Confession: for the past three weeks, I’ve been living my life in 2-hour increments. Meet the Nestlings.
Left to right: Starling, Plover, Wren and Rufous.
I haven’t had the emotional bandwidth (or honestly, the TIME) to write about this until now, so this post is going to cover the last three weeks.
It’s a long story and there are some sad parts, so if you’d rather skip past that to just meeting each of these bottle babies, click here.
On April 13th, I was asked if I could take two day-old bottle babies for a while. They could eventually join a litter with another foster, but they needed some close attention for their first week or so. I said I’d take them, and headed out to pick them up.
(No, they would not be joining Daisy and her kittens. When there’s such a large age disparity, mothers generally refuse to take the smaller kittens, and Daisy’s kittens are so incredibly healthy that I didn’t want to expose them to any potential parasites or illnesses.)
The kittens were premature and were born to a mother who was in terrible shape and wouldn’t/couldn’t take care of them. By the time I got to Michelle’s to pick them up, one of them had passed away, leaving a single tiny buff tabby. He weighed just 75 grams (2.64 oz).
Michelle knew of someone who does a lot of TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) and lives in my general area, who had two 2 day old kittens who were born unexpectedly (prematurely) to a mother whose milk didn’t come in. Since I didn’t want a single bottle baby (kittens need other kittens to teach them to properly cat; single bottle babies tend to grow to be – and I say this with love – complete monsters), I told her I’d take the other two kittens, a gray tabby and a torbie. I got them a few hours later, and they were even smaller than the buff tabby – the torbie was 62 g/2.19 oz and the gray tabby was 65 g/2.29 oz.
Gray tabby, left. Torbie, right. And the buff tabby at the bottom of the picture.
Fortunately I had all the supplies on hand that I needed to bottle feed these three, but it was obvious pretty quickly that none of them were fans of the bottle or the syringe or the Miracle Nipple or any of the other 7,000 kinds of nipples I had on hand. The kittens were all so tiny and so resistant to being fed in any way, shape or form that I told Fred that if I had the supplies to tube feed them, I’d do so.
THEN I found in my box of supplies that I DID have what I needed to tube feed (god bless 2017 Robyn, who apparently decided that tube feeding supplies were a good thing to keep on hand), and so I began tube feeding the kittens. Kittens are never big fans of having tubes threaded down their throats to their stomachs, and Robyn is not a big fan of having to tube feed. I learned how a long time ago and it’s a valuable skill, but every time I do it, my heart is in my throat. It went fine, though – the kittens didn’t fight too hard, I got them fed, and they gained a little weight. I’d underfeed them slightly following the stomach capacity chart here, and then offer them the bottle.
By mid-morning of the next day, all three kittens were taking the bottle exclusively.
The kittens continued to do well – they were vigorous, eating, and gaining weight. At a mid-day feeding the little gray tabby seemed a bit quiet (I prefer my bottle babies loud and screamy and asking for my manager when I wake them up for their feeding), but she ate well.
Unfortunately, just two hours later when I went to feed the kittens again, she was struggling. I began Fading Kitten Protocol, but wasn’t able to save her.
I named her Felicity, and we buried her in a sunny spot in the back yard.
For the next few days, the buff and torbie did well. They gained weight steadily, both of them nearly doubling their weight in about 4 days.
On April 18th, Michelle said that she had a 3 day old kitten who wouldn’t take a bottle or syringe, and asked if I’d be willing to take him and tube feed him. I was willing, so went and picked him up and brought him home. He was a tiny brown tabby who weighed 98 g/3.45 oz.
He was absolutely the sweetest guy. I only had to tube feed him twice, and then he took to the bottle. At one feeding, he ate well and then fell asleep in my hand, purring.
He did great at the next few feedings, but when I went to feed them the morning of the 19th, there was a small puddle of vomit next to him, and he was open-mouth breathing; I’m pretty sure he vomited and aspirated). I left immediately for the vet. At the vet, they worked us in pretty quickly, took an x-ray and examined him. He did have fluid in his lungs, but they said he was stable, so prescribed an antibiotic and we left. (Side note: they needed a name for him at the vet, and I’m not great under pressure, so I named him Dave because that’s the first name that popped into my head.)
