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Princes for a Day


Kitten season got off to a slow start this year, for whatever reason. And we weren’t complaining, because we have dozens of home fix-up projects on our agenda. Why? Because we plan to move to Colorado next spring.

So this will be our last kitten season in Arlington. And since we’ll be building one house while selling another and renting a third, we’ll be juggling stuff in three locations.

So when litters of bottle babies started popping up on Facebook, we were happy to cheer our fellow fosters from the sidelines. We figured we’d get a call sooner or later.

That happened just over two weeks ago, shortly before we left for six days of reconnaissance in Colorado. A week ago today, the day after we got home, a Homeward Trails coordinator dropped off three cute little furballs who had just come up on a transport from a West Virginia shelter.

The coordinator brought milk formula, and since she hadn’t fed bottle babies before, I showed her how we do it. All three kittens locked on and drank well, though the total consumption was a little light. The shelter had said the kittens were three weeks old, but the heaviest weighed only 9.1 ounces when I weighed him. I thought we were off to a good start.

It was less than a week after Prince’s untimely death, so we decided to name this litter after him. We named the girl Paisley. The smaller male kitten with more black fur than white became Purple. We named the larger male kitten with more white fur Rain. Since the Princes looked more like two-week-olds, Martha and I fed them every four hours, taking turns with the overnight feedings.

Certain things seemed a little odd, and even in retrospect it’s hard to know whether they meant anything. First, the Princes were nipple chewers, which we associate with older kittens on the verge of weaning.

Second, they were much more mobile than most kittens their size, continually trying to climb out of the nest, wobble across the floor, go under or behind the furniture. Well-fed and comfortable kittens that size like to roll around on their backs and bat away their siblings. The Princes didn’t look playful or comfortable, they looked restless and scrambly.

Third, they were unusually vocal. Hungry kittens will squawk or cry when awakened, but the squawking stops (and the food coma starts) after they’re fed. The Princes seemed to squawk whenever they sensed our presence – even when we were outside the villa. And the squawking had a hard edge, which became harder after the first day. Soon the squawking started to sound like yelping, and then more like shrieking. Especially after a meal.

The Princes still ate, but not as well, with more and more head-twisting, nipple chewing, and spillage. We’d started them on Clavamox (based on Purple’s inflamed and goopy eye), Metronidazole (for liquid, orange-y poop), Albon (against possible coccidia), and FortiFlora (beneficial gut bacteria), but none of those meds seemed to propel them forward. After their weights peaked on day 3, all three kittens started losing weight.

Rain had been the biggest and strongest of the Princes, but we realized he was fading when he stopped eating and shrieking and started shivering on Saturday afternoon, on his fourth day in the villa. We wrapped him in a towel and napped with him against my neck to warm him up, then put him in a carrier with along with his sibs and a heating disk.

At the 10 pm feeding his breathing had slowed. He died overnight. We were so consumed with caring for the Princes that we never took his picture.

Sunday morning Paisley weighed less than she had on arrival, and we guessed she and Purple were following Rain’s progression. At one point we found Purple in a cavity under the dresser, and we remembered that dying kittens find such places. He and Paisley ate less and shivered after eating. They rambled and shrieked, and we realized that the shrieking came from gastrointestinal pain.

We called the HT cat manager to discuss euthanizing them, took them to a vet’s house in Maryland on Sunday afternoon to do that, but then decided to give them one more shot when they showed enthusiasm for a bottle we’d brought along. The vet was ready to EU them, but she thought they seemed vigorous and that the shrieks might be hunger-related.

If only. Paisley died a few hours later. We’d given her pain meds, so we hope her suffering was brief.

Purple, the weakest of the Princes on arrival, the one whose eye kept getting stuck shut and who coughed and shivered and gagged after every meal the first few days, lasted the longest. But by 10 pm on Sunday he was alone in the carrier, curled up against the heating disk and breathing with difficulty. I gave him a dose of pain meds measured for a bigger kitten, and when I came back to check on him at midnight he was gone.

The Princes were beautiful kittens, and whatever killed them (panleukopenia?) was one of the most brutal viruses we’ve seen. And our last kitten season in Arlington has started off as our saddest.

filed by: TS



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