WELCOME TO THE KITTEN FOSTER FILES #5
This post honours the memory of the gorgeous Archie pictured above. It’s also a glimpse of the realities of fostering baby kittens.
THE ‘A’ KITTIES
On Sunday 2 February, I collected my 3rd foster litter. I was told they were 2 weeks of age but on arrival they thought they were more likely 3 weeks. Tabby Babies! 2 boys, 1 girl.
I named them Archie (Brown Tabby male), Axel (Black/Brown Tabby male), and Amaya (Brown Tabby female) – the A Kitties!
These guys would be my first bottle fed baby kittens. Let’s just say that my Handbook for Fostering Baby Kittens has been well used of late! It has been my bible. It tells me how much formula for each kitten based on weight, steps me through the weaning process and so so much more!
THE ROLLER COASTER RIDE BEGINS
This litter has been an absolute rollercoaster ride. It’s been quite all consuming and has seen me need to withdraw from my usual life activities – no Reformer Pilates, no waterfront walks, hardly any blogging, very slack on social media, and so on. It’s reacquainted me with what sleep deprivation and exhaustion feels like. It’s caused me countless days and nights of stress and worry and played with my emotions at every level. It has seen me covered in scratches. It has taught me so much about kittens and about myself! It’s had me questioning my suitability for fostering. It’s also been incredibly rewarding and brought me much joy and satisfaction! It’s been … eventful!
You must be wondering why? Let me try to take you on an abridged version of the rollercoaster ride thus far (the brief virtual version).
THE FEEDING ROUTINE
It took a lot of reading and calculating and planning but I eventually fell into the swing of the feeding schedule (making up the formula, washing and sterilizing everything after feeds, etc). Bottle feeds in the beginning were 4 hourly at 2am, 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, 10pm and repeat! The two boys were fabulous to bottle feed – text book perfect. The girl – a bit of a nightmare. She scrabbled about clawing at me and chewing on the teat and fussing about. My hand was rather war torn! She would rarely drink the whole bottle. She wasn’t gaining weight like the boys. Archie was the star feeder – an absolute dream and so handsome to boot.
On the morning of 4 February at Archie’s 6am feed I noted that he was sleepy and not as interested in the bottle as usual. He didn’t drink the whole bottle – very unusual for him. Things didn’t improve. I was in touch with the RSPCA Foster Care team and a few strategies were tried to get him to eat. However, it got to the point where I was just dripping milk onto his tongue to ensure he got some hydration and nutrients. On 5 February he had a vacant glazed stare in his eyes, his mouth was firmly clenched shut, any milk dripped on his tongue just rolled out of his mouth, and … his tummy was bloated so of course I took him to the RSPCA. He was left there for observation/treatment. I was told to phone later that afternoon for an update. When I finally got to speak to someone, I was informed he had been put to sleep. He had apparently kept declining despite all efforts and they didn’t want him to suffer. It was devastating. This is the reality of baby kittens though. They can be perfectly fine one day and gone the next. They are meant to be with their mothers and despite all efforts to replicate what the mother provides for them, their immune system is compromised and sometimes it just isn’t enough.
This is a video I took of Archie at the same time of the image of him above – just after he had his bottle and the day before his decline started.
So you can see what a shock and a terrible blow it was. I’d only had him a few days and he was doing so well. This just came out of the blue and for no apparent reason. I forged ahead though, determined to not be undone by this but to put all my efforts into the other two.
THE WEANING PROCESS
Axel was a dream – easy feeder and took to the weaning process with no problems at all. Amaya has been stressful. Still problems with bottle feeding and when the weaning process began she was not interested in the ‘mousse’ – the wet food used as their first introduction to solid food. So, she spent a night with the neonatal vet nurse at the RSPCA and I collected her the next day. They advised to hold off another few days for weaning her so I did that. She was still not great on the bottle though!
A few days later I started the weaning process with her again and still she hated the mousse. I had to force feed it to her as advised … with the hope she’d eventually get a taste for it. Nope – she hated it. One good thing to come out of the weaning process was that as her milk quantities reduced she suddenly became very good with the bottle. If only she’d done that sooner! One day I noticed she helped herself to some dried kibble that was out for Axel. I checked with the Foster Care Team at RSPCA and they said sure no problem – skip the mousse and the gruel (mix of soaked kibble and mousse) and go straight to the dry kibble if that’s what she like. So long as she eats! So no more force feeding and she is eating the dried kibble and she also likes the soaked kibble. At the time of typing this (Thursday 20 Feb) Amaya has three more days of the bottle (30% of her milk allocation) to go. Fingers crossed that she copes with the loss of the bottle!
