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.



Keiko

DSCF0401 She was probably doomed from the start, but she did not seem to care and tried so hard to have a life and grow and become a cat…but we lost her and it broke my heart. Into tiny little pieces…that will, I am sure, eventually fit back together, but there will be a lot of scar tissue.

Keiko was one of four kittens born to Julia, a foster mum from the OSPCA. Tiny and beautiful they were. There was Mighty Mouse, the runt, a little grey and white fighter; Thor, a big black boy who seemed to have odd feet and skeletal issues and then the two sisters, Youko and Keiko, both white with lilac points. When we got them home they seemed fine and Mum seemed fine too, but it quickly became apparent that Julia, although gorgeous and sweet and loving, had no clue about being a mum…there are some cats that should never be mums…too young, too whatever. She would nurse her babies briefly and then walk away, leaving the kittens to get cold and lonely…and if we left her alone in the room with them, she would carry them around and deposit them in strange corners and leave them alone on the floor. As soon as we realized this, within hours, we began by putting a heating pad under their bin and adding hot water bottles to keep them warm, keeping the door to their carrier closed so Julia could not scatter them, and every hour or so, put her in with them to nurse and clean them. She was great with them for a while each time and then yell and claw to get out. The kittens also developed diarrhea almost immediately and it became clear we had four very sick kittens…but they were kept warm and clean and dry and nursed well when given their mum or a bottle, and seemed even with their issues to be doing okay…no dehydration…and with food peacefully asleep. I spent hours and hours with them, watching, stroking mum so she would nurse, cleaning them and their towels, changing hot water bottles, moving mum in and out, experimenting to see if she would stay without being locked in with them, trying to see if she would leave them together in one spot, praying and worrying, supplementing with formula…then one day…checking in on the nursing babies, all seemed fine, when I realized Mighty Mouse could not be seen amongst the pile…I found him under his mother, smothered by Mum lying on him…he was flat and still and flaccid and not breathing and I panicked and rubbed and stroked him and breathed on him and called the shelter and finally he coughed and his chest started moving again…all of which may have been a bad decision in hindsight because although he seemed to recover he succumbed to the struggle of life a few days later and we had him put to sleep. He simply got too tired, and I probably should have let him die and be peaceful when it happened…but instinct made me try without thinking. Thor, the big, black, hungry boy became much sicker a few days later in the space of a couple of hours, and at 5 am on a Sunday, we heard him begin to cry in distress and had to make the heartbreaking decision to have him put to sleep too. So we were left with Keiko and Youko…the two white sisters…still sick but as far as we could tell…happy with each other and not suffering. Julia was still a lousy mum so we kept them warm…and as clean as we could, continued supplementing their diet and they slowly began to grow and get better. They changed from white to cream…Youko with lilac ears and tail, Keiko with dark points on face, ears, paws and tail…simply beautiful kittens…with sweet tempers and good appetites. The diarrhea stopped, but as the days went by…you could see that the diarrhea, the virus, whatever had made them sick,  had caused Keiko to have growth and development issues…Youko soon out paced her in size and strength. Keiko’s problems became more apparent, possibly from mal-absorption of nutrients through the diarrhea, possibly congenital, she grew a little and regained her hair from the urine scald she suffered even with constant cleaning, but she stayed  small and her legs did not work as well as they should..her front legs bowed a bit and occasionally knuckled over…her back legs did not seem to have as much flexibility and feeling as they should…but she kept trying…playing with her sister, eating well, beginning to try out toys…purring  and cuddling… and then came the breathing issues. She began having trouble  breathing after eating and although her teeth were coming in (in that tiny mouth) and she began eating a bit of solid food…she began to be unhappy and we took her to the vet to see if there were any hope of recovery, growth and development. The consensus of the vets was that she was going to have too much suffering to let her continue…perhaps if she had not had trouble with her breathing she might have had a chance…but with the new breathing issues it was unfair to let her struggle for each breath…and the shelter totally agreed and put her to sleep…which did not go well and will haunt me ‘til the day i die…Keiko…with all her problems, did not go quietly and I will never get over the fact that for a short while I was responsible for intense fear and suffering in a kitten so small and innocent. I know from experience that euthanasia does not always go smoothly…but this one, although necessary, will haunt me, will haunt my dreams forever. No one’s fault, just one of those things, but still…..

I will always remember Keiko’s ability to motor across the floor with a speed that amazed me…she would come running as soon as she heard me at the door to her room. I will remember her tiny dark paws that held the bottle so tightly, her eyes so bright, her wee cream face and dark nose looking up at me, her tiny body pressed close to my heart as I fed her, her patience as I cleaned her, her first use of the litter box, her first enjoyment of kitten food, her favourite toy (a tiny white coil), her absolutely fierce will to be normal and play with her sister…I will remember every minute I had with a kitten so challenged and so happy (until she could not breathe) and so beautiful…with awe and respect and admiration and gladness and sadness…Keiko will be with me forever…although she only lived with me for a few weeks.

