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I saved a day-old kitten from the gutter, here’re my top takeaways from the caring journey

This is a piece that feels out of place when compared to what Vulcan Post normally covers, but we’ve always embraced our writers’ varied experiences.

Though they’re not necessarily entrepreneur or digital lifestyle related, as long as they can add value to their intended audience, we’re happy to share such stories.

So, here’s mine about being a foster parent to a newborn kitten for the past 3+ weeks. I’ve affectionately nicknamed him “Pepper” for now. (Some other names up for contest include “Sesame” or “Slippers”, courtesy of my boss… I don’t know about that last one though.)

A fighter from day 1

I found Pepper in my roof gutters one afternoon after a stormy night. He was just over 24 hours old with his umbilical cord still intact, abandoned by his mother.

One of the shots I took when trying to figure out where he was in the gutter, since I couldn’t stick my head into the tiny space

Pepper luckily had a strong, strong will to live, and to this day, I’m still in awe at how he survived that first night alone, sopping wet, freezing, and starving. (His pepper-coloured fur and feisty nature are why I thought Pepper was a fitting nickname, but most of the time I just call him Baby.)

When I found him, he was so dirty that I had to give him a quick, warm rinse. Wipes wouldn’t have done the job. Then I dried him with a hairdryer set to low and made sure he was bundled in warm blankets.

Picked him up in the safety of a plastic bag so I wouldn’t drop him when climbing down the ladder, and the kitten I saw after being cleaned up looked like a totally different creature

Though I’m now relaying all this information calmly, my mind was racing in panic throughout those first few hours. Other than the above, I was clueless as to what else to do. I had never fostered newborn kittens, and I had none of the proper tools at my disposal.

3+ weeks later though, I’d like to think I’ve learnt quite a bit, and in case you ever come across an orphaned kitten (or a litter of them), here are the lessons that really helped.

1) Reach out to people who know what they’re doing.

So, my first point of contact was my boss, who I knew was in touch with several rescuers. Upon the advice of her rescuer friend, Kaima, I reached out to a rescuer of orphaned neonatal kittens, kai.zola.adey.ellie.

Once I messaged the Instagram account, I was able to speak to Lynette, who calmly walked me through what I needed to buy and do. 

Throughout my journey, I also did my best to follow the advice of Kitten Lady, a known neonatal kitten rescuer in the US. She’s got a myriad of helpful and detailed online guides to help you each step of the way, and also creates videos for more visual learners here.

On why I didn’t just pass Pepper onto a more experienced foster parent or a rescuer, I’ll explain later.

2) Having the right tools will make proper care for a neonatal kitten much easier and safer.

Such tools include 3-5cc syringes, kitten milk formula, pet wipes (gentle baby ones work too), and a hot water bottle.

The tools I used in the early days of syringe feeding

The 3-5cc syringes help you accurately track how much a neonatal kitten is eating, and also let you control the flow of milk.

Did you know: Newborn kittens do not have gag reflexes, so they must be fed milk slowly. If you feed them too quickly, they may asphyxiate, which is when milk enters the lungs and chokes them, and this can be fatal. This is also the reason why you don’t feed kittens on their backs—they should always be in a belly-down position.

Bottles will come in handy at a later stage of the kitten’s life when they consume 10cc of milk or more.

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Though not necessary, something called the Miracle Nipple can also be useful to help a kitten latch on better since it mimics its mother’s teats.

Pepper latching onto the Miracle Nipple easily

Having fostered for many years, Lynette had all the above and sells them as sets for new foster parents, so I quickly made a purchase.

3) Setting alarms for feeding times really helps.

For feeding, I learnt one important piece of advice—to never give a kitten cow’s milk, any other animal milk, or even human baby formula because it causes diarrhoea, which can be fatal.

Your best bet is to purchase something called Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR) which can come from a few brands in either powder or liquid form.

All the tools I currently have, including medicine and supplements from the vet

Tip: If you find an orphaned kitten and it’s cold to the touch, warming it up should be your first course of action to ensure its survival. Feeding it can only be done once it’s warmed up, since a cold kitten can asphyxiate during feeding due to being unable to swallow.

In their first week of life, kittens need to be fed every 2 hours, and the duration will lengthen as they grow. Oh boy, this one was tough for me. My job at Vulcan Post is a full-time one, after which I really enjoy a good night’s sleep.

These feeding times were disruptive to my overall schedule, and waking up several times at ungodly hours of the night was not fun.

But setting frequent alarms kept me on track, and I was driven by the knowledge that this tiny, orphaned kitten was depending on me to keep it alive and growing.

He’s now graduated to a bottle!

To ensure that I woke up properly throughout the night, I would sleep earlier and set multiple alarms for one feeding.

For example, if I had to feed Pepper at 2AM, I would set an alarm for 2AM, 2:05AM, 2:10AM, and maybe more, so that I could annoy myself into waking up.

4) Neonatal kittens don’t need a lot of space, but they need warmth.

A kitten cannot regulate its own body temperature for the first 4 weeks of life, which means it needs a constant heat source in its bed/pen.

