Sunday, May 25, 2008

Da Babies

The kittens are doing well. They are gaining weight (in grams) each day. Both have opened their eyes and are now trying to walk. They were approximately three weeks old on Thursday. They have names now: we called the female calico "Cali" for a while, and it made Mr. A think of Kahli, the consort of Shiva. He suggested Shiva as a name for the black and white male, but I felt it a bit too pompous, so he then suggested Dev, short for Deva, which means "[male] deity" in Sanskrit. It is pronounced "Dave". I have never had a cat named Dev - pronounced - "Dave", so why not? As for the female calico, Mr. A noticed that she has a black spot right where her belly button would be, so he thought of Belle (pronounced "bell", of course). I told him that he had better be certain about naming her that, because it is likely that one or both of us will eventually call her "Belle-y" (pronounced "belly"). We call Ivan "Ivy", Boo gets called "Boopy", and Jericho gets called "Jerry", so "Belle-y" is inevitable.

They get fed every 3-4 hours, now. Before long they'll be climbing out of their box. Target sells a clever contraption that is made to allow indoor cats to go outside -- it's like a cat play-pen that is sealed in mesh on all sides. Since Mr. A has to take the kittens to work to feed them, we thought this might be a good thing to have, allowing them to walk around and play without wandering off or getting into things. Once we get it and use it, we will review it here.

I haven't explained before, but I, Aelurophile, live in a small apartment during the week, and I go to our "country house" on the weekends when I can. Mr. A stays at the country house as he can telecommute and needs to be there to take care of everything (cats, gardens, house repairs, and keeping strangers, bears, rattlesnakes, cougars, and gophers away). So Ivan and Boo are with me in the apartment, and the babies Dev and Belle are at the country house with Mr. A. When I go to the country house, I take Ivan and Boo with me - they travel very well other than Boo getting car sick occasionally on mountain roads. Mr. A has not been able to come to the apartment recently as that's a bit far to travel with the babies. The apartment and country house are about five hours apart (!) by car.

I have had to go out of town on business during the week for the past couple of weeks, and will do so for the next few weeks. We have friends who live a block away who were happy to check on the cats for us when we had to go out of town, but the wife of the couple, who did most of the checking, now works out of town and does not always get home each night. We decided we needed another solution to the cat-care problem. Luckily our veterinarian has vet techs who moonlight as cat caretakers. We've been taking our cats to this vet for years, so we called the office and one of the techs agreed to check on Ivan and Boo every other day during the week (this amounts to Tuesdays and Thursdays). She will scoop their litter boxes, feed them, change their water, and even water the plants! Her 9-year old son comes with her, and he will play with the cats (if they decide to emerge from under the bed) while she is taking care of things. The fee is $25 a day. Not bad when you consider that boarding them in a cage is around the same price per day (for two cats). We save money this way, the cats are in their own home which means they will be less stressed, and our plants get watered!

By the way, our veterinarian is The Cat Hospital in Campbell, CA. Unfortunately they do not have a web site. I should speak to them about that!

Anyhow, back to the kittens - the title of this blog entry refers to what a little 2-year old named Sienna calls the kittens: "da babies". She is the granddaughter of the owners of a coffee shop that is housed in the same building as Mr. A's office, and she stops by to see the kittens a few times a day. On arrival she says, "Burble unintelligible babble DA BABIES gurgle blubber." Here's a quick clip of her saying simply, "Da babies."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Walls of Jericho

Jericho is our male Siamese mix. He's around 12 years old. Mr. Aelurophile found him in the downtown area of a large San Francisco Bay Area city, behind a sandwich restaurant, when he was a kitten. We think his love of cantaloupe and asparagus stems from his days living out of garbage dumpsters.

He's very intelligent. In fact, he is so intelligent that he seems to be lacking in the neoteny department. Neoteny is defined as the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles. Most domesticated animals are neotenous. Mature wild cats do not live together (lions are an exception), nor are they as playful and affectionate toward humans as house cats are. Kittens of wild cats, however, do exhibit these traits. When humans found adult cats that retained kitten-like behavior, they selected for those traits, and eventually the cat was domesticated. The same is true for dogs. Domesticated dogs play a lot more than wild dogs, and they prefer human companionship, while wild dogs do not. So early man selected the dogs that remained puppy-like into adulthood. (Here's an interesting link about neoteny.)

