I don’t do this, normally, but I feel I should warn you there’s a possibly upsetting, or at least unpleasant, description of the aftermath of a veterinary surgery in the seventh paragraph after the “continue reading” flag. Feel free to skip that paragraph, or indeed the whole post, if you wish.
I never intended Poppet to happen.
My plan was that I’d catch Momcat Phantom’s first litter, then catch Phantom, have her spayed, and let her go — I would have been happy to make her an indoor cat, but I truly wasn’t sure it would work. But I could easily see her as my TNR kitteh.
If you read Day 11, you already know that isn’t how it turned out.
Phantom’s last litter killed her.
I went out to the garage one Friday evening in March 2009 to find Phantom in her queening box with at least four newborn kittens. I topped up her food and water, talked to her a while, maybe petted her a bit, but I didn’t want to be too intrusive. So I made sure she was settled for the night and went to back in the house.
The next morning, I went out to check on mama and babies and found that something had gone very much wrong. Phantom was not in the queening box with her kittens (increased to six in number, and all mewing as if to say, “Hey, Mama, we’re hungry! Where are you?”), she was sitting in the little padded bed I’d put next to the box. And without going into too many details, I figured from the evidence there was at least one undelivered placenta to worry about, and there might even be more kittens on the way. But her not being in with the kittens worried me: what if she had rejected them because her labor wasn’t going well? So I popped the top flap on the queening box, picked up one of the kittens and put him/her into the bed with mama.
Phantom immediately rolled onto her side so the kitten could start nursing, so I grabbed the other five and put them on the bed too, and in moments everyone was happily latched on and purring up a milk-fed storm. Which is when I called the vet, described what I could see of Phantom’s condition, and was told, “I don’t really like the sound of it — can you get them in here?” Of course I could. I didn’t want to try putting Phantom into a carrier, but as I looked around the garage, I saw a box of a possibly useful size, emptied it, and as quickly as I could, I picked up the bed by two corners, held it over the box and slid the bed, Momcat and babies inside neat as you please — a perfect fit.
Off to the vet’s, and under the circumstances they let me jump to the front of the line. The younger of the two vets (the older one is the one who allowed me to board my last four cats when I became homeless) checked out each of the kittens and announced we had two boys and four girls. Then he examined Phantom — and she let him without so much as a growl. He palpated her abdomen and said there was a seventh kitten, but that it wasn’t unusual for the last kitten to be born quite a while after the rest of the litter. He said I could leave her overnight, and if she didn’t deliver the kitten by the next day, they’d induce.
I gave everyone some skritches and went home. When I called the next morning, she hadn’t delivered the last kitten, so the vet said he’d wait until the office was officially closed (it was Sunday, and closing was 1:00 PM) before inducing labor. I called again a bit after closing time…
The vet had given Phantom the injection to induce, but what she delivered wasn’t a kitten, it was evidence that something had gone very very wrong. He decided to deliver the kitten surgically, and Phantom had died on the table as they prepped her. The vet did the surgery anyway in hopes of saving the last kitten, but there was nothing to be done: he told me when I got there that the seventh kitten wasn’t in the birth canal but still in one of the uterine horns..and it was crushed as if it had been run over by a car. He said he’d never seen anything like it. And it had been that way long enough to go septic, which is what killed Phantom.
And then he got to the part about now we had to worry about whether the sepsis had affected Phantom’s milk and poisoned the kittens, and I went cold.
But there was nothing to do except monitor them and see how they did. It made the most sense, under the circumstances, to leave the kittens in the vet’s care, and one of the techs volunteered to take them home to do the every-two-hour feedings during the night. Things went well the first few days; I’d visit at least once a day, sometimes twice, to feed them or just hold them. Wednesday afternoon I took them home and planned to take them back on Saturday when I was going to be away for most of the day — the vet had told me they’d be happy to watch them for me.
In the 65 hours I had the kittens in my care before taking them to the vet’s on Saturday, I fed them every two hours and tracked who drank how much formula, how long it had taken, and whether I was able to get them to pee/poop (I know, such the exciting blog topic). And cuddled them, of course.
In the same 65-hour period, I managed to get a grand total of four hours of sleep (not all at once), had perhaps two meals and a light snack, and got so dehydrated my head was pounding for two solid days. Parents/caregivers of human infants, as well as the caregivers of non-human babies, you have my undying respect and admiration. That is one fucking hard job. It didn’t help that I was worried sick we were going to lose the whole litter to Phantom’s possibly toxic milk.
We all made it to Saturday, though: boy kittens Jules (orange tabby the color of an orange julius) and Shadow (solid gray), and girl kittens Stimpy (gray tabby), Stripe, Minuet (both black tabbies), and Poppet (pastel calico like her mama), all seemed fine. Right to the point I put them into the carrier for the trip to the vet and I watched, horrified, as Minuet, the smallest kitten, started to crash. Raced to the vet’s office, told them what was happening with Minuet, and off they went to do their best.
By the time I got where I was going and called to check up one everyone, Minuet had died. The rest of the kittens still appeared to be healthy, eating well and putting on weight, but I was convinced Minuet must have been showing signs of being in distress that I didn’t notice (despite the vet reminding me that the runts of a litter didn’t always make it, simply because they were so small). I was afraid I’d miss something going wrong for another kitten, and so I boarded them until they were on solid food.
Stripe, another runt, died a week after Minuet. The last surviving runt was Poppet, and the older vet was worried she had some kind of endocrine problem: she was growing, but not as fast as her siblings; her fur was sparse and fuzzy; her paws developed sheaths for her claws later than her sibs’ paws did (I called it her monkey-paw phase). Not to mention the ears…
She’s a little more than five weeks old in that picture, and you can see she looked a lot more like a rat than a kitten. On the other hand, according to the tech who was still taking them home overnight for feedings, she was quite the smart little beast, figuring out how to drink water, eat canned food and use the litter box well before her sister and brothers.
When I had to decide which of the cats I’d keep, as much as it broke my heart to give any of them up, I kept Minerva, Houdini, Garbo, and Poppet — the first three because I thought they’d be least likely to be adopted due to semi-feral behaviors (like Garbo’s skittishness), and Poppet because she looked the most like Phantom. Here’s a rather more recent photo:
So there you have it. A Tale of Four Cats, and Why I’m Grateful to Still Have Them after all that’s happened.
I love my silly fuzzballs. 🙂