Cat lovers are familiar with this perennial problem. They find abandoned kittens—on the roadside, in the rain, outside their offices—and they can’t help but bring them home. How can anyone resist their pitiful meows and their cries for milk?

This is pretty much what happened to me and my husband. One day, three kittens appeared on our balcony. We waited for their mother to come back, but she never did. We couldn’t leave them out in the rain, so we decided to take care of them. Never before had we taken care of kittens without the mother present, so this was new to us. Fortunately there were a lot of resources available online.

Food and Shelter

We estimated that the kittens were about three weeks old. The first thing we did was prepare the cage. We had an old unused wire cage, so we cleaned it up. Inside we put a dry towel and a small box where they could snuggle together. We bought feeding bottles and mixed lactose-free powdered milk with boiled water.

At first the kittens didn’t know what to do with the bottle. We put milk in our palms, but that didn’t work either. The only way we were able to feed them was by putting my little finger into a kitten’s mouth, with my husband dripping milk down my finger so the kitten could suck it. It worked, but my fingers hurt! Eventually it seemed like the kittens were full. The vet blogs said it’s better to underfeed rather than overfeed the kittens, so we put away the milk and put them back in the cage.

Soft Food

The next day, we tried something different: soft food with milk! We put a bit of soft cat food in my hand, and soaked it with milk. The kittens seemed to recognize the smell of the milk, and they craned their necks, frantically looking for the source. Eventually they found the food. After sticking their noses in it a few times, they learned to open their mouths and lick the food off my hand. We fed them one by one. Most of the time, they pushed the food around my palm before managing to get it in their mouths. We had to nudge the food closer to their mouths so they could eat. The kittens nibbled and licked my palm, which tickled. Their claws dug into my hand, which hurt, but at least they were eating!

Meet the Bottle

Our online resources said it would take a few tries before they learned to find the nipple and suck. We squeezed some milk out of the bottles and into their mouths. Finally, it worked! We prepared a little less than 30cc of milk for each kitten, but they didn’t finish it. We stopped because their stomachs seemed a little bloated. For a week, we fed them only 30cc. We fed them twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. During the day they slept. Eventually we brought them up for about 40cc a day. Whatever was left, we put in the fridge and heated up for the evening feeding. Soon their appetites increased, and I had to make milk twice a day.

What Goes in Has to Come Out

With the kittens feeding regularly, we had to teach them how to “let it out.” Normally they would learn this from their mommy cat, who would lick their butts and show them how it’s done. Cat blogs recommended gently rubbing damp tissue or a damp towel against the kittens’ butts, so they will learn to poop and pee. Otherwise, it will take them longer to learn on their own, and they might suffer from complications of diarrhea or constipation, depending on how much they’re being fed. We decided to give that a try.

With tissue and some warm water on hand, we took the kittens from the cage one by one, and wiped their anuses gently. We could see that they needed to pee and poop; the areas around their butts were a bit swollen. I think our timing was just right. After a few passes with the tissue, each kitten pooped a little, and peed a lot. Success! For the first few days, they defecated and urinated inconsistently. Their feces were mostly liquid. When we introduced them to solid food, their feces became more solid too.

Solid Food

Over the next few weeks, we noticed that the kittens kept chewing the nipples. It was so bad that soon, three of the nipples had holes and were unusable! We decided it was time to try solid food. We bought a sachet of soft kitten food, and they went crazy; they liked it so much that they would lick the dish clean. Now they are about two months old, and we’re weaning them off milk soon and feeding them more of the dry kitten food.

Resources

If you have your own kittens to foster, look online for blogs written by veterinarians and people who foster kittens. You can also check the Cat Care Philippines group on Facebook, which has resources that you can consult. Of course, don’t forget to bring your kittens to your friendly neighborhood animal clinic!

Did You Know?

Fostering is providing a temporary home and care for animals who will then be put up for adoption. In the March 2015 issue of Animal Scene, Patricia Vega wrote: “…animal-loving households can help free up rescue and shelter services by fostering cats and dogs until they are ready to move into a new home.” Since animal shelters are almost always overcrowded, fostering is a temporary solution and is “the step between rescue and adoption…Fostered [animals]…also receive basic manners and obedience training, which increases their chances of adoption.” And because shelters will often help out animal fosterers, fostering is a good option for “…some pet owners who have an abundance of love but not enough resources to care for a new animal full-time.”

This appeared in Animal Scene’s October 2015 issue.