Kitten Stuff


Kittens orphaned very young

Question: Hi Dr.Richards, We have a now 2.25 day old kitten found w/a sibling when only a few hours old. The mother is abandoned, part Siamese, and semi-wild. We've been hoping to catch her & get her shots, spayed & if she shows domestication possibilities, a home. The day after they were born we returned to the place that we'd seen her move the two newborns to but there were no signs that she had touched the food we have been leaving daily. One of the two was dead w/ants already crawling over it, so we buried it & right or wrong, took in the other. I've found some quite helpful sites on caring for abandoned kittens & feral cats. Following that advice we bought the KMR emergency feeding bottle &, KMR not available in our small rural town, goat's milk. I'm still left w/three concerns which aren't covered, or are not clear: On feeding: If I understand correctly, it seems that at this age & weight, (I suppose it weighs about an ounce?) 2 mils p/day every 3-4 hours is recommended. The 1st day the little one didn't want to eat at all, so we rubbed Karo on its gums as suggested when this happens & managed to get a few drops of food into its mouth. We kept it warm & quiet & it slept a full night, (well, from Midnight to 6 am.) Today, the 3rd day since it was born, it consumed 2 cc's at the first early morning feeding & about 3 hours later another 1.5 cc. I'm concerned that this is too much, & if so, since I can't comfort it w/suckling, do I stop the food & just let it crawl around crying until it settles down? Is there something else i can do? (I'm pretty sure the unhappiness & mewing was for something to suck & not for hunger or discomfort, because petting & Momma cat type "bathing" did seem to help settle it down.) For feeding, the smallest nipple I can find is one which comes w/a 2 oz "kitten" bottle. It seems way too large & too hard for the little thing to suckle so I've been using the plastic end of a 3 cc syringe w/some (small) success. It's able to suckle some out of it & I've pushed little drops at a time. Do you know of any other smaller type nipples, or at the least softer ones, which might be more suitable? I'm so afraid of hurting its mouth w/the hard plastic of the syringe & the start is pretty tough the way it waves its head in search of something soft to suckle. (We've tried boiling & boiling the rubber nipple, but even that doesn't seems to soften it up.) I have been doing the "bathing" w/damp rough cloth prior to & after feeding, the burping also & lots of soft stroking. It definitely seems to enjoy that but tries desperately to suckle on my arm, hand, finger, the cotton material in the box, it's own foot even, anything which comes in contact w/its face. I'm worried the frustration at not finding anything to suckle may do more harm than good but am worried about it taking in air if I let it continue at the empty syringe, too much food if I leave it full. On elimination: soft stroking w/damp cloth on the belly does help w/urination which appears to be clear, a good sign so I read. So far however, no bowel movements. I imagine this could be quite serious if it keeps up, if so, any other suggestions to help it along? On comfort/Mothering: My worries on this point are largely covered under "eating" above. In particular, lack of suckling. I read that a Mom cat can manufacture milk even after spaying. Well we have a young Mom cat, Bootsie, from the same abandoned group as the mother of the one we have now taken in. Bootsie had already lost her kittens when we were able to get close to her & we've since had her spayed. She's now queen of the hive, happily bossing us around along w/our 3 big, rambunctious dogs. Bootsie lost her kittens about 3-4 mos. ago & she was spayed 3 mos ago. She's probably about 9 mos. old. Is it worth risking germ/disease spread by trying to introduce her to the orphan in the hopes that she still has some maternal instincts? (She has had all shots & 3 mos. tick/flea treatment. No worming though.) We'll be taking the little one to the local vet tomorrow, but typical of many a rural area small animal care is also small in quality & I'm less than thrilled with what we can find here. I know it'll be a miracle if this little one survives, but I'm staying optimistic & hope you can add some insight or tips on achieving the miracle. Even if not, thanks & I love your site. It's been a godsend. I also recognize that your response may not be possible in time to help w/this particular little one, but since we anticipate more kittens from the abandoned group we've found, it will still be much appreciated & helpful. God bless & all the best, Gabriella

