A Cat Tale – The Ugly Duckling

posted September 20th, 2014 by
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Cat Tale

by Camille Hulen

They came to me in a box—four kittens, filthy, cold, and lifeless. There was one of every color: black, Tabby, tuxedo, and a dirty white one. It was the day after my birthday, and not exactly the present for which I had wished.

Step one: clean them. This case was worse than usual. Instead of dipping them in a solution of Dawn detergent and giving a complete bath as I would normally do, I wiped them gingerly, as they still had umbilical cords and birth sacs attached. The woman had found them on her porch, obviously born the night before.

Mama cat was nowhere in sight throughout the day, so it was clear they had been abandoned. We later determined by their size and slow development they were probably premature.

Step two: raise their body temperatures. My husband pressed them to his body while I prepared baby formula. I try to keep powdered KMR (Kitten Milk Replacement) on hand because it is easy to store and can be reconstituted in small quantities. Then we put the kittens on a heating pad.

Step three: feed. These babies were so small that syringe feeding was necessary. This is usually the best method with small kittens because they are too weak to suck on a bottle with a nipple. The kitten must be held upright, never on its back, and a syringe can force some milk into its mouth. If you are lucky, they will respond by licking. These did not.

The watch began. For 48 hours, I got little sleep (cat naps) as I tried repeatedly to feed them. We must realize that mama cat is normally always available so that kittens can nurse at will as they wake up and then quickly fall back asleep. Sadly, the first two kittens did not respond and died within a few hours.

Step four: feed and monitor care-fully. As the kittens respond to feeding, they must also be stimulated to defecate and urinate. Mama cat does this with her tongue; we use a soft tissue or wet cloth. At the age of one week, the dirty white one was responding well, while his tuxedo sister was struggling.

However, he was the ugliest kitten I had ever seen! He was the color of a dirty sweat sock with no distinctive markings—like a dapple gray horse, only he was a “dapple tan” kitten…  or maybe a dirty little mouse.

Two weeks later: eyes began to open. The ugly kitten’s eyes did open, but his sister’s eyes did not. In spite of additional expert care and supplemental nutrition from a veterinarian, the female kitten died. Unfortunately, this is the disappointing reality of neonatal care, but it hurts nonetheless, and we cry with each loss.

But how we relish success!

Although I was still losing sleep, and feeding him every three hours, the ugly duckling was thriving. He was a survivor! And he now had a name. My husband began to call him “Dirty Dingus,” after a movie character from many years ago named Dirty Dingus Magee played by Frank Sinatra. Dingus slept happily.

By the age of three weeks, Dingus was “out of the woods,” but at this time we had a previously plan-ned vacation, and he still needed special care. Fortunately, my fellow rescuer Gail graciously helped. She was fostering orphan squirrels, so a kitten would  just add to her menagerie.

And of course, Gail spoiled Dingus, giving him a new Teddy Pug to cuddle with. She sent me pictures through-out the week, as he began to develop color. At first, the ears and  tail were darker. Was he a Siamese?  By the age of one month, Dingus was a most unusual taupe color, and stripes began to appear. Was he a Tabby?

As the weeks passed, he became more beautiful. He developed not only stripes, but also swirls on his sides like a Bulls-Eye Tabby. He retained the blue eyes of a Siamese, and in some light appears gray, while in other light is definitely taupe. True to the children’s story, Dingus is an ugly duckling no more, but a beautiful swan.

And now at 4 months old, a cover boy for TulsaPets! 

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