Adorable stray kitten: heatwave edition
July 12, 2020 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out what to do with or for the adorable stray kitten who I found suffering in the heat in my garden yesterday. Difficulty level: existing 10 yr old indoor cat w/o all her shots, smallish house, kitten likely separated at ~4 weeks from a colony of alley cats and doesn't seem to be weaned.

Until about a year ago I lived in a third floor apartment with my current cat, T., who is a roughly ten year old Siamese mix.

I got T. as a kitten when she didn't get along with my then-GF's incumbent cats. Because of the apartment situation, I never finished all of her vaccinations and also didn't get her fixed. I moved out of the apartment to a small house about a year ago. T. remains a purely indoor cat. (I've been meaning to get her shots taken care of forever, but have been unsure whether getting her spayed at this age would have negative effects on her or traumatize her or change her personality.)

The house I now rent backs up on an alley, and there is a loosely affiliated colony of stray cats that hangs around there and roams the neighborhood. Coincidentally, they are of a similar Siamese and tabby mix. I've never seen or heard them group up like a big feral colony, but one of the walls bordering my yard is a favorite highway for these cats to get back and forth so I see them often enough to recognize some individuals, and they all look related in terms of their markings and etc.

Earlier this year, one of the cats I spot regularly had a litter that they were sheltering with behind my garden shed, which backs up on the alley wall. The mom cat was was looking very thin and tired, so I put out some food and water for them while she was recovering and nursing . After a few days she was doing better, and then disappeared with the kittens soon thereafter, some of which I think I've spotted on their own since, as mature cats.

Now, Yesterday:

I'm out watering my vegetable plants, which I'm trying to nurse through the ridiculous heat-wave temperature of 102 degrees.

All of a sudden there's a little motion in my peripheral vision and a little meep of mewl. I look over and see a tiny little chocolate tabby kitten with bright blue eyes wedged into the shade created by the vines at the base of the wall — the wall I regularly see these neighborhood cats using to get around, including the mom cat and the litter I had previously hosted.

It was clearly tired and overheated and scared and tried to slink away from me when I approached, wedging itself to hide between a planter and the wall. But it was also curious (or distressed) enough to make eye contact with me when I pulled the planter away a bit and made concerned brrrrrp? cat noises and crinkly eyes at it. It didn't try to flee, and it didn't seem aggressive in that feral way.

So I went and got my oven mitts, lined a storage tote with old bath towels, and sure enough the little blep it let me scoop it up without too much fuss and didn't fight being deposited in the box, in the shade, except for a bit of mewling. It promptly knocked over the water dish I put in there, which soaked a corner of the towels, and then it immediately curled up in the wet towels and went to sleep — so clearly it was hot and exhausted.

I had the top covered with an oven rack at first, but turned it after a couple hours so the kitten could exit either side if it wanted to. I moved the box to be near my bedroom sliding door so I could keep an eye on it. The kitten was still fast asleep when I went to bed. My current cat, T. hadn't taken notice of it yet.

I got up this morning, and the kitten was still there. Splayed out asleep, I could see the kitten was female. I put some Orijen dry cat food in the box, which is all I have on hand, but the kitten didn't seem interested. She was interested in me though, and in a timidly friendly way. So I gave her some fingertip some head and neck scritches and she liked that. After a few minutes I left her to her own devices. She explored the box and played with the towels some and then went back to sleep.

About midday when the kitten had made no effort to leave the box, I rigged up a side entry type shelter from a wooden crate with the slats removed from one side, lined with towels and with and a cookie sheet wrapped in a towel laid across the top.

I transferred the kitten to the open-sided crate, and turned the tote on its side too, so all the shelters were open at ground level. The kitten wandered around the patio a bit, sniffing at me some, then went back into the wood crate and went back to sleep.

I went back out about an hour ago, and the kitten, now rested, was incredibly affectionate and playful. Rubbing my ankles, climbing into my lap when I sat down, following me around mewling if I stood up, etc. This is as sweet and as human-oriented a kitten as I've ever encountered, stray or not.

At this point T. took notice of what was going on through the bedroom slider and started meowing. I was not expecting to react positively, but I opened the glass to leave just the screen between them and they both reacted very positively. T.'s meows were inquisitive and her ears fully forward. The kitten was THRILLED and was clinging to the screen trying to get to T.

they are now sitting on opposite sides of the screen door and I'm the asshole because I won't let them groom each other.

Thoughts and Questions:

-No, I don't want another cat. Or, at least, I didn't and I'd prefer to keep it that way for practical purposes.

For instance, I already only have room for one litter box, and it's not the best arrangement. And while I suppose two cats isn't that much more of a financial responsibility than one, I'm in a position that I should be reducing my expenses not increasing them. I'm also month to month here, and it would be more challenging to move with two cats than one, should I have to.