Answer: Gabriella- There are several critical issues when dealing with orphaned kittens. The first is that they must stay warm. If the kitten is chilled it is best warmed by holding close to your body or with a water circulating heating pad (which most people don't have). Electric heating pads can cause burns in very young animals. Warm water (about 100 to 105 degrees) in a bottle or water bag that the kitten can snuggle against will also work but the water has to be changed really often to keep it close to the right temperature. It is often better to try to correct dehydration first, then to try to feed the kitten after that. This can be done by giving the kitten Pedialyte (tm) or water with a little sugar in it ( 1 or 2 teaspoons per cup). The water can be given with a small nursing bottle or from the tip of a syringe. We prefer using a syringe at our practice since it is possible to gently encourage water intake with the syringe. This isn't a universal preference, though. After the kitten is warm and has taken a little of the water and sugar solution, it is OK to feed the kitten. I don't know the composition of goat's milk, but cow's milk is lower in fat than queen's (cat) milk and so it is necessary to add an egg yolk to about 1/2 cup of the milk, in order to get the fat content into the range that kittens are used to. If you can't get KMR pretty quickly, you'll also need to add a drop or two of a liquid pediatric vitamin formula and a source of extra calcium, such as a crushed TUMS (tm) tablet (actually 2 or 3 or them) to this mixture. If you are using KMR follow the directions. If you are using the formula above, you need to feed about 2.5 teaspoonfuls (13 to 15 ml) for every 3 ounces of body weight over the course of the day. ( 13 ml/100gms body weight if you have a gram scale). If you don't have any method of weighing the kitten, assume that it is about 3 to 4 ounces in weight. There are a lot of different recommended feeding schedules. It is likely that most kittens can survive if fed four times a day even when very young. However, based on our clinical experience, kittens seem to do better when fed more often than this -- up to every 2 hours. When feeding more often it is possible to feed smaller quantities at once but the total per day still needs to add up to the 12 to 15ml per 3 ounces of body weight. We use a 1cc or 3cc syringe for feeding orphans, most of the time. Most kittens and puppies will attempt to nurse from the syringe tip and it is possible to gently express the formula to help them succeed in getting it. We often use a feeding tube passed into the stomach each feeding if we have to take care of kittens or puppies for much time -- simply because it is a lot more efficient for us. This is an OK practice but I think that the kittens and puppies probably prefer nursing from a bottle or syringe. It is OK to start with smaller amounts of formula, or to mix formula with the sugar water solutions the first two or three feedings. Hypothermia can make it hard for kittens to process formula and it is easier on them if the feedings are small or the formula a little dilute. Kittens and puppies have to be stimulated to urinate and defecate. Gently rubbing the anal and the vaginal or preputial regions with a cotton ball moistened with warm water usually works well. Sometimes you have to rub their stomach a little, as well. It is very hard to raise orphan kittens but enough of them will live that it seems worth trying -- just don't feel too guilty if it doesn't work out well. I hope that you are successful in raising this little one. Mike Richards, DVM 8/11/2003

Kittens and baby teeth

Question: Dear Dr. Mike,

My husband and I rescued a litter of kittens with the mother in March. At the time they were 3 weeks old. They have all tested negative for disease and are thriving at 5 months old. The question I have is do kittens lose 'baby' teeth and grow permenant ones? I know it sounds silly but I found 2 teeth in the past few days in the kittens' room and they look like they came out clean. There was no blood anywhere except on the tooth and very minimal at that. I've had cats for most of my life and I've never seen a kitten lose a tooth. There are 5 kittens, so I'm not even sure which one lost the teeth or if it was more than one. Any information you have will be appreciated.

Thank you. Marianne

Answer: Marianne-

Cats do have deciduous teeth, which they lose as permanent teeth replace them. Usually the first teeth to be replaced are the central incisors (the middle teeth in the very front of the mouth) at about 3.5 to 4 months of age, followed by the premolars and molars along the sides of the mouth and the four big canine teeth at 5 to 6 months of age.

I think that many pets must swallow these teeth, as many owners are unaware of the loss of the teeth, even after multiple pets.

