Being a veterinarian can be very humbling, sometimes, because no matter how long a veterinarian practices, there is still the likelihood that each day, they may see something they have never seen before. Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital has been around for 25 years, and Dr. Bailey has been practicing even longer than that, and he observed, "In all my years of practice, I have never seen anything like this before!"
Dr. Brooks was presented with 5 kittens that were two days old, born to a feral mother that had been trapped. The foster owner had not been able to access the kittens well, because the mother cat would not let her near them, and she did not want to disturb the litter because all the kittens seemed to be nursing well and appeared active and content. That morning, the mother cat had moved away from the kittens and it became apparent that something was wrong. One of the kittens was nursing on the mother cat, but the other 5 kittens were together in a pile across the cage, struggling and crying. When she reached into the cage to pick up one of the kittens to check on it, she realized that it somehow seemed to be stuck to the other 5 kittens!
Desperately, the foster owner called veterinary hospital after veterinary hospital, looking for help. Time after time, she was told that there was nothing the hospital could offer, or that they didn't work with neonatal kittens. Finally, when she called Exclusively Cats, we told her to rush the kittens in. When she arrived, Dr. Brooks discovered that the kittens were entangled in their umbilical cords. Often, young cats do not know enough to separate kittens from the placenta effectively, and this can cause complications. Sometimes, kittens may end up missing tails or legs because the mother cat is unaware of what she is doing, and in this case, because she only separated a couple of kittens, the rest became ensnared as they moved around. At first, they were happily nursing, but as time went on, they became even more tangled and eventually, the mother cat abandoned them across the cage, because she couldn't figure out what to do.
Immediately, all of our technicians started dropping what they were doing to come to the aid of the kittens. Some held small feet and tails out of the way of Dr. Brooks' work, while she attempted to disentangle them, others weighed, cleaned, fed and warmed the kittens as they were separated. Two of the kittens had hind limbs that were too badly injured to save, and two kittens had umbilical hernias, so Dr. Bailey also jumped in as we cleaned and prepped four of the kittens for emergency surgery. Two leg amputations and two abdominal surgeries later, all five kittens were warm, fed and snuggling in warmed blankets. They received antibiotics and tube feedings because they would not drink from a bottle and the mother had not allowed them to feed recently. At that age, too, kittens cannot urinate or defecate on their own - the mother must stimulate them to eliminate, and so all the kittens were "pottied" as well.
Once all the kittens were recovered, fed and warmed, we taught the foster mom how to tube feed them, if necessary and sent them home. We hoped that they could be re-introduced to the mother so that they could nurse. The prognosis for the tangled kittens is very grave, as there is a huge risk of infection in kittens so small, and with such daunting beginnings. Fortunately, as soon as they were put back with their mother, she accepted them and they started nursing! this is great news, since they will do better with their mother's milk than with kitten milk replacer.
Overnight, one of the kittens who had an abdominal hernia passed away. Two days later, the foster mom brought in the kittens to weigh them. One of the kittens was euthanized due to a septic infection in the leg that was amputated. All the other kittens gained weight, but the kitten that was not part of the entanglement outweighs the others by about 40 grams! Hopefully, with heavy doses of antibiotics and close observation and care, the rest of the kittens will survive this ordeal!
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