So anyway things were looking better …. but wait!
There were more hurdles ahead for us yet. It started when Axel was first weaned off the bottle and the possibility of a whole night’s uninterrupted sleep was possible for me. I could give Amaya her last bottle for the day around 10pm, ensure Axel ate some food (soaked kibble) and drank water, and leave out dried kibble and water for them to access overnight. I checked with the Foster Care Team and yes it was perfectly fine to do this (8hr fast of bottle for Amaya. She’s still on 6 bottles/day but reduced ml’s as per weaning process).
So the first night where I could feed around 10pm and get to bed by 11pm not having to get up again until 6am arrived and I was desperate for it. I was exhausted! Reassured that it would be ok, I was not concerned and went about feeding Amaya and ensuring Axel ate some food, as well as ensuring there was food and water for them to access overnight.
At 6am the next morning I went out to find Amaya hungry but fine and Axel not looking good at all. He was staggering around the pen looking disoriented, dazed, blind even. If I picked him up he was aggressively scratching and biting at me. He was not interested in eating or drinking. It was very scary. There was no question that he needed to go to the RSPCA vet. The drive is normally 45 minutes. However, it was peak hour and the traffic congestion was horrific and it took nearly 2 hours to get there. Upon arrival he was back to normal and even ate the food they offered him. There was no explanation for what might have caused his earlier behaviour. He was sent back home again.
Second night – I did everything possible to set them up for a great night. Fed them at 10pm. Had food and water accessible for during the night, and so on. Upon waking at 6am, I went out and from a distance it looked like they were both asleep. However, on closer inspection Axel was lifeless. I thought he was dead. It was traumatic. I picked him up and rubbed him vigorously hoping to get warmth and life into him. He moved so I knew he was alive. He remained limp and floppy for a while and then he was back in that staggering around disoriented phase and again had the aggression if I tried to pick him up and comfort him. Additionally, Amaya was staggering about also and was sleepy. She had her bottle and started to pick up. I even resorted to giving Axel a bottle too – once he was a bit more with it. It helped to revive him and then they both improved and were quite normal the rest of the day.
So what was different that could be the cause of this issue? Only thing different is that Axel is no longer on the bottle and they are going 8 hours without my presence. The food and water I had left for them in the pen looked untouched. It appeared these two were not independently accessing the food and water without me there to coerce/prompt them, even though I’ve witnessed them doing so during the daytime!
So the next night – Wednesday night this week – I got up at 2am to check them. When I went out to the pen they were asleep. They sensed my presence though and came out and went straight to the food dishes and began to eat and even drink the water. They associate me with food. I am the provider of food. I watched as they ate and drank and when I felt they had each had enough sustenance I went back to bed. I didn’t sleep that great though. I was nervous about what I would find at 6am. At 5:45am I woke before my 6:00am alarm and went out to see them. They were perfectly normal – eating, drinking, playing. Thank goodness – such relief! So I guess I’ll get up at 2am again for a few nights until I feel sure that they can look after themselves. I am hoping this is the end of this issue and that we will have stability now and they will just keep gaining weight and growing and doing well.
AM I SUITABLE FOR FOSTERING?
Yes and No.
YES: I love the kittens so much and have loads of love and attention to give. I have all the gear and the time to devote to them. It is very rewarding to see them thrive and to know that in their important formative years they have experienced love, warmth, comfort and enrichment in my care.
NO: Ongoing sleep deprivation and exhaustion is not good for my already compromised health. Stress and worry is not good for me either as I already stress and worry too much (hello menopause)! Not being able to do the physical activities that help me to remain healthy and well is not good for the long term.
So – I have some thinking to do. I still want to foster but perhaps I rethink what ages/stages I take and/or how often I take litters. In my heart though, it is the babies that I feel called to help. In the meantime, I will most definitely be having a break after this litter. Apart from 1 week where I had no kittens, I’ve been caring for foster kittens since 15 December 2019 now. My current two will be with me a while longer yet as they have a way to go yet before they reach 1kg. I’m looking forward to a relaxing beach holiday in mid-late March (yet to be planned or booked) – a much needed getaway. In saying that though, it’s going to be incredibly hard to farewell these two after being through so much with them and bonding with them in the process.
I take my hat off to those people who foster neonatals back to back month after month after month. You are superheros. It’s rewarding, yes! – but it’s also hard work, very hard on the emotions, and super exhausting!
WHERE YOU CAN SEE MORE OF THE ‘A’ KITTIES
- Bayside Kitten Foster Files (Main Insta Page)
- Bayside Kitten Foster Files / The ‘A’ Kitties Archived stories
Meow for now,