Raising and Fostering – Reproduction

There are occasions, such as the death of a queen or where she simply cannot produce or where she simply cannot produce a sufficient supply of milk, when you may be faced with the problem of rearing kittens in some other way. (If you decide to “destroy” the kittens, do not even consider drowning the, Animal euthanasia must always be carried out by a vet or clinic).

You have two options – fostering and artificial rearing.

If available, a foster mother is preferable to bottle rearing.

A veterinarian, pet shop, breeder or cat club may be able to put you in touch with somebody who has a newly kittened queen with spare teat capacity. Ideally any such adoption should be carried out as soon as possible after birth and before the queen has bonded too strongly to her own offspring.

To transfer a kitten, smear a little butter on it. The fostering queen will lick it off and in the process come to accept the newcomer as her own. To monitor a fostered kitten’s progress and check that it really is getting enough warm milk, you should weigh it regularly. It should steadily gain some tens of grams in weight every day.

Weighing a kitten to check on its progress is essential.

Artificial rearing
It isn’t difficult to raise kittens on the bottle, but try to ensure they receive at least a few drops of the mother’s first milk (colostrums). You should try to express a few drops of colostrums from her teats by gently squeezing and then give it to the babies by dropper. The colostrums gives the kittens some valuable antibodies against disease.

What artificial milk?
Pure cow’s and goat’s milk are too weak for kittens, and you should never give cow’s milk to very young kittens. Instead you can use one of two alternatives: either a special cat milk powder available from the veterinarian or pet shop, made up with water as directed on the container; or human baby milk-powder (or evaporated tinned milk) made up to double human baby strength with water or lime water.

Obviously, standard human baby equipment is much too big for kittens. Specially designed, curved kitten feeding bottles are available, but premature baby bottles serve just as well. Eye-droppers and 2ml – syringes without needles can also be used. All the equipment must be washed and sterilized between feeds.

Young or weak kittens that don’t suck well should be dropped fed.

Feeding methods
The bottle method is the best for most kittens, but with very weak ones or those that at first don’t suck and swallow well, the dropper or syringe have advantages. A 2cm (one-inch) –length of plastic tube attached to the syringe will deliver milk into the mouth, while a longer, 5cm (two-inch) –tube would permit you to introduce milk directly into the stomach by sliding it gently over the back of the tongue and down the gullet. Note: This technique is very efficient, but should only be done after veterinary instruction. If the plastic tube is inserted wrongly and enters the windpipe, choking or a fatal milk-fat pneumonia may be the result. Never rush the feeding process, as it is easy to overwhelm the kitten’s rate of sucking.

Bottle fed kittens do best if they receive at least a few drops of their mother’s first milk (colostrums).

Whatever method you use, the milk should be at about blood heat 37C (98.6F). Up to seven days of age, give 3 to 6 ml every two hours. Between seven and fourteen days, increase to 6 to 8 ml every two hours during the day and every four hours during the night. Between fourteen and twenty-one days the quantity should be raised again to 8 to 10 ml given every two hours during the day and once at night between 11pm and 8am. When a kitten has fed it should be encouraged to urinated and defecate. To imitate the licking of the queen’s tongue, use some cotton wool moistened in warm water to wipe the anal area and gently stroke the tummy with your fingers. When the kitten has responded, clean and dry the area beneath the tail and anoint it very lightly with nappy cream.

Between feeds keep the kittens warm in a clean box with disposable bedding, a heating pad or infra-red lamp, and another substitute such as a hot-water bottle wrapped in a wooly cover. The box temperature should be 25-30C (77-86F) for the first two weeks, gradually reducing to 20C (68F) by the sixth week.

Weaning of bottle-reared kittens begins when they are three weeks of age. Add about half a teaspoonful of the finest baby cereal, smoothly pureed baby food (meat, fish or cheese) or calves-foot jelly to the bottle feed for a few days. Thereafter wean the kittens in exactly the same way as naturally raised kittens.

It isn’t good thing for kittens to pester their mother for food after they have been weaned.

General points on raising

* Don’t pick up young kittens by the scruff of the neck.
* When kittens are three week old, discuss worming with your vet.
* Keep all kittens and their mothers indoors if possible until one week after they have been vaccinated at about nine weeks of age. Don’t let the queen meet up with toms until after the kittens have been weaned, as many queens come into oestrus a few days after giving birth.
* If kittens continue to pester their mother for milk after weaning fully she will start becoming thin and debilitated. Throughout the suckling period and for a while thereafter, make sure that the queen has ad-lib high-quality food. Discourage weaned kittens from suckling by smearing the queen’s teats with a mixture of petroleum jelly and quinine, or by using a non-toxic repellent aerosol from the pet shop or a vet.