Saturday, May 18, 2013

Keeping score of kittens

Last week I worked in a kitten nursery — a small building off of a larger shelter, full of underage kittens (mostly orphans, some with moms). Although this shelter has literally hundreds of kittens out in foster care, kitten season in the South is so intense that they have this separate building just as a nursery, with its own staff and volunteers (and for these two weeks, its own vet! With consultations from the main shelter vet, of course).

Cats seem to take the approach to reproduction that you should make as many babies as possible, and if not all of them make it, that’s life. Outdoor, unowned kittens have about a 75% mortality rate. Cats are mostly very good moms, but kittens are just so little and fragile. After a few days of kitten deaths I became almost manic. I would not lose more kittens! I started keeping score, me versus kitten death.

  • Feral mom is too scared to take care of her neonatal kittens. I give her a place to hide and some time to figure it out. I give her too long, and her three kittens die. Three points to kitten death.
  • A cat is brought in while in labor. It becomes clear that things are not proceeding, so we take her to surgery. Three kittens survive. I sit with them for two hours trying to get them to nurse. They do, a little bit, but their mom doesn’t recognize them as hers since she wasn’t awake when they came out. One dies. I foster the other two onto a receptive mom with her own four kittens and spend another hour making sure they learn to nurse on her and can defend their nipples from their week-older foster siblings. So far, they are still alive. Two points to the Dog Zombie, one point to kitten death.
  • Six kittens in a little cage feel funky for several days, just sitting around and not playing like normal little fiends. I give them fluids for several days but they don’t perk up. We start them on antibiotics that are good for GI disease, because they have diarrhea and deworming hasn’t helped. When a new cage opens up, I move three of them into it, so everyone will have more space. I coddle them with fluids and medication to make them not feel sick to their stomach. At the end of the week, two of them are playing and three of them are eating. Three points to the Dog Zombie. (The other three are holding steady. We’ll see.)
  • One kitten is a little lethargic and dehydrated one evening. I give her fluids, but I am not worried about her. The next morning she is found dead. I do a necropsy and find that she had pneumonia. This is weird, because she didn’t have an upper respiratory infection, so where did it come from? But her lungs were definitely funky. I panic and give her cagemate antibiotics that are good for pneumonia, since whatever happened to her, it happened so fast that I want to prevent it rather than wait and see. One point to the Dog Zombie?
  • One kitten fades fast and dies. (One point to kitten death.) His cage mate starts to fade the next day, lethargic and dehydrated. I necropsy her brother and find a bad infection in his GI tract. I start the living kitten on antibiotics that are good for GI infections and leave orders for lots of warming pads and fluids. She does not survive the night. A second point to kitten death.
Those are only some of the stories. I have learned all about antibiotics for head colds and stomach bugs, I tell you what. And I have learned that a roomful of kittens becomes much less cute after the first hour of dealing with it. But they will still make you manic trying desperately to save them all. You can’t save them all. But you also can’t stop trying.

1 comment:

  1. Brutal days. My shelter was nowhere near that high volume, but I do remember losing entire litters to pneumonia overnight, and the mania that would ensue as all of our foster parents demanded more clavamox even though their kittens were doing fine.