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Caring for the Orphans: Raising Kittens by Hand After the Mother Cat Has Been Killed

Caring for the Orphans: Raising Kittens by Hand After the Mother Cat Has Been Killed

When a half-feral cat adopts you, there’s often a reason beyond a desire for some decent food. When a litter of kittens is the result, it’s not a big surprise. But a mama cat that has showed up at your apartment pregnant simply cannot be made into an indoor cat immediately. And occasionally, bad luck is the result. Mama Cat is struck by a car and killed. You cancel the spaying appointment you’d set up for her and begin to think about the larger question – what do you do with the five kittens, still too small to be weaned?

Consult with a veterinarian to develop a method

You absolutely need some professional advice to get started if you hope to save these kittens. With a veterinarian’s help you can get the supplies you need, check the kittens’ health to be sure none need to be isolated, and develop a plan based on how old the kittens are at the time of their mother’s death. If you have a fairly healthy litter, find a big shoebox or something similar to keep them in. Line it with newspaper. This may not sound too cozy, but keep in mind that the kittens will foul their living quarters and the lining will have to be changed frequently. Keep a heating pad, wrapped in towels and on its lowest setting, under one side of the box only. Use a thermometer to be sure the warm side of the box isn’t more than about 90 degrees. Make sure there’s a cool side of the box so that the kittens can rotate and not become overheated.

Keep to a regular schedule and keep meticulous records

You’ll be feeding the kittens with small pet nursing bottles, with a formula sold specifically for kittens. As with bottle-feeding human babies, it’s important to use milk formula rather than plain cow’s milk to avoid digestive problems. You’ll need to avoid overfeeding, and you’ll be having to massage the kittens’ anal and urinary orifices for the first few weeks of life after each feeding and wipe their waste away with a cotton ball. You’ll also need to track their weight (a food scale works well) and their temperature.

All of this means two things. First, you must keep to a regular schedule according to your vet’s advice, and not feed any kitten more than it ought to receive at one time. Second, you need to keep very meticulous records of ounces fed, waste produced, weight (taken at the same time of day before a feeding) and temperature. How is this to be done? Make an Excel sheet, write it on a chart you’ve put on paper and attached to a clipboard, do it any organized way you like. But most essentially, make sure you can identify the kittens individually. You might be lucky enough to have kittens with different color schemes, but if not, find another way. Maybe use tiny marks with nail polish on the scruff of the neck. It’s not permanent, but will last the few weeks you need. Then you’ll have One-Spot, Two-Spot, Stripey, and The Runt until the kittens are old enough to be adopted and named.

Nothing lasts forever

While it’s going on, you may feel like you’ll be bottle feeding these kittens every few hours for the rest of your life. But as with a human baby, nothing lasts forever. Even better, with kittens it’s only for a few short weeks. Soon they’ll be transitioning to solid food, you’ll be starting litter-box training, and they’ll be getting their first set of shots. You may be looking for people to adopt some of them, and they’re likely to be very affectionate cats, well-accustomed to humans.

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