(I didn't think T. would take kindly to another cat either, but apparently that's wrong, at least so far as a kitten is concerned.)

-But while I try and convince myself that I am not keeping this kitten, and before I figure out how to get her adopted, I want to make sure I'm doing the right things. So:

--kitten has some front teeth but tips of back teeth are just showing. Internet says that's around 4-6 weeks and suggests she is probably not weaned. Since I haven't seen the kitten take any water from dish, or any evidence she has eliminated, I tried giving her some water with an eyedropper. That worked, so I'm guessing I'll need to do the same to feed.

--Internet Recommends "kitten milk replacer." I see petco also has "second stage weaning food." Should I get the milk replacer or the weaning food? Both?

--given that T. did not complete all of her shots, and isn't on any flea or worm prevention regimen, what precautions do I need to take with having this kitten around? I'm already washing thoroughly after handling the kitten.

--For the time being the kitten is on the patio, but I feel like if I'm actually trying to look after her I should probably not just leave her out there to wander off? Or to deal with the other wildlife (or strays). Not to mention that's its 100 degrees today again, and will be in the upper 90s all week.

-- But I don't want to bring the kitten inside if that's unsafe for T. As much as I want to help this kitten, I need to keep my existing pet safe first. Hopefully I'm not already doing anything really dumb by letting them be on opposite sides of a screen door.

--The kitten does not have any obvious flea issues, but I'm considering getting some sentry or frontline to put on T., at least -- because the product labeling suggests there isn't anything made for kittens this young.

--Or, can I use this kind of anti-flea product intended for "small animals" like rabbits and gerbils on the kitten until older?

--Is it right that preventative anti-worm stuff is Rx only? Internet says worms are mostly transmitted through grooming or contact with waste, so I'm hoping I don't need to worry T. picking up whatever the kitten might have before she can be checked out (by me or whoever might take her first) so long as I don't let them have direct contact and keep them away from each other's food and waste.

--As life goes, I'm actually in the middle of an unexpected working weekend and have very non-negotiable deliverables that must be done by tomorrow night. So, no vet visits are happening before Tuesday at the earliest. I've already spent more time on this than I can afford rn (and of course it's super hard not just to play with the adorable little kitten).

--I can't afford much in the way of unplanned veterinary care rn either, but I'll do what I have to (whether to keep the kitten, or encourage its adoption). cost saving advice on that is appreciated, i.e. what I need to do, what I can skip, and what it should reasonably cost.

Any other thoughts appreciated, happy to follow up with any additional info needed, and apologies for the length and disorganization of the Ask.

(Yes, I will post pics shortly but want to get this post up to make sure what I'm doing is reasonably safe and sane.)
posted by snuffleupagus to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Pictures:

Lil Blep: 1, 2

Kitten w/T: 1, 2

the previous guests
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:16 PM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Hey, I don't have great specific advice on kitten management but wanted to mention I'm in the L.A. area and could be a source of assistance if you need short term help.

I'd also contribute to a cat fund. If you're near Pasadena, I'll pay for a vet visit to my favorite local vet and am willing to pick up the kitten and drive them in for you.

I, unfortunately, can't offer to be a foster right now. I'm pretty concerned that the kitten hasn't eliminated and would try to keep them drinking. Kittens need to be socialized and weaned (in general) before rescues will take them.
posted by arnicae at 4:17 PM on July 12, 2020 [9 favorites]


Short term, you really need to feed the kitten right meow, a 5 week old kitten should be eating like 4 times a day. Fleas and worms (especially the fleas) are not an immediate emergency but kittens are fragile and not eating for 24 hours is a medical emergency. Milk replacer is the correct product. Google will have instructions how to position the kitten so they don't choke while you're bottle feeding them. You can also try baby food that is 100% meat (no seasonings).

For more short term help, if you don't have the resources, you can Google Kitten Rescue (your location) and there will be likely be folks who would be willing to take in the kitten.
posted by phoenixy at 4:18 PM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Also from the photo, I suspect the kitten might be a little older than 5 weeks. You can also try some wet cat food as well (it's cheaper than Gerber's). But yeah kittens don't generally go for dry food until they are a little bit older.
posted by phoenixy at 4:27 PM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Feed the kitten turkey baby food off your fingers.
posted by Violet Hour at 4:36 PM on July 12, 2020

Yes echoing that kitten needs food immediately.

When we were foisted with a 4 week old kitten unsuspectingly, we stood in petco with a tiny bundle of starving kitten and everybody moved so fast but I had everything I needed in two minutes flat. I may have bought some stuff I wouldn't have, but kitty got food.

This same cat who got weened to early did not give up second stage food for a long time, just to warn you.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:37 PM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: roger that, getting both the milk replacer and the stage 2 asap.

Any thoughts on whether I can/should bring the kitten inside before it can be seen by a vet? I can put her in a separate room, but don't want to do anything risky for my adult cat.

