When my husband returned from a walk in the forest one day last December, frantic and loud meowing emanated from his backpack.
“Alright,” I said. “Another kitten?” By this time, we already had ten cats. It was a big enough challenge buying food and paying vet bills as it was, so I was already beginning to worry.
Then he pulled a black and white ball of fuzz out of his backpack. Beautiful little blue eyes, the kind that only a kitten can have, stared at me. My steely resolve about not adopting another kitten went right out the window. This baby was definitely cute. Is there ever a kitten that isn’t?
Victor found the kitty languishing on the gravel road in the hot sun, and at first he thought it was dead because the little thing wasn’t moving. He leaned down to pet the tiny head and suddenly the ball of fur became lively, pulling its head backwards in an odd fashion and wailing loudly. Even more distressing was the fact that this poor little fellow had a huge bump on the back of his neck near the base of his head and he wasn’t able to walk.
Fortunately, we had some leftover Pedialyte from a time when we tried to help an injured bird, so I grabbed a five millimeter syringe and managed to get the tiny mouth open. Once the kitten knew what it was, it lapped the Pedialyte gratefully. This was important, and we fed the baby Pedialyte every 3-4 hours because it contains electrolytes which are full of minerals like sodium, potassium, and chloride and this kept his blood sugar from falling. It also kept him hydrated, which was important because like so many orphaned kittens, he had diarrhea.
We’d managed to get over that bumpy part, but there were some bigger bumps in the road ahead and this being on a Saturday didn’t make it any easier. All of the veterinarian offices were closed and we lived in the boondocks. Worse still, there were no pet stores where we could purchase kitten formula. At approximately 4 weeks old, this baby was too little to be weaned. We limped him through the weekend with human baby formula, which was rough on his tiny system. Human infant formula isn’t nutritious enough to use long-term for a kitten, but we didn’t know there were ways to make home-made kitten formula. Under the circumstances it was the best we could do. We cuddled him all weekend and kept him warm.
The kitten’s neck injury and his inability to walk was also a big concern and I was worried he wouldn’t survive the weekend. He made random attempts at walking, but kept stumbling repeatedly.
Come Monday morning, I zipped him into the vet right away. By this time, the lump on his neck had vanished and he seemed to be stumbling a little less. Our veterinarian opened a can of cat food and the kitten lunged at the food and ate enthusiastically. My worries vanished, and he was good to go after the vet de-wormed him. Soon kitten and I were back home and he ravenously gobbled more canned food. He must have thought he hit the kitty jackpot. Now that we knew this baby was going to be fine, we decided he needed a name.
That’s how he became Buster. I’d always wanted to name one of my cats Buster, and now was my chance. His adorable personality fits his name. He’s a live wire who can be stubbornly persistent when he wants something-especially if it’s anything that happens to come from the refrigerator. If he’s getting canned food, which is absolutely his very favorite treat, he does his silly “Buster dance”-standing on his hind legs and turning around in a circle.
Every now and then he still shows the occasional neurological problem. Sometimes one of his front legs doesn’t work right when he jumps, and this causes him to fall. Nevertheless, he’s pretty nimble. It took him ages to become this way. It was probably two weeks before he could walk without tripping over his own feet, but after that, he overcame his first hurdle: A small hop from the top of our green chair to the counter where his food was. After weeks of good food, a lot of TLC, and playing with the other cats, Buster was zipping around the house and garden without any problem. Nothing ever seemed to get him down; he was one determined little cat.
There was still one thing that eluded him: Jumping. Unlike our other slightly older kitten, Tidbit, who can leap like a winged kangaroo, Buster was grounded. Then one day when he was about seven months old, he figured out that he could jump from my desk to the top of the cabinet, and soon after that he was bounding off of everything.
He’s been that way ever since.
Taking care of this little guy stressed me out quite a lot, but it doesn’t have to be that way for you, should you adopt an orphaned kitten.
Here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Kittens use up a huge amount of energy for growth and for yelling to be fed. This means they don’t have much energy left over for keeping warm. Keep the kitten under your shirt, next to your skin. When a kitten is with its mother and brothers and sisters, plenty of warmth is provided. During its first week, a kitten will need temperatures to be between 88-92 degrees, according to feralcat.com. Once a kitten reaches five weeks old, they can tolerate lower temperatures.
- As soon as possible, take your kitten to the vet, so that it can be checked for dehydration and to assess its general health. These little guys can suffer dehydration very easily and may need fluids under the skin. The vet will also check for worms and other parasites. Your veterinarian can also give you a wealth of information on how to raise your new-found charge and provide you with necessary supplies.
- You’ll need to purchase a baby bottle for kittens. Your vet may have one. Pet stores carry them as well.
- Just like human babies, kitten formula should be heated to body temperature and feeding utensils should be sterilized.
- Kittens should be fed every 3-4 hours and you should also check the package for recommend feeding amounts, as well as how often the kitten should be fed each day.
- When it’s feeding time, place the kitten stomach down on a nice, fuzzy towel-something it can cling to when its feeding. Open the tiny mouth with the tip of your finger and slip the nipple between its jaws. Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle to keep air from entering the kitten’s stomach. Lightly pull on the bottle to encourage suckling.
A couple of days after we adopted Buster, we came to realize that his injuries were likely due to some cruel person throwing him out of a car. He had a road rash on his little back legs, but it healed very quickly, and his ebullient and playful personality took over. He’s our bed buddy at night and he terrorizes the landscape during the day.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.