Mike Richards, DVM

Kitten nurses on herself

We are caring for a litter of 5 kittens. We were very lucky to get the kittens along with the mother when the kittens were 3 weeks of age. They were weaned at approx. 6-7weeks of age, were dewormed, and the mother was spayed and separated into a different room. The mother has since been adopted by my mother, and the kittens will be with us for another 3 weeks until after their spay/neuter. They are now 4 months old. There is one female in the litter who nurses on herself when she is contented. They are all very affectionate kittens and purr very loudly, but this one always seems to want to suck on her own nipple while she purrs and flexes. She gets her belly all wet. Other than that she is a normal kitten. All of them have healthy bowel and urinary habits and are fed premium cat food. I also give them bottled water as I think tap water contains too much bad stuff. The vet says they are very healthy, but this self-nursing seems odd. Is this normal?

Thanks so much.


Answer: Marianne-

I guess I wouldn't want to say this was normal behavior, but it is reasonably common behavior. I do not know of a treatment that works really well for this. If she is not causing physical damage to herself, it may be best to wait and see if she outgrows this problem.

Mike Richards, DVM 7/16/2000

Kitten nursing on owners neck

Question: I am a recent subscriber and I have an interesting situation.

My wife and I just adopted two kittens from the local humane society. They were perhaps a little young and we were told that while they were both eating solid food, and their mother had stopped lactating, she was content to let them continue to nurse.

I have a full beard and I have little skin tags on my neck. One of the kittens discovered that the skin tag on my neck feels just like her mothers nipple, so she nurses on it. The other kitten will join her if I let her. My question is generally, how do I get them to stop? A related specific question is: How does the mother stop her kittens from nursing. The people at the shelter used the phrase "pushing them away". I'd like to discourage them in as natural a way as possible. Another thought would be the use of bitter apple on my neck. Would that be safe? effective?

Thanks, Dennis

Answer: Dennis-

Mother cats tend to either avoid the kittens when they feel like they should stop nursing or they are fairly aggressive about stopping nursing behavior, including hissing at, biting or swatting kittens that are persistent. In your case, just taking the kitten off of your body and putting it on the floor, consistently, when this behavior starts, is likely to be enough to help. Some kittens are incredibly persistent about this sort of behavior, though. In that case, an alcohol based aftershave, or rubbing alcohol itself, applied to your face, will probability discourage nursing behavior, as it leaves a bad taste. Bitter apple is OK as far as I know, as long as it doesn't bother your skin. Anti-perspirants work in other areas for the same reason, but I'm not sure I'd want to put them on my face, either. If that doesn't work, it may be necessary to really use a strong aversive tactic, like an airhorn sounded with the suckling starts or even squirting the kitten with a squirt gun.

Good luck with this. This isn't a highly unusual problem. We have had several clients who had to resort to the squirt guns or air horns, but most of the time just persistently putting the kitten down and refusing to pay attention to it for a minute or two is enough to get it to stop, eventually.

Mike Richards, DVM 4/25/2000

Vomiting and blood in stools - kitten

Q: Hi.. I have a 8 week old kitten..its been vomiting and there is blood in her soft stood...any ideas? I've been up all night with her..she hasn't figgured out her litter box too well yet...any info would be apreciated thank you Ann, Canberra, Australia

A: Ann- The first thing I'd worry about would be intestinal parasites in a kitten this young. Intestinal worms and parasites such as coccidia and giardia are common causes of diarrhea in young kittens. If you are feeding the kitten milk it may be leading to the diarrhea, as well. These are the simple things. There are a lot of other possible causes of diarrhea, including feline leukemia virus infection, corona virus infection, food sensitivities, malabsorbtion disorders and other bacterial and viral diseases.

If your kitten still has diarrhea it would be best to take her to your vet. Most of the time it is possible to control the diarrhea.

Mike Richards, DVM

Worming Mom Cat

Q: I have a 6 year old cat who has recently had kittens. They are two weeks old. My son said he saw that Jingle, the mom, had worms. I am concerned about worming her. When is it safe to worm a nursing cat? Is it safe to use an over the counter wormer? If so what kind? I would appreciate any help you can give. My husband is disabled and I am a student, our income is very tight.

A: The answer to your question partly depends on the type of worms that were seen. Two types are likely -- roundworms and tapeworms.

