I Took My Kittens to the Vet: My View From the Other Side of the Table

September 13, 2012

I did something new last week: I took my kittens to the veterinarian!

Since my father was a veterinarian, he cared for my childhood pets and, of course, I and my colleagues at The Animal Medical Center have taken care of my recent pets. Consequently, I have never made an appointment or sat in the waiting room of a veterinary clinic other than to chat with a pet owner.

Foster care kittens

Last week things changed. You may remember my last foray into fostering.

My family and I temporarily adopted a pregnant cat, helped her deliver her kittens, and subsequently cared for her babies until it was time to let them go. This time, I am fostering two kittens already weaned from their mother. They are both underweight and under socialized. They came to me for a bit of TLC to spiff them up before getting a forever home. The female turned the corner the previous weekend when she started asking for attention and food. Her renaissance made the little orange male look even more malnourished and he retreated into a scruffy ball of fur with no appetite, even for delicately poached chicken breast or the most expensive kitten food from my local pet store.

Had the orange boy been my personal kitten, he would have come to work with me and undergone a full battery of tests. But, my foster care agreement specifies sick kittens come back to the rescue organization for medical care. So, I contacted them first thing in the morning and arranged for an appointment late in the day.

A day of worry

I spent the entire time, from making the appointment until leaving for the clinic, worrying about what was going to happen. Was the kitten so sick it couldn’t be helped? Could the whole problem be the healthy kitten spent all day pouncing on the little one, hoping for a playmate, preventing the little one from eating? The worst worry: what if the healthy kitten was ready for a forever home, the sick kitten required hospitalization, and I had to go home with an empty kitten carrier to an empty kitten palace because both kittens had to stay at the clinic?

The clinic visit

Luckily one of my friends at work drives past the rescue organization on her way home so the kittens and I got a ride, supplemented by a comforting conversation during the trip; the familiar face of the foster care coordinator was reassuring as well. The veterinarian, who might have been young enough to be my son, kindly thanked me for my participation in the foster care program, but when he said the kitten had lost 6 ounces, my pleasure melted away. Because the young veterinarian sees foster kittens daily and kittens are definitely not my core patient base, he gently explained foundling kittens frequently just stop eating for no apparent medical reason. The fix for the problem is simple: force feeding the kitten in the clinic for a few days to jump start their appetite and get them back on track. He also listened to my concern about the disparity in the size and energy level of the kittens. Together we decided the kittens should be separated and I would keep the healthy one while the poor-doer would stay in the hospital.

The moral of the story

I know from experience, it is impossible not to worry about your sick pet. And I also know your veterinarian wants your sick pet to get better almost as much as you do! But a kind word, an open ear, and a treatment plan that took my input about the kittens into consideration put my mind at ease and got the sickly kitten back on the road to good health.


Kitten Questions

April 16, 2012

After last week’s blog on my litter of foster kittens, I received a surprising number of questions about raising a litter of kittens. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since most families are not lucky enough to have the fun of raising a litter of kittens from day one. I thought readers of Fur the Love of Pets might find the answers interesting.

Q: How long did the delivery take for seven kittens?

A: I had planned to carefully record the color and sex of each kitten as it was born, but they came so fast and Lucy seemed to tire after the third kitten, so I took over rubbing down each new kitten with a clean towel to get it to begin breathing. Once it was breathing well on its own and moving vigorously, I gave each one back to Lucy and collected the next newborn. The details of the delivery are a blur. I can remember the first kitten was dark-colored and stillborn, the second orange and the third dark, but with the litter consisting of two female dark ones and four male orange ones, I have no idea which one came first. I noticed the first kitten arrived at 7 am and the last kitten was born at about 8:45 am, making each delivery a brief 15 minutes.

Q: How big are newborn kittens?

A: I must confess that as the labor and delivery staff of one, I did not weigh the kittens until they were about 48 hours old. At that time, they ranged from 136-160 grams. But a picture is worth a thousand words and they were about the size of a sick of butter.

Q: Can the kittens meow?

A: These kittens are incredibly noisy. First, they have no manners and slurp when they eat. The slurping is audible across the room. If they wander too far from the rest of the litter, the wanderer mews and whines until Lucy thrill, the kittn gets is bearing and heads back to the group. They also have a distress call –piercing, sharp and the volume of a lion’s roar. They don’t make this noise often, but if they do, their mother comes immediately and moves the distressed kitten back to the nest box, picking it up by the nape of the neck. Separating a kitten from the litter to photograph it near a stick of butter will provoke this cry!

Q: How strong are the kittens?

A: Much stronger than you think and yet not so strong. One of them hooked a toenail in a towel I was using as a bumper to keep them from wandering too far outside their nest box. Poor little thing was not strong enough to unhook the toenail from the loops of thread in the towel, and mewed until I unhooked it. But, when I tried to restrain the kitten for a pedicure, it seemed like I was holding a 150 gram tiger and I was rewarded with the lion-sized distress cry once again.


What to Expect When You’re Expecting Kittens

April 9, 2012

Lucy and her litter

My family is trying something new this spring: we are hosting a pregnant cat as part of a local foster cat program. Destiny, now known affectionately as Lucy, will be in residence until her kittens finish nursing, are eating well on their own, and weigh two pounds each. Before she came to our home, we attended a training class on how to care for cats and kittens.

Expectant Waiting

Since Lucy was a foundling, no one knew when to expect the kittens. The situation was very different than in “What to Expect When You are Expecting Puppies,” where Tallulah’s litter was a planned pregnancy and we could calculate a delivery date quite accurately. Tallulah performed admirably, whelping (the dog word for the birth of puppies) on the middle day of the three days we anticipated delivery. Not so for Lucy. When I picked her up she seemed big as a house but wasn’t showing any nesting behavior. By the second weekend of her stay, I could tell the time was coming. She would go into one of the two cardboard boxes we strategically placed around her room, scratch and hang out in the box a few minutes. At the beginning of her third week with us, she started to produce milk.

Expectant Eating

Food motivated Lucy’s life, and no wonder, since she was eating for eight. She delivered six live kittens and one stillborn kitten, so she is now nursing a large litter. Before the kittens came, I noticed she would come into the kitchen while I was making dinner and yowl for food. I purchased a clicker at my neighborhood pet store and took advantage of her food motivation by clicker training her to come. I gave two clicks when she came into the kitchen and rewarded her with Greenies – her favorite treat. Pretty soon, she learned two clicks meant a Greenie and now she comes quite quickly when she hears the clicks. Now we are working on sitting on a mat for a Greenie.

Expecting No More

The kittens came three weeks to the day after Lucy arrived at our house. The morning started normally, with Lucy following me into the kitchen, but she refused even a Greenie, so I thought something was up. We had collected several cardboard boxes for use as potential queening (the cat word for birth of kittens) boxes. Being a New Yorker, Lucy chose to deliver the kittens in a Fresh Direct delivery box. [Fresh Direct is one of the most popular New York City online grocers]. The front of the box was covered with a fleece for privacy, but she removed every blanket, towel and pad I gave her for bedding and chose to deliver on the cardboard. I was glad I had collected other boxes before the kittens came. The Fresh Direct box was soiled and needed to be thrown out, so I was able to move the new family to another familiar, but clean box after all the kittens had come.

To see a video of the new family, click here.

The foster care program provides spaying and neutering for Lucy and her family when they are ready for adoption. I predict there will be seven very delighted cat-owning families sometime in the very near future.


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