If you’re looking to start your week off with some light and happy reading, this isn’t it.
If you’ve got the Monday blues, skip this one.
You’ve been warned.
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There might have been some goings-on around here last week that I didn’t exactly write about. (No, I’m not pregnant. No, we’re not separating or divorcing. No, Fred didn’t lose his job.)
Mister Boogers, you’ll recall, died on a Tuesday.
(I feel very Forrest Gump right now. “You died on a Saturday morning. And I had you placed here under our tree.”)
(No, this is not about another one of our cats dying.)
On Friday, the shelter manager sent out an email asking if anyone wanted to take four 4 day old kittens. I exclaimed “Oh! Baby kittens! This is EXACTLY what I need to take my mind off missing Mister Boogers!” I had a brief discussion with Fred, who shrugged (as he usually does in the face of my desire to bring more cats into the house) and said that if I wanted it was okay with him. I sent an email to the shelter manager offering to take them.
I didn’t hear back from her that day, so I figured she’d found someone else to take them. When I got back from cleaning at the pet store on the morning of the 4th of July, I had an email from her accepting my offer. I called and made arrangements to get them right then, and headed out.
The kittens, it turned out, came from an animal control facility in Tennessee. Where they are not, shall we shall, fans of cats. The mother to these kittens gave birth to them, and was euthanized before the kittens could have any time with her at all, not one minute.
The mother was euthanized because she had an upper respiratory infection. Before they could put the kittens down as well, the woman who works there had snatched them up and brought them home. By the time I got them, two of them – the smaller two – weren’t doing so well. The two larger ones seemed to be okay, though. I knew there was a good chance that one or both of the smaller two wouldn’t make it. I was going to do everything in my power to make sure that didn’t happen, but when it comes to tiny baby kittens who weren’t allowed to have that vital time with their mother, it’s kind of a crap shoot.
I got home and got the babies set up in a large carrier lined with a towel and baby blankets over a heating pad. After a little time passed, Fred suggested that we feed them. We did, and while the two smaller ones weren’t interested in eating, they did eat some, and the two larger ones ate pretty well.
I began feeding every three hours. As Saturday bled into Sunday, the two smaller ones seemed to be struggling at feeding time. Once they refused to even suck on the bottle, we began using (needleless) syringes to put formula into their mouths one drop at a time. They seemed… not flourishing by any means, but okay. We were getting some food into them, they were peeing okay, they’d occasionally wake up from their dozing in a pile to do a lap around the carrier.
I didn’t want to name them until I knew they’d survive, knew them apart, and knew what sex they were (they all looked like boys to me, but at that age it’s hard to tell), but we started calling the larger two “The Porkies”, the larger of the two smaller ones “Marty” (he had what looked like it was going to be a bulgy sort of eye, thus his expected resemblance to Marty Feldman), and “The runt.”
By Monday, Marty and the runt were being fed exclusively by syringe. The Porkies were starting to fight the bottle. And all of them were starting to sound congested. Fred took on the runt as his special project – it was a challenge to him to force the little guy to survive. I’d bend down to check on them, and the runt would have crawled off the heating pad, so I’d put him back on it. A while later, he’d have crawled off. Monday night, Fred took a long time feeding the runt and when we went to bed, he was feeling pretty hopeful that the runt would make it.
All four of them, Sunday or Monday (I don’t remember which). The Porkies are on the right; the runt’s in the back, Marty’s in the front on the left.
When I got up at 3:30 Tuesday morning, the runt was dead.
I had been expecting it, and I got teary-eyed, but wrapped him in a paper towel and set him aside to be buried later. Fred was disappointed when he came downstairs a while later, but all we could do was concentrate on the three remaining kittens.
At this point – or perhaps shortly after – all three were being fed via syringe. The problem with feeding via syringe (and with bottle feeding, for that matter), is that you can put the formula in their mouths, but some amount of it will dribble out one side or the other, and end up matted in their fur. So you can feed them a certain amount of food, but you really don’t know how much is actually going into them.
