What to do if you find a litter that appears to be abandoned
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Your child or your dog comes running and leads you to a surprise in your yard or a nearby park: a litter of tiny kittens. Your first instinct may be to scoop them up and take them home or to the shelter.
Would you be surprised to learn that experts say in most cases it's best to leave them where they are? Often, the kittens aren't abandoned but stashed by their mother while she goes out to hunt for food. Here's how to determine their status and what to do if they really are on their own.
-- Watch from a distance to see if the mother cat returns. Be patient. She could be gone for several hours. And she may be unwilling to approach if she sees you near the kittens. If it's necessary and you can do so without disturbing them, provide shelter.
-- If the mother doesn't return to care for the kittens, the next step is to determine how old they are. Kittens 8 weeks or older can be trapped, spayed or neutered, and returned to the area where you found them.
-- Younger kittens can be identified by their appearance and size. At less than a week, their eyes are shut and their ears folded down. At 1 to 2 weeks, the eyes and ears start to open, and the kittens can crawl. At 3 weeks, eyes and ears are fully open and kittens are starting to walk. At 4 weeks and up, kittens are running and playing and can start eating solid food. Kittens up to 7 weeks of age are the best candidates for socialization and adoption. After that, it's difficult to acclimate them to human touch and presence.
-- Before you take kittens into your home for fostering, check them for fleas. An infestation of the nasty bloodsuckers can quickly kill a kitten. Ask your veterinarian or the kitten expert at your local shelter for the best way to safely rid the kittens of fleas.
-- Keep kittens warm. They can't regulate their own body temperature, so don't let them get too hot or too cold. If the kittens are cold when you get them, warm them gradually by holding them in your hands and letting your body temperature do the work. You can also put them in a box lined with towels fresh from the dryer. For a constant source of appropriate warmth, hang a 60-watt light bulb above the box. Avoid heating pads, which can short out or become too hot.
-- Wait to feed kittens until they are warm. Cold kittens won't be able to digest food. Plan on feeding them every four to six hours, round the clock.
-- Make sure kittens stay hydrated by adding extra water to kitten formula (never give a kitten cow's milk, which can cause diarrhea).
-- Gently wipe the kittens' bottoms with a warm, damp tissue or cotton ball 15 to 30 minutes after each meal to stimulate urine flow and bowel movements.
-- Weigh young kittens daily to make sure they are putting on weight.
-- Watch for eye discharge and sneezing, which can indicate infection. Sick kittens need immediate veterinary care to have a good chance of survival.
Call your local shelter or veterinarian for further advice and help. They may be able to provide you with the equipment and support you need to foster the kittens until they can be adopted. Other good resources include Alley Cat Allies (alleycat.org) and Maddie's Fund (maddiesfund.org). Fostering young kittens is a lot of work, but it can be highly rewarding.
Dogs licking babies:
yea or nay?
Q: My sister is babysitting her little granddaughter, who is 3 months old. She has two big dogs, and she lets them lick the baby in the face and on her hands. I think it's gross, but she says it's not a big deal. Am I being overprotective? Your feedback would really help! -- via email
A: That's a great question. In a sense, you are both right. Here's why.
Infants incur a lot of benefits when they are exposed to dogs and cats early in life. Exposure to pets during a child's first year is associated with a reduced risk of developing allergies to dogs and cats by as much as half, according to a study published in June 2011 in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy. And we're going to be seeing more interesting information down the pike about whether interaction with a dog's microbiome -- the normal bacteria that live on and in the body -- can beneficially influence the human microbiome, improving the immune system response.
Now, that said, while I've always been a fan of letting dogs kiss me on the mouth, I don't think it's good for pets to lick the mouths of very young infants, very old people or people with compromised immune systems. In all three cases, the immune system isn't running at its best.
The other thing to consider is that it's not a great idea to let babies and dogs get in the habit of being face to face with each other. It's one thing when the baby is immobile, but a toddler who gets in a dog's face runs the risk of a bite. Instead of letting the dog lick the face, my dog-trainer daughter Mikkel recommends giving the dog something else to do when he wants to lick the baby. Ask him to sit or do some other trick, and praise him for it. This can help him learn to be respectful of the baby's space.
Once the baby is crawling or walking, prevent exposure to internal parasites by not letting her run around barefoot in areas where the dog has urinated or defecated. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
-- What does your cat do when he's outdoors? Scientists are using tiny satellite tracking harnesses to follow in the paw prints of more than 500 cats in Fairfield, Connecticut; Long Island, New York; Westchester County, New York; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; and seven other states and several foreign countries. They're hoping to enroll a total of 1,000 cats, who will each be tracked for five days. If your cat is allowed outdoors, he can participate, too. To learn about the secret life of your cat, sign up for the Cat Tracker Project at cats.yourwildlife.org.
-- Three specially trained dogs are working to help save Florida's avocado industry, under attack by a deadly fungus spread by invasive redbay ambrosia beetles. The dogs are trained to sniff out the fungus before it becomes visible, by which time it has usually spread to nearby trees. Drones using digital imaging instruments identify stressed trees; then the dogs go in to determine if the trees are infected. Thanks to their powerful sniffers, they detect the pathogen earlier than any other method. More dogs are undergoing training to detect the fungus, which affects avocado growers from California to Latin America.
-- Fur facts you might not have known: Most cats have three kinds of hair that make up their coat: short, fluffy, insulating down; wiry, mid-length awn hairs; and longer, straighter, protective guard hairs. Interestingly, not all cats have all three kinds of hair, and those who do may have the hairs in different proportions or lengths. Persians have a straight coat with extra-long down hairs that mat easily, while the Devon rex has soft, wavy fur with few guard hairs. And let's not forget those whiskers. They are actually specialized hairs known as vibrissae. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: To help kittens drink milk without choking, hold the head steady and apply even pressure to the bottle. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: A cat's fur is twice as thick on his belly (120,000 hairs per square inch) as on his back (60,000 hairs per square inch). Position: Pet Buzz/Item 3