Jericho is less kitten-like than most domestic cats. He is not terribly fond of being petted, and he'll let you know about that. The only time he is affectionate is when he is sleepy or cold. All other times he is aloof and grumpy. At times he may growl if we even so much as look at him. We think he knows he relies on us for food and he hates having to be dependent on us (yes, we read a lot into his behavior!). He detests using a litter box and will only use it if it is raining or snowing outside, otherwise he demands to be let out.

So, Jericho was resting on the sofa while Mr. Aelurophile was seated on the same sofa, feeding the calico kitten. After feeding her, Mr. A let her crawl and explore on his lap. She started crawling toward Jericho, who, after a while, had enough of that, gave the calico one swift "bap" (claws retracted), and ran away grumbling. So much for the birth of a lasting friendship!

By the way, I swear that the chair Jericho is sleeping on in the above photograph is NOT in our house!!

Ivan and Boo Are Still At It

We went out of town for one night and a day this week (business). We left the boys plenty of water, and food in two automated feeding bowls which open at sent times to reveal compartments that we previously filled with specific amounts of food. The boys have broken into these feeders in the past and gobbled up all the food so that they were without food for a day or two, but usually the feeders work very well. This trip was no exception.

The night before we left we gave the boys their usual evening chicken strip snack. We asked them, as we normally do, "Do you want some cat cheekin?" Yes, we suddenly acquire speech impediments when speaking to the cats. These impediments disappear if we are speaking to anyone other than the cats. Puzzling! Anyhow, they know what "cat cheekin" is and started meowing madly. We gave them a chicken strip each and they settled in and started chewing. The next morning we got up to finish packing and get going, but we found a suspicious zip loc bag on the floor. We knew immediately that, the night before, that bag had held the package of chicken strips. No, not again - they'd broken into the chicken strips!

There was no sign of actual chicken strips, not even crumbs, or the chicken strip bag anywhere in the apartment. We searched high and low, determined to find it in case it still contained any chicken strips. We didn't want the boys gorging themselves any further and risking a gut impaction or something crazy like that. The bag was simply nowhere to be found. After looking everywhere twice or three times, there was only one place left to look - under the couch. The couch sits only half an inch to an inch off the floor, so the cats cannot get under it. However, with the help of a flashlight, we found the chicken strips bag! Under the couch! Had the little criminals tried to hide the evidence from us? Well, the bag had one small piece of chicken still in it, so we suspect the boys were trying to get that last piece of chicken and inadvertently pushed the bag under the couch.

Now the chicken strips (yes, we bought more) stay in the fridge. By the way, we were shopping in Target today and decided to see if they had any chicken strips like the ones we found at PetSmart (and originally at Trader Joe's). They did! In fact, they have vitamin/supplement fortified chicken strips! They are sold under the brand "Vitality" and are, like all pet-grade chicken breast strips we've found, in the dog section. We bought the variety supplemented with flaxseed oil and vitamins to promote healthy eyes, coat, and skin. Boo has had a little dry skin lately, so this sounded good. We bought the last two bags.

The boys did not ravenously eat these strips the way they did the brand we bought from PetSmart. They ate these strips, but they were not as excited about them as they've been about other brands. But, again, they ate them, so we're happy to continue giving them to the boys. These are $5.99 for a 6 oz (weight) bag. That's pricier than the PetSmart variety, but these are fortified with extra ingredients that are good for the cats, after all.

We'll review the automatic feeders soon. We also bought the boys a little "play station" at Target today, and we'll review that soon, as well.

The orphaned kittens are doing fine. The calico's eyes are fully open and she responds strongly to KittyDaddy (Mr. Aelurophile). Black-and-white-kitten's eyes don't even show signs of opening yet. We are convinced he is at least a week younger (based on conception date) than the calico. We have read that there are often kittens of differing ages in one litter, certainly kittens of different fathers! But little black-and-white continues to guzzle KMR and put on weight. His eyes should open soon.

At least we are pretty certain of their sexes, now, so that we can start trying to think of names for them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Kittens are Purring!

The kittens purred for the first time when we fed them this morning. A milestone!

We also found out that the black and white kitten is a male. Not so certain about the calico.

They seem healthy and eat heartily and sleep soundly. After gently stimulating the black and white kitten's bum with a cotton ball this morning, there was a single tiny drop of blood on the cotton after s/he defecated. We researched this and, if it is an isolated occurrence, it is nothing to worry about, but if it happens again it could be anything from a parasite to distemper. Our fingers are crossed. The kitten has no other symptoms, which is a good thing.

