The story-line below was copied from an album description I have on Facebook, where I documented the progress of the kittens over time.
On September 24, 2016 our neighbor knocked on our door about 10:00 PM very worried because she found a batch of kittens under her deck. She did not want them there (she has a big dog and she had not seen the mother) so Don got out of bed, dismantled some slats on her deck, and got the kittens. We estimated their age at around two weeks. Local rescue group Hospice Hearts provided us with a can of KMR and we started bottle feeding them.
We soon discovered that their mother was a neighborhood feral cat we had been feeding for about a year and we did not know she had kittens. Don had named her Ninja and she came around a lot to our house because she loved our dog, Sasha, and Sasha loved her.
About a week later Don was able to (gently) catch Ninja and we took her to our veterinarian right away. She tested negative for FeLV/FIV and we treated her for fleas.
The kittens had a wellness check on the Monday following the weekend we brought them in…..all checked OK and were also treated for fleas.
We were able to reunite Ninja with her kittens a week later and she was still wanting to nurse them and mother them. Everyone is doing fine.
As of October 20. 2016 – everyone is healthy and thriving and the kittens have had their first shots already. They will be six weeks old this coming Saturday.
We will get Ninja spayed as soon as she weans her babies. Everyone is safe, warm, vetted, indoor, and happy.
We named the kittens Sam, Dean, and Flower.
As of January 9, 2017 – Mama Ninja, Sam, Dean, and Flower are fully vetted. Sam and Dean have been neutered. Ninja and Flower have been spayed. All have been wormed and treated for fleas. All have been tested for FeLV/FIV (all negative). All have received their vaccinations. The kittens are weaned and eating regular food.
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR CARING FOR VERY YOUNG KITTENS:
Nursing kittens need to be kept warm and dry. They can’t really maintain their own body temperature very well, and especially if you are hand-rearing them without their mother. We’ve successfully done this twice, the first time some years ago with three kittens found within a day of their birth (someone had thrown them in a trash can), and this time. We hand-nursed them exclusively the first week we had Sam, Dean, and Flower. We were extremely lucky that their mother was reunited with them a week later, and was still producing milk. At that point we just supplemented her nursing 2-3 times a day, as she was very fragile herself.
Make them a nice nesting box, with soft, warm bedding and keep it in a quiet part of your home, free of drafts and excessive noise.
If you are hand-raising without benefit of a nursing queen present, it’s important to get them on a feeding schedule. You will find a lot of “advice” on the Internet about this, some of it is very good and straight-forward, some of it is way too technical and precise, ticking off the minutes and measuring precisely how much formula to give. Our veterinarian advised us to make the KMR according to the instructions on the can and to nurse them until they didn’t want anymore, for each feeding. If we had a hard time getting them to latch onto the nipples for the tiny kitten bottles, we used tiny syringes. We used KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer) as their formula. KMR will be available for purchase at pet supply stores and many box stores, and through online retailers. If you need to nurse immediately and cannot obtain KMR right away, please check this link for a TEMPORARY EMERGENCY FORMULA: Orphaned Kitten Emergency Milk Replacer Recipe
Tiny kittens will need to be nursed about every 3-4 hours. As they grow and thrive, time between feedings can be lengthened. We nursed ours every 3-4 hours for about the first month. Then every 4-6 hours for about a month. Then about every 6-8 hours for the next month. We started introducing them to food between 2 and 3 months. We put dry kitten food out for them in a bowl and they would watch their mother eat that, and would try it. We gave them “mush” on a saucer (wet kitten food mixed with KMR) every day. In the beginning this can be pretty messy (but cute) business, so do help them stay clean.
Prior to and after each bottle feeding you will need to gently massage and stimulate the anus and genital area with a clean cotton ball, kleenex, paper towel or soft cloth moistened with warm water. This will cause the kitten to urinate and have a bowel movement and it is very important that you continue to do this for the kitten until it is definitely using the litter box on its own. They may skip a day or two with bowel movements, that’s normal. Stimulating to eliminate is a must! They cannot “go” on their own for quite a while. Once they start using a litter box, stimulation no longer needs to be done, but helping them stay clean is still very important.
Weigh your kittens daily. This is one of the best ways to monitor their progress. We used a digital kitchen scale for this, and kept a daily weight journal. We recorded their weights in ounces. You want to see daily increase in weight, at least .25 to .50 or more ounces daily. If your kitten is not gaining weight, please consult your veterinarian quickly.
It is common for feral kittens to be covered in fleas at just a few days old. If your kittens are flea infested this needs to be taken care of immediately as they can become seriously anemic and ill. Follow your veterinarian’s guidance on this. They can be bathed (do NOT use commercial flea products) using Dawn dish soap and warm water, and need to be quickly (and completely) dried and put back into a warm bed. Your veterinarian can also treat them with Advantage for kittens (which is what we did, when bathing failed to remove a severe infestation). Feral kittens will need to be wormed (this is done twice over the course of a few weeks, sometimes a third time). They will also need to get vaccinated, and shots are also a process for them, not a one time deal. Testing for infectious diseases (FeLV/FIV) should be done as well, when they are old enough and big enough to get this done. Your veterinarian can give you guidelines.
Our kittens essentially lived in their nest box (a purple tote box with warm, soft bedding) for about a month. We would take them out to nurse, help them eliminate, and hold them….then put them back. We moved them to a huge dog crate after about a month, with a cat bed, a litter box, a bowl of water, and a bowl of dry kitten food. Their mother could come and go, and she was also eating kitten food as she was nursing. The extra nourishment was good for her. The litter box was a tray about the size of a standard cake pan, mama could use it, and if the kittens were curious they could step into it a lot easier. DO NOT USE SCOOPABLE LITTER FOR THE KITTENS! Please use regular clay litter for them. Kittens, like babies, lick and eat things they shouldn’t, and you do not want them ingesting clumping litter. You can switch them to scoopable litter when they are bigger, and become savvy cat-box users.
At about 5-6 weeks old the kittens began to play a lot and we took them out of their crate for this. We had a portable play pen for them for a while to help contain them and keep them safe, but give them room to play. Exercise is good for them. We would also bring them out into the kitchen and sit on the floor with them, to let them run and play. At this age don’t let them run around unsupervised. They are so small and so curious, and can get themselves stuck behind appliances, and under furniture.
Our kittens are almost five months old now. Full weaned. Eating dry and wet cat food. Litter box trained. They have the run of the house. They still like to sleep together in their crate at night.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are hand-raising very small kittens, we hope this information helps you. Seek out the trusted advice of your veterinarian. We have a very close relationship with our veterinarians, and benefit greatly from their guidance, care and supervision. Seek the advice of an experienced rescuer. It is not a great idea to seek general advice on social media, as you will receive multiple answers from multiple sources, some good and some bad, and it can get confusing. “Rescue” on social media can also get highly contentious and undeservedly critical. So stick with your veterinarian, or a trusted rescuer. A trusted rescuer on social media is good too, I’m not saying social media cannot be helpful. In my case I had a very trusted and experienced rescuer I could communicate with privately, any time I needed to, and her help was tremendously beneficial. But I discovered if I shared publicly, I would get so much conflicting advice, it became confusing. So, having rambled on about this, my advice is use your veterinarian as your main guidance, and limit your queries to trusted sources. I’ve listed a few good links below that offer good direction as well.