caring for kittens.

It was a cold day, and the icy Oklahoma wind kept everyone at home and away from the animal hospital that I owned and operated with Suzanne, my jane-of-all trades. After two hours of waiting in vain for clients or telephone calls, Suzanne and I decided to start our least enjoyable chore--taking apart and scrubbing the stainless-steel cages.

Hearing the jingle of the bells tied to the hospital's front door, I gratefully left my brush and started toward the waiting room. There by the door was a large, cardboard box; no one was in evidence.

I opened the top of the box and saw four small kittens huddled together in a furry ball. I picked up a tiny, orange kitten. Its thin body felt cold, and it cried weakly as I placed it back with the others.

The kittens were about three weeks old, and I knew they would soon be dead if not provided nourishment and warmth. Suzanne and I spent the rest of the day administering to those kittens. We supplied emergency nutrition via injections of glucose solution; later, we attempted to feed them feline-milk replacer with a doll's bottler. We placed the kittens in an old human-infant incubator to keept them warm.

By the end of the day, the kittens were stable; however, when I left the hospital with a small carrying cage containing the little creatures, I felt that their survival was a mixed blessing. I already had more pets than I could handle, and kittens seemed to be worth less than a penny a dozen. Now I had to find four homes.

About raising orphan kittens--hypothermia or lack of the mother's natural body heat is a prime killer of orphans. Kittens need a constant temperature of 85 [deg.] to 90 [deg.] F. the first week of life, 80 [deg.] F. the second week, 75 [deg.] F. the third week and 70 [deg.] F. thereafter until they are active enough to maintain their body heat.

Kittens should be placed in a box large enough for them to move about. HEat intensity should vary in different parts of the box so each kitten can find its most comfortable level. Several methods can be used to provide needed warmth. An incubator utilizing a 250-watt infrared-heat bulb is adequate. Hot-water bottles made from empty plastic bottles filled with hot water and covered with towels give the kittens a warm surface to snuggle against.

Materials used to feed kittens should be clean and the formula warmed to body temperature. Commercial-milk replacer formulated to closely match the mother's milk (KMR Borden) can be obtained from your veterinarian or pet supply; use according to directions on the label. However, if such replacer is unavailable, a homemade formula can be used: evaporated milk to which an egg yolk and a pinch of salt has been added. Corn syrup, added for additional calories, should be omitted if diarrhea develops. Formula: 2 cups evaporated milk, 1 teaspoon corn syrup, 1 egg yolk, pinch salt. Approximately 1/2 tablespoon (7.5 ml) of formula per ounce of kitten weight is fed daily in divided feedings.

Neonatal kittens can be fed with a doll's bottle or a stomach tube. The hole in the nipple of a doll's bottle should be just large enough to allow a slow drip when the bottle is turned upside down. Kittens too weal to suck may be fed via a stomach tube. A #8 French infant-feeding tube can be used for this procedure. Before feeding, lay the tube alongside the kitten with the end just in front of the kitten's last rib. Mark the tube three-fourths of the distance from the end of the tube to the mouth. Hold the kitten in one hand, open its mouth slightly, gently pass the tube over the tongue and insert it to the mark. Attach a syringe containing the desired amount of formula to the stomach tube and release the contents into the tube completely before removing the tube. Your veterinarian can instruct or demonstrate the procedure.

Actually, slight underfeeding is preferable to overfeeding. If diarrhea develops, you may be overfeeding. NEwborn kittens should be fed four to six times a day. After each feeding, rub kitten's genitals and anuses with a cotton ball moistened with warm water; this action will substitute for the mother's licking to stimulate defecation and urination.

At 3-1/2 to 4 weeks of age, kittens can be taught to eat from a dish containg dried human baby cereal mixed with formula. Borden's makes a kitten-weaning formula that can be fed during this transition period. At six weeks, kittens can be started on good-quality, dry kitten food and the feedings reduced to three times a day.

Litter training can begin at three to four weeks of age. Place the kitten in its litter box after each meal, nap or play period; keep the litter box clean.

Extreme caution must be exercised when medicating kittens. Do not give kittens the liquid-aspirin substitute so often used for human infants. This product can cause acute toxicosis and death in cats, particularly kittens.

Vaccination of kittens against infectious diseases is usually begun at eight to nine weeks of age. However, vaccination of orphan kittens that did not received their mother's colostrum (first milk) may be begun at an earlier age. Kittens can be checked at this time or earlier for internal and external parasites including ear mites, fleas, worms and protozoa.

Early socialization of kittens is important for the development of an amiable personality. Kittens need interaction with their litter mates. Also, human touch and play are important. When the kittens are a month old and you have taken the proper precautions to ensure that young children will not injure the kittens, allow regular play between your children and the kittens. Enjoy your kittens!

My story had a happy ending. Each kitten, including Sunkist, the ugly orange one with the cute personality, was adopted into a cat-loving family.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:White, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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