This was what the hot water bottle was for, but in a pinch, microwaving some dry rice in a tied up sock works too. I’d wrap these in a towel or soft, old shirt so that the kitten doesn’t burn itself when cuddling up to them.

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Pepper on night 1, resting on a cooled down hot water bottle just before I refilled it

Eventually these heat packs will turn cold, so you need to repeat this process several times, which I do each time I feed Pepper every few hours.

In terms of space, neonatal kittens don’t need a lot of room… yet. So, I kept Pepper in a clean shoebox for the first week, then switched to a slightly larger, transparent storage box.

Sleeping safely for the first time in his life, looking like an absolute angel

By 2 weeks old, he was growing so rapidly that he could almost climb over the top of the box (with a height of 20cm), so I had to buy a bigger storage box (with a 30cm height). Soon I’ll have to upgrade again.

Pepper’s current upgrade, soon to be outdated

5) Trust your guts—it’s worth over-worrying about your kitten’s health than under-worrying.

Being so young, kittens like Pepper are extremely vulnerable. Though he’s strong and healthy at 3.5 weeks old, his health is still at risk of a quick decline without warning, and it’s a genuine concern I always have.

A few days after I rescued him, I brought him to the vet for a general checkup. I wanted to know if his weight was alright, and whether or not he had any upper respiratory issues after his first night alone, inhaling dirty water.

Thankfully, his health was fine. Until 1 week in, when I began seeing patches of his skin flaking off. At first I thought it was just dirt, but the flakes began spreading, so I quickly set an appointment with the vet.

Although he didn’t seem to be hurting from the flaking, nor were his general eating and sleep patterns disrupted, taking him to the vet was a good call.

It turned out to be a fungal infection, but was easily treated with a daily medicinal wipe-down. A week of treatment later, his skin and fur were back to normal.

Pepper’s rapid growth through the weeks, and you can see his fur in the third picture looking a little grimy due to the fungal infection and treatment

Something I learnt was also how important a kitten’s poop is as an indication of its health. Pepper’s poop was usually quite healthy-looking, firm but not hard, and golden yellow instead of dark.

But what worried me was how long he would take to poop. Kittens need to be manually stimulated by hand with a tissue in order to pee and poop, and I would do this before and after every feeding.

According to the vet and many guides online, kittens should be pooping every 1-2 days. But Pepper would take up to 4-5 days! Getting some constipation meds from the vet alleviated my worries a bit, but even on them, he still pooped less frequently.

At one point I was even at my wit’s end and ready to bring him to the vet again for a potential enema, but he pooped just in time. Upon expressing my worries to Lynette, she reassured me that some kittens may take 4-5 days to poop, especially if they’re still consuming only KMR.

So what I observe for now is just how his poop looks, and as long as I get a long poop sausage from Pepper every 4-5 days, all’s good. (Sorry to put that image in your head, but when you begin fostering, you will realise the joys of seeing poop. No joke.)

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6) Kittens need to be taught how to clean and groom themselves.

Only recently did I begin seeing Pepper (try to) groom himself at random times, but I’ve not been able to capture it on camera yet. And yes, it’s just as adorable as you would imagine.

Otherwise, the cleaning up is left to me, and I use gentle pet wipes on his face after feeding, and on his bottom after he pees or poops. Apparently, if you don’t clean a kitten up well, it can get rashes around its mouth or something called urine or fecal scalding on its bottom and legs.

To comfort a kitten, you can use a clean toothbrush to gently “comb” their head and body to mimic a mother cat’s grooming, which also teaches them the habit as they grow.

Overall thoughts

I’ve cared for pets all my life, but I’ve never had to give such personalised, almost hourly care for a creature before.

Though it’s been taxing, I know in the future that when Pepper has found his forever home, I’ll look back on these stressful weeks with fondness. Maybe I’ll even miss those bi-hourly feedings in the dead of night.

Though he’s now older, he still needs his trusty hot water bottle (a homie since day 1), and I’ve given him some toys to play with too

Earlier I mentioned my decision to not just dump Pepper onto a rescuer, and for one simple reason: rescuers are not an animal or pet dumping spot. 

They typically have limited resources themselves (funds, equipment, space, time, etc.) and are usually already fostering several orphans.

Since I knew I was capable of fostering Pepper for at least a month or two, I didn’t want to burden Lynette or another rescuer. 

Just this small effort is greatly appreciated by rescuers, because this means they can focus on caring for orphans that require more urgent and specialised care.

Once Pepper is a bit older, I’ll be looking for a safe, loving forever home for him with a responsible pet owner. It will be with someone who is willing to spend on their furkid to ensure they’re healthy, and this means getting them vaccinated, keeping them well-fed and active, and also spayed or neutered.

The reason why Pepper exists and had to be rescued is because of irresponsible pet owners, and there have been other neonatal kittens in the past that I wasn’t able to save in time.

They would have all been preventable tragedies if more pet owners practised responsibility, so please, please, if you’ve got furkids of your own, the best practice recommended by professionals is to spay, neuter, and keep them indoors.

  • Read more pet-related content here.


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