Roundworms are generally white and tubular in shape and are about 3 to 4 inches long. They often are coiled when seen by pet owners. It is both safe and advisable to deworm Jingle for roundworms. This should be done twice with at least two weeks between doses. There are very safe over-the-counter dewormers for roundworms. Find one that has pyrantel as an active ingredient. Nemex and Lassie are two brand names containing this ingredient. It may say "For Dogs Only" on the label but it is safe to give these products to cats. The kittens should be dewormed when they are six and eight weeks of age.

People usually only see the egg carrying segments of a tapeworms. These are small rectangular segments about 1/2 to 3/4ths of an inch in length when first excreted. They are muscular and often move a great deal at first. The movement spreads the tapeworm eggs around. Once the segment runs out of energy it dries up and looks like a rice granule. These are often seen adhered to the hair around an infected dog or cat's rectum. Every now and then a cat does pass a whole tapeworm or they may show up in vomitus. The whole tapeworm tends to be 6 inches to a foot or so in length when this happens and is usually obviously segmented. There are no safe and effective over-the-counter (OTC) tapeworm medications that I know of. Most OTC medications that make any claim about tapeworm control say "aids in the control of tapeworms" which seems to be a way of saying "doesn't really work to kill tapeworms effectively". Your veterinarian can prescribe safe and effective tapeworm medications. If your cat has been seen recently by your vet, it is possibly he or she will dispense the medication without requiring another office visit. It can't hurt to ask. Praziquantal (Droncit Rx) is considered to be safe to use in pregnant animals and is approved for use in kittens and puppies of any age in one formulation so it may be the best choice. Epsiprantel (Cestex Rx) says it shouldn't be used in kittens and puppies less than seven weeks of age but the amount likely to pass in the mother's milk is small enough that it may not be a major concern to use it despite the fact that she is lactating.

Mike Richards, DVM

Puppies and Kittens..same food OK?

Q: Dear Dr. Mike,

We recently got a new puppy and we currently have to kittens. Every now and then the kittens like to nibble on the puppy food. Is it safe for kittens to eat dog food? Also, our kittens love human food. As a rule I never give my cats anything I wouldn't eat nor do I give them anything too spicy. But we do sometimes give them shrimp, prawns and imitation crab. Is this okay, since they are meat eating animals? thanks

A: It is safe for cats to eat small amounts of dog food. It is also safe for them to eat small amounts of "people" food or even to have diets formulated from people foods if done very carefully.

It is not a good idea to feed kittens either puppy food or adult dog food as their sole source of nutrition. Kittens and cats need some amino acids that dogs can make. This makes a cat's protein requirements more rigid than dog's and most dog foods do not meet the nutritional needs of cats. Over the long run, cats fed solely dog food are very likely to develop nutritional deficiencies and disorders associated with them.

People tend to let their cats train them to feed only a limited number of really "choice" tablefoods, which also results in poor diets when people feed too many treats or try to develop home-made diets for their cats. As long as you limit the treats to small quantities it is not going to cause harm to give your cat the occasional treat, though.

Mike Richards, DVM

Injured Kitten

Q: I have a kitten that is about 1 1/2 months old. Two days ago she came in and was bleeding from a small gash in the forehead. I do not know how deep the cut is or the exact circumstances of the injury. She is not feeding since then (her mother also stays with her). she just sits quietly and cannot keep her head up for very long - she tends to let her head hang down when sitting. She can walk around slightly though - today she went out to do her toilet in the yard. Should I try to force feed her through a feeding bottle ? Is it OK for her to not eat or drink anything for a few days ? Can she choke if I try to feed her ? How ong will it take for the wound to heal - I do not know if its just a skin cut - can it be something more ? What will the vet do if I take her there ?

A:: It is very likely that this injury is more than just a skin injury based on the signs you are seeing. Most of the time, skin injuries do not produce a lot of other clinical signs such as not eating and seeming to be depressed. While there is no way to be certain without an exam, it seems likely that there is damage on a deeper level, even possibly to the kitten's brain. Your vet can evaluate the degree of injury and provide a plan to deal with it. If the kitten's injuries are severe enough to interfere with swallowing reflexes then feeding will be a problem. A kitten who is not swallowing properly can easily develop aspiration pneumonia, a very serious complication. Please take your kitten to your vet for an evaluation and assistance in developing a plan to care for it until it heals. The good thing about young animals is that even severe injuries seem to heal better in young animals.