(This happened to be the day Daisy went for her spay, so I left the vet, dropped Daisy off at Michelle’s, and came home to feed the kittens until Daisy was ready.)
Dave was hanging in there – I didn’t love the open-mouth breathing, but he was bright eyed and actually did eat some, so I had hope for him. I picked Daisy up a few hours later, and at the same time picked up a tiny 2 (?) day old orange tabby who’d been dropped off at Michelle’s (she’d asked me earlier if I could take him.) He was very cold and wet, so I dried him off, put him on a heating pad, and waited for him to warm up.
(A chilled kitten can’t digest food; in fact, feeding them can kill them, so they need to be slowly warmed up first.)
A couple of hours later he was warm, and I fed him when I fed the other kittens.
Size comparison – the new orange tabby on the left at 78 g/2.75 oz, the buff tabby on the right at 154 g/5.43 oz.
Dave got his second dose of antibiotics. He was still open-mouth breathing, but was vigorous and ate a little at each feeding. I was hopeful.
I shouldn’t have been.
At their 8:30 am feeding, he was limp and gasping for air. I was reaching for the phone to tell Michelle I was going to take him to the vet, but he died before I could even call her.
We buried him in the back yard next to Felicity.
This brought us to three kittens – the little brown tabby girl, the buff tabby boy, and the orange tabby boy.
I decided it was time to get these kittens named. When I got the initial three premature kittens, they reminded me a lot of just-hatched chickens with their bare skin and their flailing around. I didn’t see a lot of chicken breed names that I liked, so I suggested birds to Michelle, and she approved the idea. The orange tabby became Rufous (it’s a type of hummingbird), the buff tabby became Finch, and the torbie became Wren.
Shout out to Wren, who has the strongest will to live of any kitten I’ve ever seen. That girl will SCREAM for her bottle and if I don’t move fast enough to suit her, she’s on the phone to the local police station reporting me for starving wee baby kittens.
The kittens were doing great. I did have to tube feed Rufous for a bit, but then he took to the bottle. At the 5:30 feeding on April 23rd, everyone was doing well – vigorous, moving around, purring and pottying well. A few minutes before the next feeding, I heard a cry come from the crate. I looked in and saw Finch on his back, waving his paws. I assumed he was trying to turn over, so I turned him onto his belly, and he moved a bit and snuggled up to the stuffed kitty.
Not 10 minutes later I reached in to pick him up to feed him, and he was completely limp. I was in complete and utter shock (I still am.) He took one last gasping breath, and he died.
That is the one that broke my heart.
I’d spent 10 days feeding him, pottying him, and cuddling him every 2 hours, and I had obviously gotten very attached. To have him fine one moment and then gone just minutes later is something I’m still struggling with.
We buried him in the back yard next to Felicity and Dave.
Obviously the next step was to immediately take two more kittens who were just hours old.
If you follow Forgotten Felines of Huntsville on Facebook, you probably saw that they’ve been hard at work trapping cats at a local farm. While trapping, they discovered these two hours-old kittens alongside a third kitten who had died. I took them, but told Michelle they’d have to be the last for now.
Size comparison: the new little brown tabby, at 79 g/2.78 oz next to Wren at 184 g/6.49 oz.
New little brown tabby girl is now Starling.
New little gray tabby girl is now Plover.
A shot of Rufous, just because.
Wren and Rufous pie! (My favorite)
Starling has a post-bottle nap.
So I had Wren and Rufous in one crate, and Starling and Plover in another crate, but then a problem arose. Sometimes bottle babies will suck on each other because the urge to nurse is just so strong. Wren started sucking on Rufous’s private parts, and that’s not something that can be allowed to go on because it can cause serious permanent damage. After some deliberation, I moved Rufous in with Starling and Plover, and left Wren in a crate by herself.
The crates in the corner of my kitchen.
Wren was okay with being alone.
And Plover and Starling seemed to appreciate having Rufous around.
The smallest and the largest – Plover at 131 g/4.62 oz, and Wren at 309 g/10.89 oz.
