Nancyeclark's Blog


THE ‘”OO” FACTOR

I am sure we have all heard of the  “aww” factor, right? The cuteness, the sweetness that makes you go “aww!!! ”. The warm fuzzies. That is what everyone thinks of when I tell them I am fostering kittens…particularly baby kittens…orphans of a day old, or about a week old, or two weeks old…everyone  says ”aww”.  Everyone who has never done it that is.

4. hungry rodney

The reality about tiny baby kittens is the “oo” factor. As in poop, poop, poop and more poop.

Orphan kittens are the cutest things on the face of the planet. They are also one of the hardest things to feed, keep warm and keep alive. And then there’s the poop.

Orphans, depending on their age, need feeding every 2 hours at the start. They will take to a bottle or not. They will suck or not. They might like syringe feeding. Or not. Sometimes a dropper. Or not. It is all trial & error and a kitten happily sucking one minute will decide not to the next. And then there is the poop.

Orphan kittens need to be kept warm and dry. But not too warm. Hot water bottles need to be refreshed regularly, and heating pads need to be under lots of towels or blankies, so that there are no hot spots…and they need to be able to get away from the warmth if they need to…so there has to be part of their space that is cooler. Their blankets, or towels, or bedding needs to be checked often to be sure they are dry and just the right temperature. And then there is the poop.

Orphan kittens need to be weighed. Need to have a set amount of formula. No over feeding or under feeding. Underfeeding leads to yelling, restless babies. Overfeeding can cause diarrhea and other problems. They need to be burped after feeding. And cuddled. They need skin time and bonding and warmth and lots of love. And they need to poop.

Orphan kittens need to have their little bodies stimulated to pee and poop. Their mum would be doing it for them…so you have to take her place, with cotton pad, ball or washcloth instead of tongue…but the job is the same…to gently encourage them to produce pee and a least a poop a day or so. Never rub…you can irritate their fragile bits. Jiggling works a treat. And be sure to clean them afterwards…so they don’t get scald and so they smell good. A kitten who has a mum is kept immaculate…and we foster parents should keep them that way too. Cats and kittens like to be clean. Bathing is sometimes necessary. Not a lot of fun for either of you…but necessary.

And then there’s the poop. Regular poop should be brown and kind of jam-like….and if you are lucky…that is all you get. However, sometimes you get weird colours and textures and blood and mucus and other horrible things because there are so many things that can cause poop problems. Overfeeding. Formula too rich. Intestinal parasites: roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms or the protozoans; coccidia & giardia.Viral or bacterial infections: there are many, but two of the scariest are FIP & distemper. Allergies. Inflammatory bowel disease. Feline leukemia. Antibiotics. Toxins. Cancer. Diabetes. Some can be ruled out or in fairly easily…but sometimes you just don’t now and it becomes trial and error to fix the problem. Kittens, due to their immature immune systems are wide open to almost anything, sometimes inherited from their mother, sometimes not.

When all is normal in the poop department, thank your lucky stars. Because it so often isn’t normal. Very often very messy and very smelly. And you have to keep the babies clean…it is vital, because they can get scald, they do not smell good and because they cuddle and sometimes lick and suck on each other…you have to not let them keep re-infecting themselves. Besides, it is harder to snuggle, kiss and love a sticky, smelly baby.

When you are raising baby kittens…you have to keep them clean, dry, warm but not too warm, hydrated and nourished. All of these can be huge challenges at times. And the younger the baby is…the harder it is to even keep them alive, much less thriving.

The tiniest, the youngest will not have had enough or any of their mum’s colostrum. They often do not suck well. And if kittens do develop poop issues…keeping them hydrated is difficult…they lose fluid so quickly.

This is not intended as a “go to” instruction manual for babies. It is just my observations of some of the things you might face when trying to hand raise kittens. And in my estimation, it is the “oo” factor which causes the most puzzlement, headaches, grief and heartache.

Sometimes everything goes swimmingly…you heave a sigh of relief when they get to about 16 weeks old and they get spay/neutered and go on to their new lives. Hopefully long and happy ones. Sometimes it goes only partly bad. You spend all your time trying to figure out the poop problems and trying to keep them tidy. Sometimes you lose a baby (or more)…cry a lot, work harder (as if that were possible) on those that remain, cry some more and rejoice when they get over it and grow and thrive. Sometimes they are the litter that makes you want never to do this again…to believe you cannot cry any more tears…that you are the worst foster mum ever…that  god does not exist or these things would not happen to innocents like this…that vets are useless…that you will never recover from the grief…and that no one will ever ask you to do this again, because you have just killed a litter of kittens. Because if all hell breaks loose, and kittens die…you will blame yourself, even if it is in no way your fault. Sometimes you will know why it happened…and sometimes you do not get any answers…it just happens despite your fervent prayers and diligence and love and medicine and whatever else you tried to save them…shelter visits, CPR, syringe feeding, tube feeding, antibiotics,anti-virals, sub-Q fluids, hot water bottles, emergency vet visits, all the supportive care in the world….even making bargains with the devil…sometimes there is not a damn thing you can do. Kittens die sometimes.

But you swallow hard and find the resolve to do it again…and again…because when all goes well, there is incredible joy and satisfaction in seeing these wee things nurse and snuggle and grow and thrive. There is so much joy in watching their personalities blossom. I cannot tell you how deeply it affects me to have the whole litter sitting in my lap, looking at me with love, tapping my face with their soft little paws and purring to beat the band. My heart sings! And there is seeing them spayed or neutered and head off into their new lives with their forever families. It is supremely satisfying to know they would not have had that outcome if it were not for you. Fostering kittens is about hard work, long hours, a weird fascination with poop, fun, love, joy, sadness, silliness, heartache, awe and wonder and lots and lots of smiles and laughter. It really is all about the “oo” factor…but when it works…it is also about the “aww” factor.