The calico's eyes continue to open - still not fully - but black and white's eyes are not opening yet. We did read that some litters of kittens can contain kittens of differing ages, suggesting that once a mother cat conceives, she is still fertile for at least a few days and can conceive again. If that is true, we suspect that is the case -- the calicos are older than the black and white(s).

We washed the SnuggleKittie in the washer on the gentle cycle and then dried her in the dryer (sounds so cruel!). It took two hours to dry her! But she is nice and clean for the kittens now. Next time we will place some piece of fabric - a sock or shirt - in or on her and we will NOT wash that when we wash her, and we will place it on her when we replace her in the nest after a washing, so her scent is not so foreign to the kittens after being washed.

The outside temperatures were warm today and forecast to be warm tomorrow, which is good news for the kittens, who do like warmth.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More on the Orphaned Kittens

The kittens are doing fine. They were shivering last night so we turned up the heating pad and put a towel over the box to retain heat, and they were much happier. Kittens this young are not able to regulate their body temperature, so they need heat from their mother, or, in this case, from some other source. The SnuggleKittie came with heat "pods" that last about 20 hours, so we were using them, and it also comes with a pouch for holding raw rice that is heated up in the microwave. Raw rice retains heat quite well - I used something similar to apply heat to my jaws when I had severe TMJ problems.

Callie the calico is opening his/her eyes! Maggie the magpie-colored cat is a little slower in the eye department, and s/he may simply be "behind" in every aspect of growing as s/he was never fed mother's milk (except for the first two or three days of his/her life). We've learned that they are really too young to sex accurately at this time, so we will wait a bit longer before we give them permanent names. They are getting a bit more coordinated and moving quite a bit more, and Callie can almost climb out of the box! We'll have to get a bigger box.

The SnuggleKittie is still a hit and the kittens sleep on it, under it, or burrow into it. They also defecate on it -- Snuggle Kittie folks, your next invention needs to be a SnuggleKittie that will clean itself! It would be even better if it would clean the babies, as well...

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Surrogate Mom

The kittens LOVE The Surrogate Mom! Especially when she's got a heat pod in her pocket! Yes, it's the CuddleKittie. Here is a fuzzy photo of the fuzzy babies and fuzzy mom (it's feeding time, and they know by now that their food comes from somewhere other than this surrogate). We'll try to get a better picture soon.

Little black and white, whom we call "Maggie" (short for "Magpie" because of his/her fur color), was shivering quite a bit tonight, but we finally figured out it was not a neurological problem - s/he was COLD! We turned up the heating pad and slipped an extra heat "pod" into Surrogate Mom, and Maggie settled down nicely with Callie the Calico.

You can just notice the difference in size of the two kittens in the blurry photograph above. Callie's head is closer to the camera, yes, but by less than an inch, which does not account for the difference in head sizes. Amazing what mother's milk will do.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Reunion Failure

We lost a kitten.

Mom was nursing all of them and everything seemed fine. We checked them frequently. But on checking Saturday morning, one of the black and white kittens was dead, and Mom had left with one of the calicos (NOT the calico she'd had for the past week!). So we were left with one black and white kitten and one fat calico.

We are guessing that Mom just wasn't making enough milk for all four after a week of milk for just one. We should have known this, perhaps, but everyone we asked said it was best to try to reunite the kittens with Mom and their one sibling. Anyhow, when one of her kittens died she decided to high tail it with the original one she'd been feeding (not realizing she mistakenly grabbed the wrong one -- hey, it LOOKED like the original one!), thinking she might be able to save one from whatever had started killing the other three.

Lesson learned.

The remaining black and white one seems well enough. We are trying to strengthen him and get him up to speed with his fatter, fitter littermate. We are armed with lots of KMR, as well as a product we spotted in PetSmart - a SnuggleKittie. We had been discussing how the kittens seemed to be looking for Mom in between feedings last week, and we mused how nice it would be to have something they could snuggle up with and feel comforted by, some kind of surrogate mom. And then we found that someone else had already had the idea and developed and marketed it!

