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,
I am so sorry about Archie. And about the roller coaster you have experience with Axel and Amaya. (Those names remind me of former students…my sweet Axel Martinez, wonder where he is?). It just breaks my heart for you and them. I know you are doing and have been doing your very best by them, and are soooo tired. Maybe you can work with older babies for a bit? That will give you a little rest. And then if you try newborns again, maybe things will go more smoothly.
I found 2 litters, I think I have shared with you before. It was years ago. One litter was in a puddle in an abandoned building. I think one of the 5 babies died from ingesting/inhaling the puddle water. Then, the same day, a neighbor brought me 5 kittens.
I don’t know that I even had a bottle. I mixed milk with soft food and put it on plates and somehow these babies ate it and survived. Their little eyes weren’t open when I found them so they were pretty teensy. It was stressful, making sure everyone ate. And they all looked alike. Well, one litter was all calico and the other all black and white. Anyway, I can empathize and I so appreciate what you are doing.
Sending you big huge hugs. I know this is so difficult but you are saving lives and making a difference. I adore you for that.
Thanks so much Leslie for such a thoughtful and caring comment. Poor little Archie. He was such a sweet little thing. I know that I did everything possible for him and I continue to do so for his siblings. This litter has taught me so much and that will stand me in good stead for the next litter and the one after that. I think I will have a bit of a break but I will be doing this again. I love them and there are so many of these orphaned babies that need our help through the early baby days to be healthy, well, socialised and adoptable. I will work with the older babies as well. I couldn’t do neonatals back to back like others do as it would compromise my health but I will do them again for sure. You did a great job with those litters you found. We have very strict rules/guidelines to follow for the RSPCA (for feeding and weaning etc) – all outlined in the handbook you’re provided with and in the training you attend. I think my two are stable and good now. Both are eating well and gaining weight so fingers crossed I think we’re out the other side! Yay! 🙂
Wow there is SO much more involved with it than I realized. It reminded me of the newborn baby days but with the added worry of them dying overnight. I can totally understand why you’d be sleep deprived and off centre. I don’t think I could do it – I’m too happy in my easy life these days. Maybe the older kittens will be the best compromise – still babies, but not so needy (and you all get to sleep!) It’s been interesting (and enlightening) following your journey with this Min and I hope you find the perfect balance so you can keep sharing your love – it should slow down over Autumn and Winter when breeding season stops.
Hi Leanne, I knew what would be involved and I knew that baby kittens are VERY vulnerable and losing them is a very high possibility. I wasn’t however prepared for how all consuming it would be. Perhaps this is because it was my first time with little bottle babies. I’m not sure. I think every litter and experience would be different but it is very much a big commitment but only short term as they grow and are weaned quite quickly. Before I know it they’ll be 1kg and it’ll all be over and I’ll be having to say goodbye to them (dread that part). It’s been a huge learning curve for me and I know I’ll do it again … but first I’ll need a break! lol Axel and Amaya are doing great now *touch wood*. Both eating well and gaining weight. Amaya will have her last bottle at 10pm on Sunday evening. I will be glad when the bottles are done and dusted. Thanks so much for your interest and comment Leanne! xo
Oh Min, your heart is so kind. This has taken more twists and turns than you might have imagined, I certainly couldn’t do it. Yet you have. I hope that it is something you can decide about its effects on you (the good and. It so good) as you move forward. Sending love Denyse
My heart can cause me so much turbulence Denyse! lol This litter has been quite the journey but I don’t regret a moment of it. Every experience is a learning experience and I adore these guys. I’m so glad to have been their foster mum and to have helped them to survive to live a hopefully happy and long life. I’ll have a break but I’ll be back at it at some point. There’s so many of them needing help. Thanks so much for your caring comment Denyse xoxo
Thank you for sharing this journey with us. Wow, I had no idea how involved it was. I take my hat off to you for you starting this journey – it really does stretch all emotions and physical endurance, not to mention the night time feeds. It is incredibly rewarding, but has lots of challenges along the way. I don’t think I could do it knowing just how fragile the kittens really are being away from their mother. You are one of a kind Min! xo
Hi Jennie – thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Now that I’m out the other side of the 4 hrly feeds and the exhaustion, I know I’ll do it again. It really is only a few weeks and if you plan for it then it’s doable. It is very rewarding to have such an impact on little lives … it’s totally worth every minute of effort. The fragility of baby kittens and the stress associated with that is something that I think I will take some time to get used to. I knew it was the case but to experience it is different then just knowing of it if you know what I mean. It won’t always be the case though and with each litter I learn more little tricks and best ways to care for them. xoxo