I kept Wren in her own separate crate for about a week. She’s been fine, but increasingly vocal. I think she’s gotten a bit lonely, so last night I decided to put her in with Rufous, Starling and Plover and keep an eye on them. Turns out, they all took to each other just fine. I’ve been keeping a close eye on them, and everyone appears to be behaving themselves (I’ll separate any offenders if need be.) Wren is a LOT calmer, so obviously this is what she needed.
Wren and Plover, with Starling coming up from the side.
So, that’s where we are now. All the bottle babies are doing well, though Rufous has gotten a bit congested. He’s on antibiotics but is actively fighting the bottle, so I have been exclusively tube feeding him for the last two days. He’s still bright-eyed and active (and purring!) and gaining weight well, so I am not too concerned. I have stretched their feeding out to every 2 1/2 hours (yes, around the clock) – Wren and Rufous don’t necessarily need to eat that often, but Plover and Starling are not yet two weeks old, so I’m sticking with that timeline for now.
Every feeding takes half an hour. I’m feeding 9 times a day (if I start feeding at 9:00 and end at 9:30, the next feeding starts at 11:30, is how that math works out) which means I’m spending 4 1/2 hours a day preparing bottles and then feeding, pottying, and snuggling the bottle babies. So if I seem a little scattered and a lot sleep-deprived, well, there ya go.
When I started this whole side journey, I decided that I wouldn’t write about the bottle babies until I thought we were out of the woods, that everyone would be okay. I forgot that, honestly, with kittens these small, you can never stop waiting for the other shoe to drop – you just have to go with the flow and hope that everyone hangs in there. Fingers and toes and tails crossed!
Having Daisy and her kittens being SO INCREDIBLY healthy and easy and amazing has been a great help to me these past three weeks. Being able to know that I can go in and watch those little goobers race around, know that they’re eating on their own (and if they weren’t, their mama would take care of matters) has been my happy place when things got rough with the bottle babies.
Wren. Torbie, girl. DOB: April 11, 2023. (Just over 3 weeks old.)
Rufous. Orange tabby, boy. DOB: April 16, 2023. (2 1/2 weeks old.)
Plover. Gray tabby, girl. DOB: April 23, 2023. (11 days old) (Sister to Starling)
Starling. Brown tabby, girl. DOB: April 23, 2023. (11 days old) (Sister to Plover)
Jay is just SO full of himself.
Zelda and Myrtle have a sleepy snuggle.
Myrtle in the Fruitasan, lookin’ comfy.
Nick in the sun, lookin’ adorable.
Dewey atop the cabinets, in 2017 (just so y’all don’t forget what a pretty boy he is!)
Posted on social media (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr) yesterday.
Oh dear lord, Nick is THE CUTEST. Look at that little poser. Don’t you wanna squoosh him?
Myrtle chooses her next toy, while Nick keeps his elbows clean.
A little bit of Jay – first he tries to sneak up on me, then he skitters at Nick. That boy is craaazy.
Daisy dreams of the days when she can have a quiet sniff of her silvervine stick without Jay constantly harassing her.
3 minutes of kittens playing: Jay and Zelda tussle, and then Myrtle puts on her floof suit and skitters a bit at Nick. Nick finds a toy to play with and then another toy, then Zelda has to join in. Lots of hopping and skittering and floofing going on!
Zelda shows off that floof and those toeses.
Good night innernets. (Will I ever get tired of taking pictures of all four kittens stuffed in that cat tree cubby? Never never.)
2022: Can you believe these babies are NINE WEEKS OLD? Is true!
2021: Whist on the Fancy Sofa.
2020: Isabella went home Friday afternoon.
2019: No entry.
2018: Before Deanzilla and Katarina went home, the kittens needed some spiffing up.
2017: “I CHOMP YOUR TOES!”
2016: “::sigh:: I guess this is my life now,” said Art “Featherlips” Vandelay.
2015: Mama Monday.
2014: No entry.
2013: He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with, that one.
2012: I love how Newbery can barely stand the excitement and has to hug Darwin close while he keeps his eye on the feather teaser. And doesn’t she look pleased?
2011: “I was SLEEPIN’, lady. I had a hard night. Of sleepin’. Followed by a hard day. Of sleepin’. You gettin’ the theme here?”
2008: No entry.
2007: Do you see what I see?
2006: No entry.
2005: No entry.