Monday, October 28, 2013

Raising Orphaned Kittens Part 3: When to call the Veterinarian

One of the hardest parts about fostering orphaned kittens is that kittens can easily get sick. Sick kittens should be dealt with quickly, because they are small and fragile, especially if they have no mother cat.

If one or more of your orphans becomes sick, you should call a veterinarian and discuss the problem. The veterinarian may or may not advise you to bring the kitten in.

At home, you can take your kitten's temperature, if you feel comfortable doing so. You will need a regular thermometer (preferably one that you will not want to use again!) and some KY jelly.  Put some KY on the tip of the thermometer and stick just the tip into the kitten's anus. The kitten will likely protest. Hold the thermometer there until the thermometer beeps (or for about a minute if it is a mercury thermometer). If the kitten's temperature is over 103 or under 99, it is important to call the veterinarian.

Abnormal signs to watch for in a kitten:
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose.
  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss or failure to gain weight
  • Coughing or sneezing
Emergencies requiring immediate veterinary attention
  • Continuous diarrhea
  • Continuous vomiting
  • Bleeding of any kind 
  • Any trauma: hit by a car, dropped, limping, stepped on, unconscious.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • A kitten that does not respond or that hasn't eaten for more than a day.


-Watch closely for respiratory signs.  Kittens have weak immune systems, especially when raised away from their mother, as they are not getting any antibodies from their mother. They can easily and quickly succumb to disease and infection if not treated appropriately. 
-Aspiration pneumonia is a concern for bottle-fed kittens; be careful when feeding and give them only what they can swallow at one time. Make sure to feed them in an upright position to decrease risk. 
-Watch stool and urine output closely, and observe for any signs of constipation from the milk formula. Some formulas can increase the risk of diarrhea and some can increase the risk of constipation - either one can be a significant issue for tiny kittens.
-Watch for lethargy/or inappetance.
-If you ever have any questions about kittens’ health please call your veterinarian.

Diarrhea and parasites of the digestive tract
Diarrhea is common in kittens and can have many causes including: parasites, viruses, bacteria, food changes, stress, overfeeding. Because kittens can become dehydrated very quickly, make sure to discuss your kitten's diarrhea with your veterinarian sooner rather than later. If the diarrhea is severe, lasts more than 3 or 4 feedings, or contains blood or obvious parasites, you should call a veterinarian and bring in as much as possible of the feces in a Ziploc bag.

Several causes of diarrhea in kittens involve protozoan (single-celled) parasites, such as coccidia, giardia, and tritrichomonas.  These parasites are common in kittens, and occasionally found in adults.  They are not generally treated with common de-wormers, but antibiotics. For diagnosis of these parasites, especially giardia and tritrichomonas, extremely fresh stool is best for diagnosis.

Most large intestinal worms do not cause diarrhea, but can be very debilitating to kittens in large numbers. Sometimes, if the numbers are large enough, or many worms are dying, the dead worms will pass in the stool. More often, the diagnosis for these parasites is by seeing the microscopic worm eggs in a stool sample. If you see spaghetti-like worms in the stool, you are seeing roundworms. These worms can come up in vomit or stool. The cysts of roundworms can persist for years in soil and be spread to other cats or human children, so it is important to deworm cats as directed by a veterinarian.

If you see rice-like worms on the stool or in the hair around your kittens' tails, you are seeing tapeworm segments. These rice-shaped pieces of the worms are mobile when they exit the body, so they may work their way off the stool or kitten and into the environment. They are not infective at this stage. They are spread by fleas or by eating rodents. Tapeworms do not generally cause diarrhea, but it is advisable to treat your kitten for tapeworms, especially if you know that he has had fleas in the past.

Several types of bacteria, including Clostridium, are potential causes of diarrhea in kittens, and all require microscopic examination, bacterial culture, or PCR testing for diagnosis. These are among the fecal pathogens that can be spread to people if adequate hygiene is not observed after handling sick kittens or litterboxes. Most bacteria respond quickly to antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian.