And I will question myself and my decisions, and learn from the experience, compassion and knowledge of the wonderful people at the OSPCA, of the wonderful vets, and grow in knowledge about how to deal with sickness and death in creatures so small and innocent and beautiful…I would like one day to be more sure of decisions made and roads taken. Having had a run of success with foster kittens…Julia’s litter has taught me so much about the other side of fostering…the heartbreaking side. I can only hope the decisions I made hourly, did not cause any suffering that could have been avoided…I watched so closely for any signs of discomfort, any signs that they were unhappy, and I wanted so much to give them a chance at life…that I profoundly hope that the life they had was not an unhappy one. If anything I did caused them pain or sadness I will never forgive myself…Mighty Mouse, Thor and particularly Keiko, will have me looking inward and pondering and questioning and asking always…Am I doing the right thing??…Am I doing the right thing for them or for me???…How do you ever know for sure that giving anyone or anything a chance of life, a chance of recovery is the right thing to do????

Keiko …’Kei’  means ‘celebrate’, ‘respect’, and ‘open’  and is combined with ‘ko’ which means child…has taught me to respect life, be open to possibilities and open to learning, and I will always celebrate her life…she touched my heart and soul so deeply and profoundly that I will never be the same person I was before I met her.  Keiko, so tiny, so beautiful, will live forever. And I hope, forgive me if ever I hurt her…even if only with good intentions.



Mighty Mouse & Thor

Mighty Mouse died. On a Tuesday. Euthanized because he struggled too long and exhausted his energy. One minute a tiny grey and white fighter, a suckling champ…the next second too exhausted to do anything except sleep. He was the runt, he was sick, along with his brothers and sisters, his mum was inattentive and she lay on him, flattened him and he stopped breathing. Instinctively I fought for him, called Lisa at the shelter in a panic about him, rubbed and stroked and breathed on him and got him breathing again….perhaps the wrong decision in hindsight…but I did not see the future reality…only the hope and immediate need. A few days later he tired of trying to grow and develop. Thor went the same way this morning…he was doing alright on Saturday afternoon and through the evening, … fighting for his nipple, getting extra formula, purring, curled up with his littermates on mums belly and a hot water bottle when she left…bright eyed and strong and black, although certainly not well.…sick but working on it and happy. Lord how kittens can turn around in a heartbeat. By 130 am on Sunday  I was less happy about him, something was not quite right..but not critical, and he was still nursing, so I grabbed a couple of hours sleep, checked on him at 4am and immediately realized it was all wrong and he had become very sick indeed. All of a sudden he was in pain and congested and would or could not suckle…in the space of a couple of minutes we made the the decision to have him put to sleep, to end his fight and suffering. 5am on a Sunday morning…thank god for the Emergency vet clinic and their wonderful staff. The shelter was not open to call, so we took Thor to Kingston, snuggled to my breast, tired and quiet,  and there we had him put to sleep, gently and kindly by the doctor with me stroking him as he died. Just like Mighty Mouse he had gone from fighter to giving up the struggle in minutes, so fast it was hard to believe.

Maybe when they first got sick I should have asked to have them all put to sleep…but as they seemed happy except for the diarrhea; trying hard, suckling and getting extra bottle feeds…I wanted to give Julia’s 4 kittens a fighting chance. But fostering cats and kittens, either on your own or for the OSPCA or local shelter is heartbreaking and totally unpredictable. It is also heart warming and joyful. Babies in particular suffer sea changes in health in the space of minutes and hours…like visiting a friend in hospital, talking to them, seeing them rallying from illness or injury, hopeful: and and then hours later you get a call that they have passed away. Like my mum in June, seemingly doing well and recovering in the CSU from cardiogenic shock and everyone is guardedly hopeful, she is conscious, eating, talking and then, Wham, her heart stops and all hell breaks loose.

There are two kittens left with Julia…two tiny creamy babies just 3 weeks old…and I know that even if we get a non-thriving kitten to 4 weeks…it can all blow up in your face at any time…but how can I look at these two, small and eating hard, learning to stumble further around their nesting spot each day, getting their sea legs,  and not let them have a chance. They seem happy and content…no pain that I can detect…they are warm and fed and dry and I find I cannot give up on them. Maybe that is wrong…maybe it would be kinder and less heartbreaking and more cost effective to just put them to sleep now…but I cannot do it…and perhaps this means I am not a good foster parent and may never be a good person to work at a shelter…but I am not yet good or fast at making this kind of decision…although I am sure I will learn to do so. It is always, I think, a struggle to do the right thing, to hold on for them, and not for you, to give them a chance, but not prolong any suffering…to learn to look at a baby and say it would be better for you not to have to fight to survive. I can only hope I am doing the right thing…by doing what seems right, what feels right…but how do you know..how do you sleep…how do you not have doubts and questions…regrets and fears??? Why is doing what you think is the right thing so damn hard????

Up until Julia and her 4 babies, now 2, we have had a wonderful run of success in fostering…6 mums and babies…all have found homes…but Julia, Mighty Mouse and Thor have me totally questioning my abilities and my judgment…this is perhaps the question all animal people, all pet people have to face…when do you give up..how much is too much??? Is the decision you are making the right one for you or for them????