So, what do you do if you find kittens in the woods? The obvious answer would be to take them to a local shelter where they can be cared for and re-homed. In our case, this was a Sunday, and the shelter would not be open until Tuesday. If you're faced with a similar dilemma, here are some tips for caring for stray kittens:
1. Limit your contact. Since you don't know where they came from, you don't know what they were exposed to. Besides worms and fleas, there isn't anything they could give to people that would be worrisome so much as what they could give to your other pets. I have two cats at home, and I didn't want them to contract one of two highly contagious diseases: feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). FIV is spread through bite wounds and prevents the body from fighting off infections leading to severe illnesses. An infected cat, with proper care and management, has the possibility to live for many months or years. FeLV is spread by saliva and nasal secretions and kittens can contract it in utero from their infected mother. The immunosuppression caused by the virus eventually leads to the virus infecting all body systems and predisposing them to a variety of infections. Less than 20% of cats diagnosed with FeLV live more than three years. There is no cure for either virus.
There is a preventative vaccination for both FIV and FeLV as well as a simple blood test to determine if they're infected. I would have to wait until Monday morning when work opened, so for the evening we set them up with food and water and a heater in the shop.
2. Check for hydration. This is done by a simple pinch test. Gently pinch the skin and release. If it springs back quickly, the cat is well hydrated. If it sinks back slowly or tents, the cat is dehydrated and will need fluids.
Performing the pinch test.
Notice how the skin on this cat has remained "tented" after letting go of the skin? This cat is dehydrated and should receive fluids immediately.
Luckily, our kittens were only mildly dehydrated, so in that case I purchased some Pedialyte for them to drink that night. I mixed it with a little bit of turkey baby food and they scarfed it up!
3. Check the mucous membranes. Lift up the lips and check the color of the gums. Are they slick or sticky? The gums tell us a lot about the health of an animal, but the main concern you will have is anemia.
These are healthy gums. They are pink and shiny.
These gums are pale, a sign that the cat has depleted blood cells.
Our kittens' gums were a little pale, which wasn't surprising because they were covered in fleas.
4. Check for injuries including bite wounds and broken limbs. Thankfully, our kittens had neither. If you find an injured kitten, take them to the vet immediately! If your regular vet is closed, they will often have the number for an emergency hospital or a vet on call. Also, do you notice sneezing or weepy eyes? This is evidence of an upper respiratory infection common in cats and it requires medication. Our kittens, one in particular, unfortunately were sick.
5. Keep them warm and secure. Since there was no rush to get them to a vet that night, we made sure the kittens had food and water, towels to snuggle in, and a heater to keep them warm. I kept them in a large carrier. Remember to keep them away from your other cats to prevent the transmission of diseases and parasites!
6. Does the kitten need to be bottle fed or can it eat solids? Definitely something to consider if you find an orphaned kitten. This is great guide to tell how old a kitten is, but here's a quick version:
Eyes closed until about 7-10 days old and cannot walk. This kitten is a newborn and needs a milk replacement such as KMR.
At 2 weeks old, the eyes are open but the ears are floppy. Wobbly as she moves around and beginning to grow teeth. This kitten is still nursing.
This 3 week old kitten is reacting to noises and beginning to explore. At this age, they still need milk, but at about 4 weeks when kittens are steadier on their feet, they can begin to try solid foods.
At 5 weeks old, kittens are playful and have pre-molars. They will lap from a dish and learn to use a litter box by watching mom/other cats.
At 6-7 weeks old, a kitten's eye color will change from its original blue (unless you have a blue-eyed kitten!). They will be very active and have all their baby teeth. They will weigh around 1.5-2lbs.
Kittens are generally weaned around 6-8 weeks of age. If you find an active kitten weighing around 2 pounds with all its teeth, you're safe to feed it solids. Start with soft food to be sure. As I stated earlier, I mixed Pedialyte with turkey baby food, but if you have access to it, mix a little milk replacement with canned Science Diet a/d. Offer dry kitten food. I suggest free feeding them.
We determined that our kittens were around 6-7 weeks old, so it was okay to feed them solids. We also checked and discovered they were both girls!
The next day, we took the kittens to the vet for their all important FeLV/FIV test!
All it requires is 3 drops of blood and 10 minutes!
The only dot you want to show up is the positive control. Even a smidgen of another dot indicates a positive result for FeLV or FIV.
The kittens were pretty good for their blood draw and after 10 minutes, their results looked like this! Negative!
After we determined the kittens, named Sarah and Sparkles by the kids, were negative for FeLV and FIV, they were given topical flea medication and dewormed. They were also checked out by the vet and prescribed antibiotics for the URIs. Once we gave the flea treatment 24 hours to absorb into their bodies, we gave the kittens baths and trimmed their nails. A week later, they are happy, bounding kittens that are almost done with their meds and fully litter trained!
I hope this post helps if you find yourself in a similar situation! Remember, knowledge is power!
And I know you're probably wondering if we'll keep the kittens. The answer is no. We're going to find homes for them. I swear...
Sarah (l) and Sparkles (r) spend all day (and night *grumble*) playing. The little darlings are sweet and affectionate and super fun to watch romp!