Finally, there are a number of viral causes of diarrhea, with feline distemper (also known as panleukopenia or feline parvo virus) being the most devastating. If distemper is suspected, seek veterinary care immediately. Treatment for distemper involves aggressive nutritional supplementation and hospitalization, and you may have a number of kittens die if an entire litter is exposed.This is one of the reasons that you should make sure any older cats in your household are up to date with their annual vaccinations before bringing a kitten into the home. Thoroughly disinfect anything that has been exposed to the sick kittens with a bleach solution.

Ear mite
Ear Mites
Ear mites are tiny arthropod parasites which live in the ear canal. Common signs of ear mites are ears full of coffee-ground-like crumbling debris, itchy ears, head shaking.In very large infestations, you may actually see the pinpoint white mites moving in the debris in the ear. They are highly contagious, but easily treated.

Failure to thrive
Once in a while, one or more kittens in a litter that were healthy and vigorous at birth will begin to "fade" after a week or two of life. They will stop growing, begin to lose weight, stop nursing and crawling. They may cry continuously and lose the ability to stay upright. The mother cat may push them out of the nest, where they often chill and starve to death. Kittens fade very quickly - they will not last 48 hours without veterinary care, and probably will not recover even with intensive care.
There is no clear cause or reason for this condition - it has been linked to birth defects, environmental stress and infectious disease. Early veterinary treatment is imperative, but even with tube feeding, rehydration and monitoring, many, if not most fading kittens will die.

Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline immunodeficiency (FIV)
FeLV and FIV are retroviruses cats get from other cats (or their moms). Testing for disease can help you make the decision whether to foster a kitten, or whether to add kittens to a litter or keep them in isolation. It is often a good idea to have positive test results confirmed.

In the early stages of FeLV, infected cats appear healthy but over months to years, they develop severe, ultimately fatal disease. In very young kittens, it is advisable to test at least twice as some kittens can be transiently positive, or falsely negative.

On the other hand, testing for FIV is more difficult until after a kitten is four months old. The good news about FIV is that it is much harder to transmit than FeLV, and cats that have been infected with FIV can live long, healthy lives, often not experiencing detrimental disease symptoms until the age of 8 years or more.

A flea on a flea comb
Fleas are insects that love to feed on kittens. Each flea only consumes a small amount of blood, and most adult cats are relatively unaffected by large flea infestations, however fleas commonly attack in large numbers and an infestation in a kitten can lead to severe anemia and even death. It is essential that your home be free of fleas before bringing home a small kitten.

If your foster kitten enters your home with fleas, it is important to remove them without causing harm.  Fleas can be transported from the kittens isolated in one area to the main part of the house on clothing, shoes, etc. Therefore, it is also important to treat any other animals in the home with monthly flea prevention or a stray flea, flea egg, pupa or larva may cause an infestation in your house - any unprotected animal in the house can then become a reservoir for the infestation.

Check with your veterinarian before applying any commercial flea products to your kitten, as some flea medications can be harmful to cats. One safe way to remove fleas from very young kittens (less than 6 - 8 weeks) is daily flea combing. Keep a jar of soapy water near you to dip the comb into as it comes off the cat full of fleas. Try not to moisten the kitten too much, and make sure to thoroughly dry your kittens after you are done combing.

If the Kitten is 4 Weeks old and over two pounds in weight, Capstar can be given orally up to once a day to kill adult fleas. This product starts to work within 30 minutes and is effective against adult fleas for 4-6 hours. It does not have any affect on, eggs, larva, or other adult fleas in the kittens environment.

If the kitten is 6 weeks old or older, you can use topical monthly applications available from a veterinarian. Despite your best efforts at flea control, you should plan to treat the kittens for a minimum of 90 days to ensure that all the fleas are out of the household. For more information about flea control, please refer to our blog article "Fighting Fleas Fairly...For Good!"

Upper respiratory tract infection (URI)
Upper respiratory infections are very common in kittens, especially if they have been through a shelter situation and exposed to other cats. These infections are caused by airborne viruses and bacteria which are contagious and spread very quickly.

Signs of URI to watch out for:
  • Sneezing and discharge from eyes or nose
  • Congested breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
If your kitten is vomiting, it is possible that the kitten is eating his meals too quickly. You should watch him when he eats and not allow him to eat too much too quickly. If your kitten vomits 2-3 times in a row, it should see a veterinarian. Vomiting can be another sign of distemper in kittens, so it should not be taken lightly.

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