Kitten Care

Help, My Kitten Has Diarrhea!

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Most mammals have loose stool from time to time, but it can be life threatening for a fragile kitten. Their tiny bodies depend on lots of calories and they don’t have the well-developed immune systems that adults have. Hillarie V. writes:

My 9 week old kitten, who is active and otherwise happy and normal, has started to leak mushy poop from her butt. I also have her litter mate, who has no issues.

Hillarie, there are several health issues that can result in diarrhea, but the most common among kittens are food changes and worms. If you've changed Patches’ food recently, switch back and make the change to the new food very gradually over 7-10 days. You may also need to put her on a different food altogether. Kittens do not need special kitten food but they do need to be provided with as much healthy wet food as they can eat, without restriction. You can find our food recommendations here: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/best-cat-food-and-treats

It's important that plenty of fresh water be made available. A kitten with diarrhea is at risk of dehydration. While Patches may seem happy and energetic, she's not getting her nutritional needs met when she has this condition. It can actually be life threatening of not treated quickly. You can help by giving her unflavored Pedialyte in place of her water.

 
 

A good home remedy for ADULT cats with mild diarrhea or constipation is canned pumpkin. Just mix one teaspoon of canned pumpkin (make sure it’s 100% pumpkin with no added ingredients) to a three ounce can of wet food for each feeding. With kittens, the need for a solution is much more immediate.

If the diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours, you need to collect a sample of Patches’ poop and take both kittens to see a veterinarian ASAP. In cases like this, the problem is often caused by parasites and the only way to know for sure is to do a fecal test. The usual solution is a simple dewormer that's administered orally, but it may take several doses before the parasites are completely eradicated. Beware of over the counter dewormers and depend on your vet for this treatment.

Even if parasites aren’t to blame, your vet can help to determine the cause and prevent both kittens from suffering.from it. All manner of infectious agents are easily transferred from kitten to kitten, especially if they use the same litter box, so it’s best to treat both of them at once in order to avoid a cycle of re-infection.

Hopefully, with the help of your vet, you can get Patches back to normal in no time.


How Do I Get My Kittens to Use the Litter Box?

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Most kittens immediately take to using a litter box and don’t need any training to do so. But what about those who don’t get it right away?

I have six kittens who are five weeks old. The majority of the kitties have litter box trained, but I still have a couple that will just eliminate in the corner. Do you have any suggestions for training? We have cleaned with lemon scented Pine Sol and are trying double stick tape in the corners, but they still go beside the tape.
— Jan L.

Not to be too alarmist about it, Jan, but you must immediately stop using Pine Sol around the cats. Most people just don't realize how EXTREMELY dangerous it is to them. Lysol is equally dangerous. Both products have names that end in "sol" because they contain phenols that can kill cats. Kittens are especially at risk because of their small size.

The best product to use to clean litter box messes is an enzymatic cleaner. Use anything else and the cats will still be able to smell their pee and poop quite easily. Even through heavily scented cleaners. We’ve used the Simple Solution product pictured below, but most any reputable fragrance free enzymatic cleaner will work.

 
 

That said, there are several ways to help the kittens find their way. First, clean up after them with the enzymatic cleaner I mentioned above. Then place the litter box where they want to go anyway. Make sure it's in a location that doesn't have any surprising sounds (like an air conditioner suddenly turning on) and where there isn't a lot of traffic.

There are several things to try in order to help them want to use the litter box:

  1. There should be several boxes for the little ones to use. Even at their young age, some will not use a box with more than a few "deposits".

  2. The box should have low enough sides to allow them to get in and out easily.

  3. Some high-sided or covered boxes can scare cats and make them feel trapped. Automated and covered boxes are generally not a good idea for any cats, but especially for kittens.

  4. Make sure the litter box is as far as it can be from where the kittens eat.

  5. You may want to try some different types of litter. Litter with larger pieces (we like Purina's Yesterday's News) are great for kittens because the kittens can't eat it, but some kittens don't like the large pieces. Clumping litter can be hazardous to kittens if ingested. Plain clay litter is fine if they won't accept the chunky stuff.

  6. Be positive! Never scold a kitten for making a litter box mistake. Praise them and treat them if they so much as go near the litter box. Help them to see that the litter box is a great place to be! Some kittens we've worked with have learned to love it a bit too much. We have one who still comes running to watch us scoop. :) It can take time for some individuals to learn their way, especially if their mother isn't around. It's up to you to be patient with them and help them learn.

  7. As a last resort, you can use a litter box attractant. These products entice the little ones with scent, but it really should be a last resort. Give them a chance to learn without this crutch first, or they may grow to expect it.

Thank you for looking after these babies! With your help, I'm sure they'll be using the litter box in no time!

Help, My Kitten Won't Sleep Through the Night!

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My kitten is three months old and she wakes at 4AM and eats my hair, hits me in the face, and scratches and nibbles my face and hands. I try to ignore her but she just carries on. I have started taking her to the living room and shutting the door which she seems fine with, no scratching or meowing. My question is, is it okay to shut her in the living room when I go to bed or will she be on her own too long? Any other suggest welcome!
— Lisa C.

Lisa, most cats engage in this sort of behavior, but its especially prevalent in kittens. In most cases, they simply have a hyper kinetic rhythm and need contact like they'd have with their mom or siblings just before dawn. The easiest method of dealing with this is to adopt a second kitten. Two kittens are actually easier to care for than one, but there are also expenses to consider. Honestly, two kittens are much better for their own health and mental well being long term if you can afford it.

You're doing the right thing in ignoring Maisie. If you get up or interact with her in any way, she's training you, not the other way around. We encourage you to stick it out even though that can be difficult. If you need a break, we understand. Yes, she'll be fine in the other room alone, but she'll bond more closely to you if she's allowed to sleep with you. If you choose to put her out of the bedroom at night, it's imperative that she has her pick of warm comfy places to sleep. This is also where that second kitten can come in handy.

