We often receive calls for help from people who have found cats in distress, but nothing is more upsetting than to receive calls about tiny motherless kittens. Sometimes the absence of mum-cat can't be helped - she may have been run over, or rejected the kittens, or simply be too ill to care for them. But too many of the calls we receive relate to kittens which have been dumped.
Take the call we got just over a week ago. Some children playing in a park had found three kittens in a carrier bag. They were aged approximately 10-15 days. What chance of survival would they have had if they hadn't been found?
Hand-rearing kittens is a time-consuming and long process, fraught with difficulties and more often than not the kittens succumb to various ailments and may not survive. Even if they do survive, they miss out on essential antibodies from their mum and this can cause them to have a lower chance of surviving diseases which they may encounter as they get older.
Additionally, they don't learn socialisation skills, and although they bond well with their humans, they may become over possessive and fail to develop properly in cat society.
When tiny, they need to be fed every couple of hours, which can be very tiring for the person feeding them, as they need to be fed through the night as well as during the day.
They also need to be helped to go to the loo. This is done by rubbing their bottoms with tissue paper or similar to encourage them to urinate and defecate.
One of the least endearing things about orphan kittens is their need to suckle. Left with mum, their instinct would be to plug in to the "milk bar" and gently suckle for a large proportion of the time, both to feed and to gain comfort. Bereft of mum, they will often suckle each other, but usually end up suckling the male kittens' genitalia. Not pleasant as this stimulates the male kitten to urinate, which then covers the kitten suckling. In addition to this, the kitten doing the suckling ingests a considerable amount of urine and sometimes faeces, which can lead to infections etc. And of course it can make the male kitten being suckled very sore.
Back to these kittens. Two little ginger and white boys and their chintz/calico sister.
We called them Tony, Jason and Rebecca, and so far they are doing well, although they have had to have a trip to the vets because of diarrhoea. But they are doing as well as can be expected, starting to sit up a bit and take notice, and even beginning to play a bit, especially Jason. Their teeth are beginning to come through (ouch!!) and in another few days they will start to gain some bladder control. At the moment, they still have to have their bottoms wiped, and they really complain about it, especially Rebecca!
The sad sad part of all this is their poor little mum. Assuming that they were dumped because they weren't wanted, we are sure that somewhere out there, their mum is missing them dreadfully. She will be full of milk, and very uncomfortable. Additionally, she will soon come into season again and another litter of unwanted kittens will be born.
The future is bright for Jason, Rebecca and Tony, as long as they are strong enough to survive, but for their mum and her as yet unborn future litters, surely neutering her would be a more humane and caring approach.
Sadly, we'll never know!