It was pure chance that I was sitting in front of my computer when I saw the appeal for a nursing queen on Facebook. I rang Tracy to get more information. Her neighbour’s spayed cat had brought three tiny kittens to her home. Apparently, she is in the habit of “robbing” kittens, although she had never brought back such young kittens before. Tracy and the neighbour tried to locate the mother, but could not find her anywhere. She thought that the kittens were one week old and they had been on their own since that morning; it was around 4.30pm.
I offered to help to try to find a nursing mum and started texting everyone I could think of. The clock was ticking and I knew the kittens wouldn’t make it if they weren’t fed soon, so I grabbed my bag with the kitten fomula and kitten bottle and jumped into my car, thinking that something could be sorted out later.
When I arrived there, I found three tiny kittens, not even a day old – they still had their umbilical cords attached. They looked really poorly in their pet carrier, so I tried to feed them immediately, but one barely ate anything. The only time I had fed a new born kitten was when we rescued Spica and I didn’t really feel like facing this task on my own, so I headed to Maggie and Jim’s.
Bottle-feeding kittens is tiring, physically and nervously. You need to make sure that they eat enough, that they are in an environment at the right temperature – since they cannot control their body heat themselves, you need to make them go to the toilet by stimulating them, etc. Basically, you need to do everything a queen would do, knowing that you are not a cat and cannot provide the same comfort as a mother and that a kitten might die very quickly for no apparent reason. But what else can you do? These little lives are there, needing help and you certainly cannot let them die without even giving them a chance. All you can do is your best…
While at Maggie’s, we got a fright as the smallest one nearly stopped breathing, but Maggie helped him and he regained a bit of energy. After a couple of feeds, I felt more comfortable going home with the kittens. We had also been in touch with Sara, who told us that she was in the process of trapping a nursing mum and her kittens and we had planned to try to introduce the kittens to her if Sara was successful. Should that fail, we had arranged to do shifts, so that I would have the kittens during the week and Maggie at the weekends, in order to make things easier on everyone.
How difficult were those first night feeds! Yet, what pleasure did I get from hearing the little one giving his first screetch! I must admit that I was exhausted after two nights. Feeding three new-borns on your own is exhausting, but it was also a satisfying feeling to see them eat and “making it!”.
Some will say that only experienced people can bottle-feed new-borns. Experience will help, but we all need to start somewhere, and sometimes, you just don’t have the choice… It takes dedication, patience, time, common-sense and a lot of love. As with a human baby, the little ones become your priority; you must give up on nearly everything else and give them all your attention.
Nowadays, we also have the help of the internet, and I would recommend to visit the following websites should you ever find yourself in the same situation: FAB Cats has a very good and detailed page on hand-rearing kittens; The Cat Practice in Michigan has a dowloadable guide covering all the major aspects of hand-rearing kittens; Feral Cat Coalition also has a page that is worth viewing and kitten rescue offers a simplified feeding guide with some good tips.