I know cats do OK with high temperatures, and this kitten is probably used to being outside, but it's awfully oppressive out there and it sounds like I should consider the kitten to be malnourished.

offers to help with a vet and etc are much appreciated, I'll have a better idea what I'm dealing with in that department by Tuesday or Wednesday.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:58 PM on July 12, 2020

I agree that that kitten looks old enough for solid food. Try breaking down the dry food a little, crumbling it with water--sometimes they prefer that.

After she gets fed, you can use Dawn to get rid of fleas.
posted by chaiminda at 4:58 PM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Kitten Lady is a fantastic resource. Specifically she has a playlist with instructional videos for cat rescue / raising.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:59 PM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

I have dealt with Kitty of Angels (formerly known as the Rescue Team LA) and they were very helpful - shoot them an email and see if they could foster it or offer advice. Good luck!
posted by mogget at 5:02 PM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Speaking as someone with a lot of cat herding experience but no specific cat professional experience - bring the kitten inside. Expect to have to flea both of the cats, your existing cat will be ok.
posted by arnicae at 5:02 PM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

When we adopted a month-old stray kitten we gave her a bath and then used a flea comb to get the fleas off. At least at that point, the vet told me that it wasn't safe to use flea medicine yet.
posted by pinochiette at 5:18 PM on July 12, 2020

When kittens are little they won't eliminate on their own, their mom (or their human) has to stimulate their belly to get them to do it. Your kitten seems maybe older than that but since it hasn't eliminated at all yet - something to look into.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:42 PM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Lil' Blep was happy to go to work on a jar lid full of milk replacer. I have a single soda can worth of it, so will transition to the small can of Stage 2 once that's gone, and then something more standard.

I'm on board with bringing the kitten inside in theory, but just to be clear — my adult cat doesn't have all of her shots, and isn't on any parasite prevention, so am I risking more than itchiness vis a vis fleas?
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:51 PM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you can take care of LB, it will be very rewarding. It sounds like you two have bonded.

If you don't have time, I think a kitten rescue org will probably take her gladly -- I've heard anecdotally that a lot of people signed up to foster animals during quarantine, so there should be more space than usual.
posted by amtho at 6:24 PM on July 12, 2020

Sounds like a great start since you've got the kitten eating. KMR solution or KMR mixed with canned kitten-formulation wet food are good. The more you can get the kitten to eat the better.

I've gotten more experience than I want with feral kittens over the last year or so, and I'm also always concerned about the impact on my housecats. I'd suggest the following:

1. If possible make sure they have separate litter boxes. Sharing a litter box is supposed to be the greatest risk for parasite transmission.

2. If possible try to keep them separated. There are a number of serious viral diseases that are common in feral populations, and if your cat is not fully vaccinated that is a risk I would not take if it can be avoided. It's possible to have the kitten tested for those viruses, but it doesn't sound like a vet visit is going to be possible in the immediate future, and if I were you I'd just spend the money you would spend on tests on vaccinations instead. If it's possible to keep the two cats in separate rooms, I think that's perfectly safe for both of them, but you should wash your hands after handling one before handling the other.

3. If it's not possible to keep them completely separated it's probably not the end of the world, but try to limit their contact, and get your cat in for vaccinations ASAP afterward.

4. Regarding interactions through a screen door, I asked a veterinarian friend of mine about this specifically a while back and she didn't think it was a major risk for infection between indoor and outdoor cats. Some of my indoor cats seem to be friendly with the ferals outside and like to hang out together through a screen door, including rubbing up against the screen together, and so far it hasn't been a problem for us.

In addition to the organizations others are suggesting, don't be shy about calling several vet offices to see if they know anyone who can help. The first time we had feral kittens, our normal vet was able to help us medically but didn't have much information for us on people who might be able to foster or care for kittens. The second time, we ended up having to go to an emergency vet, and it turned out the vet tech who helped us also runs a cat rescue, and was able to take in our very sick kitten and get it the care it needed. Which is just to say that it's not uncommon for vet offices to have people affiliated with them who do small-scale animal rescue, and it doesn't hurt to call and ask if they know anyone who might be able to help you out.

On the other hand, if this kitten is doing well and you're willing to foster it until it can be adopted permanently, I doubt you'll regret it.
posted by biogeo at 6:38 PM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

In my area, a ton of people are looking for new pets right now (or to foster) on Nextdoor. If you decide you can't keep her, that's another place to advertise.
posted by pinochiette at 6:46 PM on July 12, 2020

Response by poster: Much appreciated everyone. After considering everyone's comments I went ahead and brought the kitten inside.

I have her in my guest room, in a sort of penned in area that's a few feet away from the door, and she'll stay in there with her own litterbox until I can get her checked out. My adult cat is very interested in a nice way, but she'll have to remain curious for now.

