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Orphaned Kitten

By: Dr. Rebecca Remillard

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Diagnosis In-depth

Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the symptom and help guide subsequent treatment recommendations. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination of the kitten (and queen, if possible). The exam should included looking for a cleft palate, cranial deformities, cardiac abnormalities and illnesses. The queen should be examined for adequacy (in quantity and quality) of milk production and infections.

  • Blood work on neonates is often not done initially because response to immediate treatment is usually positive. Also, it can be difficult obtaining a sufficient amount of blood from a sick neonate. However, if a small amount of blood can be obtained, serum glucose, total protein and blood urea content can be assessed.

    Additional diagnostic tests may be recommended on an individual pet basis:

  • A complete blood cell count may be done to evaluate red and white blood cell numbers (to look for signs of anemia, infection and dehydration).

  • Serum protein levels may be tested to provide information concerning the presence or absence of infection, anemia and dehydration.

  • Radiographs may be done to evaluate internal organ or skeletal abnormalities.

  • A serum profile, which evaluates internal organ (liver, kidney, heart) function, may be done.

  • Testing on the dam may include blood work, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) testing.

    Treatment In-depth

    Therapy may include one or more of the following:

  • Body temperature should be raised back to normal slowly if the kitten is hypothermic. Incubators, hot water bottles and heat lamps can be used to maintain an immediate environmental temperature of 89 to 93 degrees F. Rectal temperature should be taken to monitor body temperature and avoid overheating. Maintaining the humidity around 50% will minimize water loss and dehydration. Special care is needed not to overheat!

  • Administer fluids subcutaneously (under the skin) to correct dehydration. Often it is difficult to catheterize a vein in a dehydrated neonate, so a physiologic replacement fluid can be first given subcutaneously to re-hydrate the kitten. Giving 2-5% of body weight (2 to 5 ml fluid/100 g BW) may be sufficient to revive the kitten. If not, this dose can be repeated as needed.

  • To provide nutrition, tube-feed the kitten a warmed milk replacer. Feeding kittens raises body temperature and provides fluid and energy substrates for normal metabolism. A cold, comatose kitten should not be tube-fed until corrections of a low body temperature and dehydration have been started. Milk will remain in the stomach of cold, comatose kittens. Proper gastrointestinal function requires near-normal body temperature and fluid balance.

  • These treatments revive most neonates within a few hours. If the kitten is not revived, then additional diagnostics may be performed to determine if the kitten has congenital abnormalities, infections or other illnesses.

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