Last updated: December 22, 2016
You know how unpleasant it is when you’re soaked and chilled to the bone? I think we all do. Shivering burns five times a number of calories as normal but you don’t hear of many people going on the Super Chill Diet! That’s because it’s unpleasant and unhealthy. Think how much more unpleasant it must be if you only weigh half a pound! It’s a good thing, then, that we humans are hardwired to love features that we can identify with human babies, so we find kittens extra specially cute. When we see a baby animal our cuteness response software goes into love mode.
So if we want to protect them, how do we do it? How do we keep tiny, vulnerable kittens warm? There are various reasons why kittens need to be hand-reared, and they all involve Mother Nature. As we all know, Mother Nature is a great mother – sometimes. But there is a law called Survival of the Fittest, and because of this, often the weakest animal is left to fend for itself, which means that it usually dies, thereby eliminating its weaker characteristics from the gene pool and ensuring that only the strongest live on to pass on their genes and strengthen the breed. Wow! Mother Nature is such a cruel Mama sometimes! Below you will find some of the kinds of kittens who need our help most.
Feral cats exist on the outskirts of society. They live in colonies for self-protection, and because they have no veterinary care they are prone to diseases like feline leukemia and feline AIDS. They survive on what they can scavenge and hunt, although most live near humans and subsist on their scraps. Because there is no sterilization program among feral cats, many females become pregnant during their first estrus (heat). This means they are probably around six to eight months old, barely out of kittenhood themselves. A queen of this age may find that stress and exhaustion make it impossible to care for her kittens and abandons them to die of hypothermia and starvation.
A baby animal born much smaller than all its littermates is called a runt. There are a few reasons for their small size. The mommy’s uterus is Y-shaped and he may be the puppy who grew right in the middle, furthest away from the nutrient-rich blood source. All Mommies of every mammal secrete colostrum in the first few days, even before milk, This is a thick, rich substance full of nutrients and antibodies, and is specially concocted by Mother Nature for newborn kitties. The runt may not get enough of this. Indeed, mommy may not want to feed him at all, and neither will she feed kitties with deformities. Because of this, he may suffer from malnutrition, a condition that causes kitty’s temperature to fall quickly. He can also be subject to illnesses that don’t necessarily affect his siblings, but many animal charities find that people love these little scraps even more because they are so cute and press our protective buttons! The extra TLC they need may make them super attractive because of the challenges of raising them.
What do you do if you find a litter of abandoned kittens?
This is a serious life-threatening condition, and the first thing the kitten needs is warmth. Your nearest source of warmth is, of course, your body, so if you come across a kitten or a litter of kittens the first thing you should do is, if possible, give them body-to-body contact by putting them inside your sweater, jacket or coat. Your underarm is a great area for warmth but make sure you don’t suffocate them. If you have a few, do the best you can or enlist the help of a friend or kind stranger. Then it’s straight to the vet with no stopping to buy a newspaper on the way! Remember – the kitten’s temperature can drop very rapidly, so always seek help immediately.
Cats run hot. A cat’s normal temperature is between 100.5°F and 102.5°F (38°C and 39°C), and if it drops any more than a few degrees lower than this it could mean your cat is in danger of becoming hypothermic, and kittens, because they’re so small, are even more vulnerable. The usual causes are wet fur and being outside in cold temperatures for a period of time. Short haired cats are more at risk. Hypothermia means that the cat is losing heat faster than its body can generate it, so it could freeze to death if left untreated. Signs of hypothermia are: difficulty in breathing, general weakness, shivering, cold skin, unconsciousness, stiff muscles, slow heart rate, slow respiratory rate, sluggishness and dilated pupils. In these cases take your vet’s advice and treatment. A kitty with mild hypothermia will only need to have his fur dried gently by a hair dryer on a low heat, and warm blankets to raise his temperature slowly. You can probably do this at home, but the vet is better qualified to tell you how severe the condition is.
A kitty with moderate hypothermia will need a little more intensive treatment. In this case, heating pads wrapped in cloths will likely be applied till kitty’s temperature is normal again.
When the hypothermia is severe, a much more rigorous regime of treatment is used. The kitty must be warmed up from the inside out so that the extremely low temperature does not damage its vital organs. In this case warm intravenous fluids, warm enemas and warm air via a ventilator.
Speed is of the essence when treating hypothermia, so the sooner you get to the vet the better.
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so keep your kitty warm and snug inside during inclement weather. NO winter sports!
If your kitten isn’t warm enough and the mother isn’t there or won’t feed him for some reason, get him some kitten formula (from your vet, of course) put your baby in some warm blankets with a pet heating pad set on low, or a hot water bottle wrapped in warm towels, or a soda bottle wrapped in warm towels or some uncooked rice nuked in the microwave – wrapped in warm towels of course! In every case, allow the kitten room to move away if he gets too hot. Put a ticking clock to simulate the mother’s heartbeat underneath him. Kittens under ten days can’t produce their own body heat so you have to do it for them. Reheat the towels and bottles every few hours to keep them warm. Tiring – but look at that little face!
Keeping a kitten warm ain’t easy – but think of all the love you’ll get in return!