Mike Richards, DVM

Sick Kitten

Q: Dear Vets at Tiercom, One week ago today, Sunday, my husband discovered a stray kitten in the barn at our leased cattle pasture. We have a couple of wild barn cats out there; perhaps the kitten was attracted to the barn because of them. Anyway, my husband called me from the barn and said the kitten was clear-eyed, no nasal discharge or sounds, no "pasted" rear-end, appears to be cleaning itself OK. He also said it was pot-bellied and extremely thin. I suggested it probably had roundworms, and we could worm the kitten the next day. My husband fed the kitten dry food (we leave some every day for the barn cats), which she ate voraciously. Monday we consulted with our Vet about bringing the kitten to him, as we have a 6-month old housecat that has yet to have her leukemia and aids vaccinations. She will have these at her spay appointment this Tuesday, 1/14/97. She has already had her "indoor cat" vaccinations distemper, respiratory, etc. My vet did not feel that there was much risk to our housecat in bringing the new kitten home, provided our observations about her lack of symptoms were accurate. So, last Tuesday evening, 1/7/97, I confirmed my husband's observations of the kitten's apparent state of health, and brought her home. Since that evening, we have been watching the kitten closely. Here is what we notice/has occurred since then: 1. We believe the kitten is somewhere around 6-10 weeks old. 2. We wormed the kitten with Piperazine wormer for roundworms the night we brought her home. The dose for kittens 6 weeks and up is listed as 1/2 teaspoon (it's a carob-flavored liquid), which she wouldn't eat sprinkled on the food, but she drank it all when mixed with about 1-2 teaspoons of milk. 3. We are feeding the kitten Hill's Prescription Kitten diet (dry), which she is eating well. She also helps herself to the housecat's Meow Mix. I have also been rubbing 4 drops of Pet-Tinic liquid vitamin supplement into a front paw each day, which she is cleaning off thoroughly. 4. The kitten is drinking lots of water (but we don't think it's excessive). 5. We showed the kitten her own litter box that night we brought her home, and she has been finding it and using it without a single accident since then. However, her "aim" is rather poor, in that she digs a hole in one spot (or doesn't dig at all), then "goes" into another spot in the box. She also has difficulty covering it up -- she "finds it" accurately enough through smell, but then covers up another area of the box and leaves the feces exposed. For odor control, and sanitary reasons for the kitten walking into the box, I have been going in after her and covering up the "deed". Her urine appears normal in color and odor, and seems to be in a quantity consistent with her water intake. Likewise, her feces appear normal in color and consistency, and in enough volume to be consistent with her food intake. 6. The kitten is still clear-eyed and clear-nosed, no respiratory sounds at all, and has a very smooth-sounding loud purr. 7. The kitten was COVERED with lice and fleas, and all sorts of bug feces down in the fur and near her skin. I used Scratchex flea powder (Sevin dust and Pyrethrins) on her, rubbed it down into the skin, then brushed out all the excess I could get, as the label indicated not to use the powder on kittens under 3 months of age. I also bought her a kitten-safe flea collar a few days later and put it on. (I went ahead and used the powder despite the label warnings because I had an experience once with a peahen that became severely anemic from a very heavy lice/louse infestation. The kitten's infestation was also very heavy.) 8. The kitten had several small "sores" on her torso, perhaps from fleas, ticks or a small larvae of some type. They appear to be in the process of normal healing. 9. I believe the kitten has ear-mites, but after all the "poisons" I have given her so far, I am waiting another week or two to use Mite-Clear on her. 10. The kitten has been sleeping all day and night, when she's not eating or using the litter box, since we brought her home. She is not at all playful, although she is reasonably alert when she is awake. She is cleaning herself, to some degree, when she is awake. 11. The most disturbing sign: The kitten appears to have poor coordination of her rear legs. She walks very slowly and deliberately, and the hind legs stretch far out behind her body and do not step up underneath her -- the rear leg stride is very shortened. When she stands up and begins to walk, the front end walks out until the hind legs are stretched so far that she must take a step with one of them. Then the odd, wobbling gait begins. She has never fallen down, that we know of. 12. When the kitten sits, sometimes she sits like a "lazy dog" where the rear-end is flopped over onto one hip. Often the hind legs are not in the "correct" sit position, even if the kitten is sitting on both hips somewhat evenly. One leg may be way up underneath her, while the other is out to one side. 13. Often, when the kitten is sitting up, she will get drowsy after a time and her head will slowly lower until it reaches the ground, then the rest of her body will follow suit and she will slowly flop over onto her side. Then she will sleep. This is all done very "slow motion". 14. The kitten is remarkably resourceful. We found that a blanket on our couch, wadded up and made into a "nest", is where she prefers to sleep. Although laborious and time-consuming for her, the kitten CAN get on and off the couch, which is fairly high. Going down, she dangles her front end off the couch until gravity pulls her off. She uses her hind legs a little, to "push off", during this procedure. Going up, she reaches up to the cushions with her front end until she is stretched up as high as she can go. She then "digs in" with the front claws, and brings her back legs up onto the side of the couch as far as she can. She repeats this "climbing" process until she is back up on the couch Since my housecat is going to the vet in a couple of days for shots and spaying, I made arrangements to drop off the kitten to be examined and vaccinated as well. So, I will have my vet's opinion on the kitten's condition shortly. I am concerned that I may have inadvertently caused these seemingly-neurological problems in the kitten by the use of the Piperazine wormer and/or the Scratchex flea powder, since it is not for kittens so young. If you have an opportunity to respond, I would be most interested in your opinion of this new kitten's condition, and whether I may have caused her harm. If there is anything I can do that may be of help to her health or comfort, I would like to know that, too. Thank you for any help or information you may be able to give. I am always interested in learning from my mistakes, so that the next animal that comes to me may benefit. Thank you,

