Nursing Mama cats are often very generous in feeding and caring for newborns. They have even been known to nurse baby bunnies and squirrels. If you have an orphan kitten or several, it is a good idea to transfer some of the smell of Mama’s own kittens to the little ones by rubbing them with the litter’s blanket or establishing direct contact between the kittens. If you slowly introduce the orphan(s) to Mom and they smell like her own, she will likely let them nurse and care for them. This is better all around as some of Mama cat’s immunity is transferred to the new kittens and she takes care of cleaning them regularly. They are content to cuddle next to Mom and can be socialized with her own kittens. Remember, nursing Moms only have 8 nipples and not all of those may produce milk. It is best not to overwhelm the Mama cat with too many kittens although we recently had a wonderful rescue Mom who nursed and cared for 9 babies (4 orphans) with only 7 nipples producing milk. In this case, our shelter staff at St. Francis Animal rescue made sure that all the kittens received a bottle supplement feeding twice a day. But, there is nothing like the TLC a Mamma cat can provide.
This is a photo of Ivey, a stray found with 9 kittens in an overgrown lot. She had five kittens of about 3 weeks of age of her own and was caring for 4 tiny newborns who had barely opened their eyes. A cat only has 8 nipples for nursing so it was difficult for her to feed all of these hungry little ones at once. The big ones tended to push out the tiny ones but they all were in pretty good shape when two teenagers brought them to St. Francis Animal Rescue. We are bottle feeding all 9 with a supplement of kitten milk replacement but Mama Ivey constantly cleans and cares for them.
Mamma Kitty, now named Gemma, did not have enough milk to feed her babies so bottle feeding was started immediately. One day after giving birth, Gemma was lethargic and not eating so as it was a Saturday, I had to take her to the emergency veterinarian clinic. She had a fever, was diagnosed with a uterine infection and placed on IV antibiotics. This poor young mama was malnourished when we got her a few days earlier at St. Francis Animal Rescue and did not have the resistance and stamina necessary to carry 9 kittens in her tiny body. That evening one kitten had become lethargic and was not eating well. I spoke with our shelter vet who told me that there was little that could be done and to keep trying to dribble KRM into her mouth with an eye dropper or syringe at regular feedings. Sadly, this little female tabby did not survive the night despite our best efforts. The rest were doing well and it was going to be a long weekend until other bottle baby fosters could be found.
A pregnant cat was dropped off at St. Francis Animal rescue last week by an older couple who said she was feral and that they had been feeding her. As Mama’s abdomen was huge and stretched to capacity, the couple assumed that she was overdue and the fetuses were dead. This lovely, small golden tabby was extremely friendly, purred and allowed us to rub her enormous tummy. An X-Ray revealed 9 kittens at full term and alive per our Veterinarian, Dr. Nicole Kushmaul of Veterinary Care of Venice. It appeared as if she would deliver within 24 hours so with a great deal of coaching from Dr. Nicole, I took her home. We named her Gemma and by 11:00 p.m. that night she began labor. I stayed to keep a watchful eye since she was high risk and occupied myself in between kitten births with ironing clothes. By 4:00 a.m. there were 9 tiny kittens; 7 dark tabbies and 2 orange little ones. One tabby was not viable and only survived about 30 minutes. Gemma was malnourished and I was told not to expect much milk production, which was the case. She did have four nipples that had a watery, milky fluid that was likely colostrum. I helped alternate the remaining 8 kittens on the nipples so that they could get some of the nourishment and immunity from Mama. I had kitten replacement milk ready and these tiny ones immediately began nursing from a bottle within a few hour. Only one did not take to the bottle but did accept milk in small amounts from a syringe. Gemma was tired but ate a big bowl of wet food and settled in with her kittens. I set my alarm for two hours later to check on the kittens and give them a feeding. It was early Friday morning and I knew it would be a weekend without much sleep.