As a rehoming centre we get our fair share of kittens, most of whom are either fostered out for a brief period until they're old enough to be rehomed, or who are old enough to go to new homes almost straightaway. Usually the former have a lovely mummy cat to nurse them, and to teach them the things that all grown up cats need to know, and the latter are usually old enough to have left their mum, full of cat-lore and knowledge to enable them to live long and happy lives.
There is another group of kittens, a small but select group, and these are the orphan kits. These are the kits who no longer have a mummy, and come to us aged anything from 1 day upwards. They have usually become orphans either because somethinghas separated them from their mum (she may have died or they may have been removed), or because she has rejected them.
It's hard work, but usually if something has happened to separate them from mum they have a good chance of survival. Sadly if they have been rejected by their mum, their chances of survival are less - mummy-cats are very good at sensing if something is wrong. So if we're given a litter of orphans, we usually reckon that their chances are good, but if we get a single kitten, particularly if it is found in an unusual place, such as the middle of a garden, or car park, or just out in the open somewhere, there is a strong possibility that there will be something wrong with it and it won't survive.
Such is the story of Remus, who came to us on Hallowe'en 2009, aged about 10 days having been found on his own in someone's garden. We hoped that his mum had been moving him and been disturbed and dropped him, but only time would tell if he was well enough to survive.
So began the routine of feeding him every two hours or so. The amount they eat at that age is miniscule (about a teaspoon full), and you are hard pressed to believe that it is going to be of any benefit. As time progresses, however, the amounts they eat do increase and bit by bit they start to grow. It is usually around the five weeks stage that any problems manifest themselves, as the kit becomes more active.
Here are some photos of Remus shortly after he came into our care (the ginger kitten, Freddy was about 10 weeks old, Remus about 2 weeks old).
Remus did really well until the dreaded five weeks milestone, at which point he simply stopped growing - for about three weeks he hardly grew at all (apart from his stomach which seemed to be huge!), and we were concerned that serious health problems were starting to manifest themselves.
At about eight weeks, he suddenly began to grow again, and grew steadily until he reached the required weight for neutering - three weeks behind schedule.
Despite his shaky start, Remus has grown into a lithe healthy kitten, rather over-confident (which is often a side-effect of hand-reared kittens), and we were delighted to be able to rehome him at the weekend. We think that he will finally grow up to be a big cat.
We wonder what happened to his poor mummy...