A: I am hoping I'll remember to answer all your questions -- lots of detail to cover :)

One thing I noticed --- there is no vaccination for feline immundeficiency virus that I am aware of. This is the most common condition referred to as feline AIDS, although it is somewhat different from the human syndrome. It is possible that you are referring to feline infectious peritonitis vaccination, which is available. Currently, I think that there is still enough controversy over the safety of FIP vaccination that its use should be considered very carefully.

Piperazine is not a very effective dewormer and it is possible that some of the symptoms you are seeing, especially the continued lethargy, are related to inefficiency of the dewormer and continued worm infestation. A better, and safer, alternative is a pyrantel based dewormer such as Nemex. There are several over the counter brands of this deworming medication.

I think that there can be an additive toxic effect when piperazine and organophosphates are used concurrently but that is from memory. There is no question that organophosphates such as Sevin could cause the neurologic signs that you have seen. I can't tell from reading your letter whether or not the signs were present before you applied the ScratchX or not. Do you know for sure?

The reason I ask is that there is a condition that occurs in kitten exposed to panleukopenia virus in utero in which the cerebellar area is damaged and they suffer permanent problems with incoordination.(at least that is the theory I am familiar with) These kittens also have the same symptoms you describe except that I can't remember one of them falling asleep in the manner you describe.

In general, organophosphate poisoning does not have long term effects -- -but there seem to be some exceptions. Your vet will probably be able to differentiate between these problems after an exam or with labwork if necessary. Treatment for chronic organophosphate poisoning when it occurs can be unrewarding but it still would be worth a try.
I agree entirely with you that many kittens do die from the effect of flea infestation. There is a safer way to treat them, though. Ovitrol spray is approved for use in neonatal cats and dogs and appears to be safe if used according to directions. This consists of spraying a towel or cloth with the spray and then wrapping the kitten in it for approximately five minutes with its head out so that it can breathe, of course.

It is possible to treat earmites without using organophosphates, so your vet will be able to help with this even if a toxic reaction is going on.

Many kittens with the cerebellar hypoplasia problem appear to lead pretty happy lives. They do often have problems with litterpan coordination and often climb rather than jump -- but develop into great climbers.

You should take your list with you to your vet -- it is very complete and will be helpful in deciding what is wrong. Even though I think there may have been better approaches to some of the problems, you have tried hard to correct the problems you were aware of and the kitten is lucky to have found you.

Mike Richards, DVM

Last edited 02/21/04


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...