You see, the bed is the scent center of the household to cats. It's the one place that smells most like you. Maisie will feel very comfortable there. Excluding her from the bedroom at night can send a message that she isn't a part of the family. Of course, a lot depends on the individual cat. Some cats need more contact than others. Some will prefer to sleep in other rooms or near windows during summer months, but dive right back into the bed at the first hint of a chilly evening.

You can help to minimize the early morning “wake up and play with me” behavior by creating a nighttime routine for Maisie. A cat's natural rhythm in life is hunt-eat-sleep. You can use this to get her to sleep when you're ready. 30-60 minutes before bedtime, give Maisie an intense play session. Really work her out and get her running around the room for at least 20-30 minutes. Then feed her a big meal - as much as she can eat. When she's done, tell her it's time for bed and go through your evening routine. By the time you develop this into a daily routine, you should see Maisie begin to anticipate what will happen next. She may even prompt you to do what she expects. When she gets in bed to sleep, she should fall asleep after the play and feeding. That doesn't insure she'll sleep through the night, but it's a good start. Also remember to put away all of Maisie's toys before bedtime.

If you can afford it, you can also get her her own bed or blanket. The softer the better. You want something that feels like Maisie's mother's belly. She may find comfort in kneading her paws against it and give you a break. She may not use it at first, but don't get discouraged. Give her some time to be curious about it. Cats love to make choices and most rotate their sleeping locations frequently.

Of course, she's a kitten so she's going to wake you up during the night sometimes. Even adults do this sometimes, but you can minimize the behavior by following the steps I've outlined. Good luck!


Do Cats Have Baby Teeth?

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Biologically, cats are very different from humans, but they’re also very similar in a number of ways. Nicole L. writes:

I have two little five month old boys named Boba and Lando, and I found a little bloody baby tooth in Boba’s fur that I *think* came from Lando while playing but it is hard to check his mouth and know for sure. I think this is an age-appropriate milestone, my question is do they need any aftercare when losing teeth? Anything I should look for? Neither boy shows any discomfort.

Thank you for your question! Cats develop their first set of teeth when they’re around four weeks old. These teeth are relatively fragile, being smaller and less dense than adult teeth. They help to promote weaning since they irritate the mother during feeding. Then, around four to seven months of age, kittens begin losing their baby teeth as their adult teeth develop. The roots are often absorbed while the crowns fall out , but they can be so small that humans don’t even see them. It sounds like Boba and Lando are right on schedule. 

There isn't much you need to do. If you notice either of them rubbing their faces with a paw, you may want to put some crushed ice in a washcloth for them to chew on. It'll be a bit messy, but the cold will soothe their gums if they're bothering them. You should also make sure you're feeding them a pate-style wet food. All cats should be on wet-food diets, but it's especially important during teething. If they feel pain when they eat, they may connect the pain with the food and avoid eating altogether.

 
 

This is also a good time to get the kittens used to having their teeth brushed. A small, soft-bristle brush designed for cats along with a high-quality toothpaste or gel will help them to get many years of use out of their new adult teeth. We especially like Oxy-Fresh gel. Check with your vet for their recommendations.

It goes without saying, but Boba and Lando shouldn't be allowed to make any deals with Darth Vader for the time being. :)


Help, I Found Some Abandoned Kittens!

The world is filled with cats who haven't been spayed or neutered. Some are feral and others are pets. In both cases, mothers can sometimes go missing just when the kittens need them the most. Margaret M. writes:

I found a nest with four kittens in it underneath a shed in our backyard. I didn’t approach them yet, but the kittens are crying and I’ve not been able to find the mother. What should I do?

Margaret, it's important that you confirm whether or not the kittens' mother is still around before you relocate her litter. You can interact with them (your scent will not cause the mother to reject them) and even tend to them but don't move them if you suspect the mother is still around.

Some rescuers will put the kittens into a box that they can't get out of and then scatter flour around the box. If you leave the box for a few hours and come back to find paw prints in the flour, the mother is probably still tending to her babies. Also note the cleanliness of the kittens. Mother cats take care of cleaning their kittens, so the longer they're away, the dirtier the kittens will be.

If you discover that the mother is still around, your best bet is to try and help her to provide for her little ones. You can make an inexpensive shelter like this one and provide food and water without interfering with the family. Once the kittens have been weaned at 4-6 weeks of age, they can be socialized and adopted. Of course, the sooner the socialization takes place, the better. If the mother is friendly, it may be possible to relocate the family and socialize the kittens even earlier.

If you determine that the kittens have indeed been abandoned, it's time to take action. The first thing the babies will need is warmth. A plastic bottle filled with warm water and wrapped in a towel will do in a pinch.

Newborn kittens need constant care. Most shelters won't take them because they simply don't have the resources needed to turn them into adoptable cats. Even if they do take them in, the kittens will probably be euthanized. If you have the time and resources, please, by all means, do what you can to save the kittens' lives. If not, you'll need to try and locate a local rescue that does and get them there as soon as possible.

If you decide to care for them yourself, there are plenty of good online resources. Caring for newborn kittens is quite an undertaking, so we usually refer people to the best resource we know: THE KITTEN LADY. She's been rescuing kittens for years and has kindly provided a wealth of information about all aspects of newborn care on her wonderful web site. All the information you might need is there for the taking, including links to product sources and very specific instructions on kitten care.

Last but not least, please see to it that the kittens and their mother are all spayed or neutered, even if you choose to allow them to remain feral. This includes following up with adopters if the kittens are adopted out before they're old enough to have surgery. 

We certainly thank you for being concerned about these little lives, Margaret. We wish you and the kittens all the best!