I put some frontline on my adult cat, will see to getting her shots completed in the coming weeks, and will try to get around to giving the kitten a bath in the next couple days. Kitten shows no sign of fleas, as odd that that is for a stray, but it can't hurt. Kitten has sneezed a couple times, but I'm trying not to freak out about that as it's not constant. I'm washing up and changing my clothes after handling or hanging out with the kitten, for now.

I plan to at least foster the kitten for the time being, unless any serious issues arise that require more attention than I can give her. I'm not fully foreclosing adopting her, but would need to give that serious thought, and make sure my current cat is happy about sharing space rather than just curious and reacting to kitten noises.

Definitely intend to see the kitten re-homed with a good family if I decide against keeping her — I agree that being at home has more people than usual interested in finding pets, and Nextdoor is a good resource for that.

If anyone can advise on how long it should take a kitten this size to go through the 11 oz can of milk replacer, that would be helpful.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:09 PM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

Re: how long the milk replacer will last:

Someone above already recommended Kitten Lady’s YouTube, and her write-up on bottle feeding has a chart of recommended feeding amounts/frequency by age about midway down the page. If you can get your hands on her book Tiny But Mighty, I believe it has all sorts of handy charts and guidance. The Kitten Care section of her website is probably a great resource as well.

I’ve never done what you’re doing, so I don’t have any knowledge from experience to offer, but I just wanna say you are a total ROCKSTAR for helping this little darling.
posted by ceramicspaniel at 12:53 AM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

What a beautiful little baby! I just wanted to say, it's a little unusual but certainly not impossible for an outdoor stray to not have fleas. A couple years ago I rescued a whole family (six babies about your baby's age and the mom) and none of them had fleas! It was truly a miracle.

You'll see this in the Kitten Lady's videos as well but if getting wet cat food is difficult for you right now you can try making a slurry with crushed dry food mixed with milk replacement or water. Wet kitten food would probably be best at this stage plus the milk replacement -- specifically kitten food because it's higher nutrition than adult food.
posted by possibilityleft at 6:14 AM on July 13, 2020

She is so adorable!! I've dealt with this exact situation a few times in the past year while taking care of a feral colony (all fixed now, yay!): small apartment, orphaned kittens, older cat with health issues. Feel free to message me!

I kept the kittens in my bathroom and was very careful about not letting them meet, washing my hands a lot, and sanitizing the room after they left for their homes. They had colds but my cat never caught anything. Kittens outdoors pretty much always have colds, so the sneezing is normal. Watch out for her eyes looking infected, but other than that it should clear up on its own.

I would not let her have any physical contact with your cat until after a vet visit, grooming is enough to transmit some diseases (notably herpes). Many of the serious ones (rabies, FIV) require bites so if they manage to touch noses it's not the end of the world.

- For fleas, I just gave my kittens a quick bath with some Dr Bronner's and warm water (Kitten Lady is a great resource). If she has fleas you'll see them in the water. Mine didn't have any fleas, so it's possible you'll get lucky too.

- For food, the rescues I've worked with use Royal Canin Mother and Babycat wet for weaning, and you can mix it into a gruel with some formula if you have formula left over. It sometimes takes kittens a while to figure out how to drink water, so if you only have dry food try adding some water/formula to make it mushy.

-Make her an extra shallow litterbox (I used a shallow cardboard box with a garbage bag underneath and then just threw the whole thing out), she'll take to it quicker if she can see into it and easily walk in. Kittens will just figure out what to do by instinct. They do sometimes step in the poop and track it all over the place, though, so you may have to do some cleaning.

- I wouldn't worry about deworming for now, that's a longer-term thing, worms are not dangerous to her in the short term and not very contagious.

- Keep an eye on her food intake and litterbox usage. A little brown diarrhea is no big deal, but if she hasn't eaten or eliminated in 24 hours, or if she has red or black poop, it's an emergency.

Can you contact feral rescues in your area? They might be able to come get her or it would be good to get connected with them to get the ferals fixed.

I also think you should post about her on FB/IG and see if any of your friends wants a kitten! I've managed to get 6 kittens adopted this way, it was surprising how many people in my networks came forward. I didn't keep any of the kittens (it is possible with great willpower!) but taking care of them was so fun and rewarding. And I get to see them grow up on social media!
posted by 100kb at 8:09 AM on July 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Just nthing that you deserve kudos for stepping up to help MegaCuteness aka The Blep.
Of course Mefites have you covered on all things kittenish.

(Is it me, is it the angle, or does that little kitteh have some BIG feet?)
posted by BlueHorse at 4:09 PM on July 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Any updates? How are you and T and the wee one doing?
posted by vrakatar at 5:51 PM on August 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

« Older Identify this classical music melody fragment   |   Negotiationg group dynamics Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.