As Tuesday went on, Marty started to fade. He seemed to rally that evening at feeding time, but mid-morning on Wednesday, I did a periodic check (which I did approximately every five minutes) and found him dead. Again, I’d been sort of expecting it. At a certain point when you’re syringe feeding, you can put as much formula in their mouths as you want, but if they won’t swallow, you can’t force them to do so.
I stepped up the feeding on the two remaining kittens, the Porkies – who were not nearly so round and porky as they had been when I first got them. They were raspy and lethargic, and I was spending half an hour feeding each of them, not to mention giving them antibiotics to help them fight the infection (and who knew how much of that they were actually swallowing?).
In the shower one day, I was thinking about the larger of the two Porkies, the one who seemed to have a bit of sass to him. He reminded me of a hamster, and I came up with the name Hamilton for him. Then I decided he needed more of a name, so decided his name would be Hamilton J. Porks III. And because you can’t just name ONE kitten, I named the other Jefferson Porks, Jr.
(It made me laugh, and I was so sleep deprived and worried that anything that made me laugh was a good thing. The names stuck.)
Hamilton in the front, Jefferson in the back.
Thursday came, and Hamilton and Jefferson got weaker. They were eating less, they were eliminating less. Jefferson, in particular, was urinating very little, and it worried me. Fred called and asked if I’d thought about tube feeding.
I’d heard of tube feeding, but really – just the name is daunting, isn’t it? You have to thread a tube down the kitten’s throat into their stomach and push formula through a syringe and down the tube. It sounds like something I would inevitably mess up.
Fred directed me to a video of tube feeding. We discussed it. We decided against it.
The kittens grew weaker.
Fred arrived home from work, having stopped on the way home at a local area vet to pick up the supplies to tube feed. I was incredibly relieved. We got the formula warmed. He showed me how to pull the formula up through the tube into the feeding syringe. I got Jefferson, handed him over to Fred, and two minutes later we had a kitten with a full stomach.
Feeding the tube down a kitten’s throat into his stomach is almost distressingly easy. You lubricate the end of the tube with formula, put the tube in the kitten’s mouth, and begin pushing it toward the back of his throat. He responds by swallowing. You slowly feed the tube to the premeasured mark (please, for the love of god, if you’re going to tube feed a kitten, talk to a veterinary assistant, don’t go by what I’m saying) and very slowly push the plunger of the syringe until all the formula is in the kitten. Slowly pull the tube out, stimulate the kitten to pee/ poop, and off they go to sleep with full bellies and empty bladders.
If I had had any idea at all how simple the process was, we would have been tube feeding from the beginning. It very likely wouldn’t have made a difference (with no mother’s colostrum to start them off right, they had a huge strike against them to start out with), but I’d be feeling better right now, knowing that we’d at least tried.
Thursday evening, after two tube feedings, Jefferson (who’d been more lethargic than Hamilton) seemed to rally. He was perkier, he seemed to respond more when I touched him, if his eyes had been all the way open, he would have been bright-eyed. We went to bed feeling better about both of the kittens’ chances.
Friday morning, Jefferson still wouldn’t pee very much, no matter how much I tried, just one or two drops. Fred suggested that perhaps he’d been dehydrated, and his body was holding on to every bit of fluid it could. I fed him mid-morning, and he just seemed to be getting weaker.
Hamilton, on the other hand, was a fighter. He didn’t want me to make him pee and poop. He didn’t like having the tube down his throat. He didn’t like that I restrained his paws so I could put the tube down his throat. He didn’t HATE having a full belly, but he peered at me like a little old man (his eyes just starting to open) and I could tell that when he grew up BOY was I going to be in TROUBLE.
About an hour after his mid-morning feeding, Jefferson cried the saddest meow from the carrier. I went and picked him up, and he sat in my hand and cried some more. I sat at my desk, Jefferson laying on a baby blanket, and stroked him. He gagged, and then started throwing up. By the time he was done, he’d thrown up a large amount of yellow bile.
