Saturday, June 25, 2011

2:00 am feeding and fussy-kitten-sitting

Lori,a friend of mine who is a vet tech asked if I could watch some bottle babies until Monday evening so she could go to a friend's graduation party. She was fostering the kittens for a shelter. So my bathroom is hosting a rubbermaid tub full of furballs this weekend.

She said they were tough feeders (scream! turn face away! scrabble madly with front paws! keep mouth shut!). Been there, done that. It used to distress me, but after about 20 years of it, you get over it. Lori is used to it, too.

You'd think a hungry kitten would want to open his mouth and eat, but oh no! Without mom to sooth them, they can get quite cranky and unhappy.

For basic kitten care, the Kitten Rescue page has good info.

Here is my recipe for turning cranky smelly kittens into happy well-fed purr buttons (if they are strong, wiggly and warm ONLY):

A: Get as much dinner down them as you can. This means taking advantage of every single kitten scream you can to poke that nipple in their mouths and get a little bit of formula in there. (Note: when I say "squirt" I mean just a bare mouthful) Tip the head back, gently open the mouth from the back corner (cut your nails), slide the nipple in, and give a tiny bit of forumla. Do not fight the kitten. If he is seriously fighting you, just give him a squirt, move onto the next kitten, and come back to him. If you fight the kitten, he may aspirate formula, and he will hate being fed. You need to be sure the hole in the nipple is just right so you won't drown them if you press on the bottle.

There are plenty of things you can do in a bathroom (clean your toilet; get a load of laundry going) to make this "not a waste of time." Just keep rotating between screaming kittens as you get set up for the....

B: BATHS! Kitten baths are pretty simple at my house. Dawn dish detergent (the plain kind), lots of clean warm towels (throw them in the dryer beforehand), a small plastic comb to get poop out of the fur, and a hair dryer. I just squirt a little Dawn on the kitten and put them under faucet with nice comfortable warm water running. I keep the kitten's face and head out of the water stream, suds her up, and rinse her off, rolling her back in forth in my hands, making sure the belly and private parts get lots of rinsing to reduce urine scald. The kitten is going to scream. The kitten may poop or pee. But the kitten will be clean! Right before the bath is over, I take a wet wash cloth and wash the kitten's face, chin and chest.

Towel dry (face first after that chin-wash) by rolling back and forth and tousling the kitten gentle in the towel to get as much water off as possible. Making it a nice gentle rubbing massage. You don't have to treat them like crystal but there is a balance between getting all the innards moving by rubbing and rolling gently, and not rubbing too hard. Don't break them!

Blow dry (carefully!). Dryers are noisy but they get the job done pretty quickly with neonates. You need to hold the dryer far enough away so as not the burn the kitten, and turn it off to towel the kitten periodically. Be sure your bare hands are on the kitten at all times. If the dryer is too warm on your hand, it is too warm on the kitten! The plastic comb or a soft baby brush will open up the fur so it dries faster.

C) As soon as a kitten is bathed and dried, give her another dose of food. You can even give a mouthful now and then while drying the kitten if you are fast. You don't want the kitten to sit wet and cold. As you bathe the rest of the kittens, give all of the fussy ones a mouthful of food when you put the next kitten back (in a nice clean bed with nice clean towels).

When all of the kittens are bathed, run the blow dryer over the kittens together in their tub because they are sure to be damp. Be sure the tub will be warm enough when you put a sheet over it for them to sleep. Almost always this will mean using a heating pad beneath it. During very hot weather, you may not need a pad. But it's important to be sure. I have a thermometer I can put right in with the kittens. It's easy to chill or fry kittens if you "make assumptions" about what you "think" the temperature is in an enclosed container--especially damp kittens.

Before you cover up the kittens, give everyone a mouthful of formula again so they go to sleep with the taste of good formula (not soap!) in their mouths. Fussy kittens should get as many drops as you can get in there. Kittens who have eaten well should not be forced to eat more. Wipe their mouths with a tissue or washcloth so formula does not cake and dry on them.

Basically what you want are clean, warm, full, well-massaged, TIRED OUT kittens.

D) LEAVE THEM ALONE in a quiet dark room. Do not jostle them. Do not let people look in on them. This is crucial. Check the temperature once you are sure they are asleep (usually about 20 minutes). Let them sleep absolutely undisturbed for 3 or four hours. (Note: if you have just set up their tub, you may need to quietly check on the temperature a few more times to be sure it's not getting too hot/cold).

E) Be sure you have a clean towel, a towel for your lap to feed the kittens, and kitty wipes (or a warm damp washcloth) before you sit down to feed the kittens next. Lift them out of the tub, current stinky towel and all. Put a new clean towel in, and replace the kittens. Get rid of the stinky towel so you can enjoy your feeding session. Sit each kitten on your lap to feed him or her. Sit them (one by one) on a hand towel or old t-shirt on your lap so they can grab on and feel warm and secure. I guarantee they will eat better than they did earlier. Feed the kitten, massage her with the towel, rub her all over (with special attention to the belly and bottom of course) with kitty wipes. If the kitten is still not sucking down formula in an uninterrupted manner, don't worry. Give her mouthfuls of food as you clean her. If the kitten fusses, just give a mouthful and stop. Again--don't try to fight the kitten. Just squirt, clean, squirt, massage, squirt, put back in the box, and go onto the next kitten. Each time you put a kitten back, give another bit of formula to the fussy ones.