It looks promising. It is a largish plush cat. It has a "heart" that "beats" (run by batteries that are included), and two heat packs that are supposed to last 20 hours each, plus a terry pouch that will hold uncooked rice for heating in the microwave after the heat packs, which are activated by air exposure, run out of heat. (Of course, we are already using a heating pad.) It also has a spot where a nursing bottle can be placed so that the nipple protrudes from the cat's belly! It's all quite ingenious. The price at PetSmart is $29.99, a bit steep, but until competition arrives from other companies, they can get away with that price. Well, they can get away with it if the product works as advertised.

So far the product is doing what its packaging promised. The two remaining kittens have taken to the SnuggleKittie and are cuddled up, sleeping with it! We'll have photographs soon. Meantime, note that the company that makes the SnuggleKittie does donate their product to animal shelters and rescue groups, so check out how to help them out.

Also, since this blog is supposed to be about Ivan and Boo, rest assured that they are both just fine and as crazy and hilarious as ever. In fact, they seemed quite interested in the SnuggleKittie themselves!

Friday, May 9, 2008


We were able to reunite the abandoned kittens with their mother!

Last weekend she took one of four kittens but did not come back for the other three. It is possible that she was feeding the three in one spot and the fourth elsewhere, but we could not be sure, so we took the trio in. However, yesterday, we found where she was keeping the fourth, so after some quick consideration, we decided to replace the trio in the "nest" mom had made for the fourth (the nest was in our garden in a shallow hole filled with straw and covered with a wooden box. The garden is fenced, making it difficult for predators to enter).

At first it was not obvious that she had accepted the trio, because she flees when we come near, being a feral cat, so we could not see her actually nursing, or even interacting with them. However, after leaving the trio with the fourth littermate for at least five hours, we checked on them and it was very obvious that mom had been cleaning the trio (humans are not as good at cleaning kitten poop out of kitten fur as mother cats are), and they seemed healthy, hydrated, and had good color. We left them in the nest overnight, and this morning they, again, seemed in fine shape. We will continue to check on them to make sure.

Interestingly, the kitten who stayed with mom is noticeably bigger and fatter than the other three. Hopefully they will catch up with him, now that they're back with mom. Obviously mother's milk is a million times better than kitten formula.

Before we found mom's nest, we had gone to PetSmart to stock up on KMR and found a product that would be purr-fect for comforting orphaned kittens. We'll review that in the next blog entry.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What to do with orphaned newborn kittens!

One of our farm cats had kittens last week but was spooked away from them. We believe she took one with her, but she never came back for the remaining three. After multiple attempts to reunite mother and kittens, we had to take the kittens in.

Talk about a crash course in kitten care! A neighbor is a retired veterinary technician, so she came over with an eye dropper to show us the basics of infant kitten feeding, burping, cleaning and elimination. It was Sunday and the only place in town that sells kitten formula was not open, so we had to make due with evaporated milk and sugar. Monday morning we found the savior of orphaned kittens everywhere: KMR.

KMR is "kitten milk replacement" made by Pet Ag and sold at pet stores and feed stores, even in the feed store of our tiny town, population around 900. KMR is a wondrous thing. The kittens took to it immediately. Kitten bottles are also available! Isn't the 21st century amazing? We buy the liquid form of KMR, as it is not easy to prepare formula from a powder with three mewing kittens demanding food. They suck the stuff down. We are very lucky that this is available. However, from what we read in our crash course on nursing kittens, there is still no guarantee they will survive. We estimate they were about three days old when mom abandoned them. We, and they, are lucky if mom fed them for three full days, for we read that a minimum of 72 hours worth of mother's milk is necessary to establish good immunity in kittens.

The kittens must be fed about every two hours. Then the must be burped by rubbing their tummies. Then their little rectums must be stimulated with a cotton ball or q-tip to promote elimination. They apparently cannot quite eliminate without this stimulation for the first week or two. Their mother usually licks them to stimulate defecation. Then they must be cleaned up and put back into their "nest", a box with a warm blanket or towel inside, and the box rests on top of a heating pad. The heating pad should be at a low setting, and it should only warm half the box so that the kittens can move off it if they get too hot. We did not feel much warmth with the heating pad on low, so we set it to medium. The kittens slept a lot more once the heating pad was in place.

That is the cycle for the first few weeks of life. We cross our fingers that nothing goes wrong, or that they do not catch anything, as just about anything they could catch would be life-threatening at this stage.

Here's a photograph that shows the kittens inside their box and gives a better sense of their size. Mr. Aelurophile takes the kittens to his office every day so that he can feed them every two hours, and this photo was taken there.