It Followed Me Home

It’s kitten season once again in my part of the world. People seem to be stumbling upon them under every bush and behind every tool chest. When faced with a baby cat that seems to have no mother, our first impulse is to scoop it up and whisk it away to the safety of an indoor environment, but this might actually not be best for the orphaned cat.

Cats are single parents, meaning they can only be in one place at a time, outnumbered by their typical litter of four to six babies. There is usually enough milk to go around, but moving time is a real nailbiter. It’s not at all uncommon to discover an “orphaned” baby that’s been instructed to sit tight while mama’s briefly away transporting his littermates from one safehouse to another. So the first step in rescuing an orphaned kitten is to do nothing. Cats are not meant to be wild animals, but their natural mother will be able to raise them with ease while human foster parents often face a steep uphill battle.

If you’ve supervised him at a distance for a couple of hours and his mother has not returned, he probably needs your help. Kittens that don’t need a bottle are easy to rescue and raise. If the baby is so mobile that he can run from you, he does not need a bottle. If he squirms or crawls instead, he’s likely too young for solid food. A kitten with closed eyes is really young, only about 2 weeks or less. One that has his ears pointing straight up in the air is usually closer to five or six weeks, right around the corner fromsolid food. The ones with horizontal Yoda ears aren’t ready yet. That’s critical information because, while kitten milk replacer is relatively easy to obtain, dispensing it from a bottle is fraught with complication. The closer your kitten is to weaning, the safer he will be while under your care.

Kittens that are young enough to need a bottle will chill easily and are especially vulnerable without any littermates to help conserve their body heat. Keep their fur dry at all times and provide them a nesting box with a heat source. A cardboard box lined with a cuddly towel is perfect (unlike human infants, kittens aren’t in danger when sleeping with a blanket). Heating pads are sometimes all we have available, but they are a relatively hazardous appliance; kittens do like it really warm, but they can also overheat. That’s why you must make sure the heating pad never touches his skin and always allow a part of the box to be unheated. Your kitten will tend to squirm along until he reaches the kitten-safe temperature zone. Check to see that the heating pad will remain “on” at all times; many models come with an automatic shut-off. Be sure to let your little friend have plenty of quiet time for sleeping. While he is still very young, he is qualified only to eat and sleep, nothing more.

Dr. M.S. Regan