Don't freak out if kittens won't suck on the bottle. Just keep calmly giving fussy kittens a mouthful each time you move to a new kitten. This way, they will all get enough.

The only time this is a pain is when you have a single kitten. You don't have lots of kittens to rotate with so it's easy to get bored and frustrated, and your single will be distressed because he is all alone. In that case you are going to spend more time giving him little bits of formula, and he should be gently stroked, massaged, and breathed on. You will have a very clean bathroom by the time he is full, keeping yourself busy. Which is good, because there is nothing stinkier than a bathroom with neonate kittens in it.

With this particular batch of kittens, only one would settle down and drink in an uninterrupted manner during their first feeding. During their second feeding, every single kitten took the bottle and sucked on it. The key is getting them through one session where they are full, clean, massaged (so the innards are moving) and tired (so they sleep soundly, ready to wake up and eat), and following up with regular meals, cuddling/massage, and a warm clean bed.

Happy days!

NOTE ON BATHS: Only strong, warm kittens should be bathed. If your kitten is cold, underfed, or flea ridden, the kitten must be warmed up in a gradual and controlled manner. Fleas should be combed off rather than washed off. If you take a cold kitten and stick him under warm water, the kitten can get shocked by warming up too fast. In dire situations (maggots, filth, etc.) where a bath is absolutely needed, at least take an hour to warm the kitten up in a dark box with a heating pad.

SECOND NOTE ON BATHS AND FEEDING: Absolutely every kitten rescuer has their own opinion on kitten feeding and kitten baths. If you are confused because you get conflicting information, don't worry about it. That's just how we are. Read as much as you can, and use your brain.


HubCats said...

I've raised a few litters of bottle feeders but thankfully haven't gotten any screamies!

Do you use the elongated nipples?
You can use them on a syringe and have more control over the flow, too. I'm surprised that you can get enough milk into them. The early morning feedings must be brutal! I think I'd be motivated to learn how to tube feed.

It's remarkable how difficult it is for humans to raise kittens - and how easy it is for momcats - with just her tongue (the perfect kitten washcloth), her warm tummy, and her instincts.
I always try to get people to leave them with mom, if at ALL possible. Once they need more calories than she can provide (4-5 weeks) they can be weaned and socialized.
Thanks for this great reference, Susan!

Anonymous said...

Good info! I just did my first was a disaster. He was a screamer, wouldn't eat, head turning, all of it. Oh - and a singleton because the rest of the litter had been killed by a dog. There was also question as to if he had head trauma from the dog attack and that may be why he would not eat.

Thank goodness we were able to trap his mom! She may be a vicious little spitfire of a thing, but she's a great mom and raised him up really well. It was so much better for us to feed her and let her feed him.

Man, baby birds are way easier than baby cats...

Wildrun said...

Just to clarify, this isn't how I handle all of my litters. If kittens are full and warm to begin with, follow-up feedings are usually no problem. But if they get over-hungry, or have been dealing with diarrhea, parasites or other issues, they can get overly cranky. I find that the one session of getting them warm, clean, bellies full, TIRED (in a good way), and a good long nap (not TOO long), makes them easier to feed in future sessions. Then it's important to make sure they don't get over-hungry from then on.

The crankiest one in this litter has diarrhea. I imagine part of his issue is a tummy ache as well. He was much better today. These are shelter kittens, and when kittens come into a shelter, they often have gone without food for awhile, and have gotten cold. Busy fosterers often have to carry the kittens with them to work, so there is a lot of moving around, and sound, which can be rough on cranky kittens. But what can the fosterer do? Since I work from home, kittens can stay entirely undisturbed, which is a nice luxury. Pretty soon they are over the cranky hump.

Wildrun said...

PS: RE tube feeding. I suck at it. I'd probably be OK now, but I used to have to do puppies when I was an 18-year-old vet assistant, and it gave me the heebie jeebies, so I've always gone with the bottle. I have syringes on hand, but I've had good luck getting kittens to take the bottle. I think a lot of what succeeds is what people are comfortable with. I believe the animals pick up on that as well.

HubCats said...

oh, I SEE. thanks for the clarification. Glad this is just an "under new management" phenomenon!! Maybe momcats are wise, not negligent, to leave their darlings for hours, peacefully sleeping lined up like spring rolls.
Conversely, if they're not screaming, they're probably fine, leave 'em alone!

Zippy, Sadie and Speedy said...

Ah, the old "cranky kitty" routine. I now have a secret weapon for the ones that come in motherless..his name is Speedy and he's a really good manny (male nanny). Of course all my litters come from the shelter and have been vetted prior to coming to my house. Hubby worries he might catch something (the cat, not the hubby) but I say it's cheaper to get rid of worms in him (it's never happened) than to send me to a therapist. Really, he baths, warms them, sometimes naps with them and has even let the really crabby ones nurse on him. I don't know what I'd do without him! Oh, and he loves it. When I don't have a foster litter here he treats his stuffy like it's a baby. He's always accepted by the moms too. He just walks into the foster room, lays down, inches closer, lays down and the next thing you know he's helping mom with the little ones so she can eat and use the litter without worrying. I've really never seen anything like him before and probably never will again.