In the Spring I start to think about baby kittens. Every year I usually raise at least one litter, but I never turn a kitten away, no matter how tired I am. It's not easy to raise orphan kittens and the sad thing is they can die no matter how hard you work.
Last Saturday a police officer came into the clinic with an orphan kitten he had found near an abandoned home. The kitten was roughly 3 days old, alone and in good health. I took the kitten for the weekend, when I came back to work the following week one of younger employees wanted to try her hand at kitten rearing, so I gave her strict instructions and reluctantly let my baby go. The orphan kitten is doing wonderful under Jaimie's watchful eye, though she now has bags under those eyes. If you decide to raise an orphan kitten these instructions will help you be successful.
- Warmth Orphan kittens will die first from hypothermia so it is very important to keep them warm. Do not use a heating pad you may accidentally get them too warm. The heat source should be something they can curl up next to or move away from as needed. I recommend using a milk jug filled with steaming hot water wrap in a towel and place in a card board box with the kittens. The orphan kittens can curl up next to their "water momma" and stay warm. Check the bottle on a regular basis and make sure it stays warm.
- Food - Orphan kittens need to be bottle fed every 2 3 hours day and night. The kittens should eat a kitten milk replacer you can buy this and a small bottle at a pet store. The product comes in a powder you mix with water or you can buy a liquid, but once the can of the liquid form is opened it is only good for 24 hours I find the powder form more economical if you are in for the long haul.
- Stimulate - Orphan kittens need stimulation to go potty. Use damp cotton balls to rub the kittens' bottom to help them go to the bathroom. Do this after every feeding. As the kittens grow up start doing this over a small litter box (I use a paper plate with a small amount of litter). Leave the litter box with the kittens at all times, the kittens will crawl through the box while exploring their surroundings, as the kittens smell themselves in the box they will learn what the box is for.
- Keep the kittens clean and dry Use a damp wash cloth to keep the kittens clean. Orphan kittens can get pretty messy especially when they start to learn to eat on their own. If food is left on them they can develop a mild skin dermatitis. The wash cloth method works pretty well but if they are severely messy a mild soap, I like Aveeno, works well for a bath, use a blow dryer afterward so they won't get a chill.
- Emergencies You can do everything right and lose a kitten. It is a horrible feeling when it happens, remember it is not your fault. All you can do is try.
Never give kittens the "cow milk" we drink, this can make them sick and it isn't rich enough for them. When their eyes open, around 2 weeks of age, you can start to offer canned kitten food mixed with the milk replacer. They won't eat it yet, but they will start to play in the milk and lick it off each other, slowly they will learn it's food.
I keep nursing them through this period of learning. As they grow I feed them less often to give them a chance to eat on their own. When the kittens are about 3 weeks old I stop feeding at night, but I do give one last feeding before bed and an early morning feeding. When the kittens are 5 6 weeks old they will be eating on their own, feed regular kitten food, the babies should be weaned from the milk by this age.
- Temperature Put your finger in the kittens mouth, if it feels cold to you then the kittens temperature is too low.
- Rub/stimulate - Try wrapping the kitten in a small towel and rub, rub, rub. Rubbing the kitten will stimulate it and help warm it up. Keep checking the temperature with your finger.
- Karo syrup Place a small dab of Karo Syrup on the kitten's tongue with your finger. This will help raise the kittens blood sugar. Continue rubbing the kitten and checking the body temperature.
- When the kittens mouth feels like it is a normal body temperature (it doesn't feel cold to the touch) then the kitten is warm enough to eat and can probably swallow. If you try to feed the kitten too soon it may aspirate on the food (the food will go into the lungs).
Try to get the kitten to take a bottle, if it will eat for you - great, the kitten will probably be OK. If the kitten doesn't want the bottle then keep rubbing and giving the dabs of Karo syrup. Continue to try the bottle, hopefully the kitten will come around.
If you do lose a kitten, do not feel bad, try to think about the survivors that still need you. As I said before, you can do everything right and still lose an orphan kitten. We can't save them all, but we can try.
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