It Followed Me Home and Cried for Food

Our experience reading children’s books and internet blogs would suggest that raising an orphaned animal is a pretty simple project, but I have had to console many people who tried their hardest and did not succeed in this endeavor. The younger the babyis when abandoned by his natural mother, the more difficult it will be raising him by hand.

It’s a hard job, raising kittens. If you want to hand it off to an expert, there’s no shame in that. Sometimes, though, there is no expert…so off you go to the superstore. Kitten milk replacer is commonly found in the pet food department and comes as a liquid or powder. Please use only product that is labeled for this purpose and mix it exactly according to the instructions. For very young kittens, I suggest using a syringe with a rubber nipple stuck on the business end(until they can suck vigorously), as this allows you to deposit just a couple drops at a time into their mouth. You need to feed them every 2-3 hours, round the clock, and the formula needs to be warm at every feeding. The microwave is useless and dangerous for such small quantities of liquid, so I suggest submerging the loaded syringe in a mug of warm water for several minutes. If the kitten himself is chilled when you feed him, he’ll quickly become ill, so you must be sure he is rested and warm in between every feeding. He should be lying down in a natural position (not on his back) when nursing and allowed to continue eating as long as he would like. He needs to gain weight every single day. It’s important to wipe the baby’s rear end with the corner of a towel or washcloth after every feeding; he won’t otherwise be able to relieve himself. Toss that cloth in the wash, and he’s ready for another three-hour nap. (And so are you.)

Maybe you’re up for all that. But please understand that you could do everything to the letter and still wind up disappointed. First off, bottle feeding is inherently a risky activityIt’s as close as we can get to genuine mother’s milk—not a perfect substitute. Some kittens develop diarrhea or constipation from formula, which is a significant stressor on their tiny bodies, but far more important is the risk of inhaling liquid during nursing. This is a common occurrence (especially in the smallest kittens) with bottle feedingand the resultinglung infection is often fatal. Secondly, many orphans begin life loaded with parasites and lacking any immunity to deadly kitten diseases, because their mothers were not receiving routine health care. So if you found your kitten outdoors, the deck was probablyalready stacked against you.

Sadly, not all babies survive. In fact, this is a very dangerous time of their life. By taking on the responsibility of an orphan, you have done something heroic. But you also got a front-row seat to a show that might end up being a real tearjerker.

Dr. M.S. Regan