I cleaned him up and sat on the floor by the carrier and held him. I tried petting him, but every time I did, he’d cry. He just sat there, his breathing becoming shallower and shallower. He started shaking, and I talked to him, and then his breaths became further and further apart.
And then he died.
I lost it for a little while, because I had so hoped that he was going to pull through. I just knew that I was going to end up with two fat, sassy, sweet little kittens and that when the time came, after we’d been through so much with them, that there was no way on earth we’d adopt them out to someone else, that they were going to be ours and when they were 15 years old and still holy terrors, I could tell the story of how tiny and sick they were and how they’d fought so hard to live. That we’d had them every day of their lives except for the first five.
I think Fred believed that, too.
So Hamilton became an only child. He fought harder and harder at each feeding. His breathing sounded worse and worse, but since I could make sure he got his antibiotic in the feeding tube when I fed him, I was certain that he’d fight off the infection. I read somewhere that the biggest reason kittens with Upper Respiratory Infections die is because they can’t smell the food you’re trying to feed them, and thus won’t eat. We knew he was getting food directly into his stomach, and so we thought maybe between the strength from the food he was getting, and the antibiotic (and the hours of holding he was getting every day), he’d make it.
Fred and I worried that Hamilton would grow up weird, having not had siblings to keep him in his place. I suggested that maybe when he got a little older, I’d ask the shelter manager to keep an eye out for another kitten (or a few of them) around his age, and they could grow up together.
Hamilton went from 5 1/4 ounces to just under 6, and then yesterday morning he weighed in at over 6 ounces. Since the charts I’d seen said that the average 2 week-old kitten weighs around 7 ounces, I felt good that he was on track. Both his eyes were mostly open (showing up those pretty blue eyes all kittens start out with), and whenever I reached in to pick him up out of the carrier, he arched his back against my hand. When I put him on the kitchen counter after his mid-morning feeding, he crawled around a little, peering at everything. His breathing was raspy, but sounded better to both of us.
When he was in his carrier doing laps on the rare occasion I wasn’t holding him, I’d turn to say something to Fred, and in the carrier I’d see Hamilton’s ears wiggle. I referred to myself as “Mommy” when I talked to Hamilton.
I was a little concerned that he wasn’t peeing much, but he WAS peeing some. He also didn’t fight his noontime feeding much, but I theorized to Fred that maybe he was beginning to understand that having the tube down his throat meant he was about to have a full belly.
We are such optimists.
I went to a gathering for a few hours yesterday afternoon – a gathering of shelter volunteers, actually. And it was the best kind of gathering, because you knew everyone present was a cat lover, and we talked about our cats a LOT, we talked about past and present fosters and shelter residents. I told everyone who’d listen my tales of woe, that we’d lost three of the four, but that Hamilton was a fighter and I was hoping.
I lied and said I was “cautiously optimistic.” To be correct, I was WILDLY optimistic. I couldn’t wait to get home and hold Hamilton.
When I did, his breathing sounded worse to me. He didn’t pee at all when I fed him. An hour later, he vomited up a puddle of formula. He laid in my hand and gasped for air.
There was nothing I could do to help him. I could only hope to comfort him. I stroked his back and ears. I talked to him. I brought him into the living room to watch TV with us. He slept for a while, then he’d wake up and arch his back and cry, and flail around. I kept him warm and talked to him, petted him.
At 8:30, he died in my hand.
So, to summarize: I dealt with the heartbreak of the unexpected death of the most personable cat we’ve ever had, by getting super attached to beautiful litter of tiny kittens who probably had no chance from the outset, and got my heart broken again.
I treated heartbreak with heartbreak. It didn’t work so well.
I stupidly got super attached to that little guy and I really expected wholeheartedly that he was going to make it; I think I didn’t realize how completely I expected him to make it until he didn’t. I know we did all we could and I know I’m going to see that in time (I really do kind of see it now), but my heart still hurts.
I’ll be back tomorrow.