Sunday, January 13, 2013

Nine Little Butts

“All right. I’m going in,” I announce to my husband.  Jay laughs, “Good luck!”

“Going in” refers to the now brave act of entering the room where my litter of nine kittens lay in wait, ready to attack. As soon as a human comes near, the meowing starts. If you stand still, they will start climbing your legs, like uncoordinated squirrels up a tree. Now is when I wish I had a laptop, so I wouldn’t have to enter the kitten cave just to get on the computer.

Kitten milk bottle, paper towels, bleach spray, trash bag, broom…all are my tools for keeping up with the Reindeer litter (Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph). When the kittens’ mother, Sunday, was pregnant, I expected at least 6 kittens as that was the size of her previous and first litter. Subsequent litters tend to be larger and she certainly looked larger. On December 7th, sure enough, we got nine live ones, no stillborns. It’s a litter that’s easy to divide into thirds by color and gender; two-thirds male and two-thirds shades of red. One-third red tabbies (one girl, two boys), one-third red-silver tabbies (also one girl, two boys), and one-third darker ones; brown tabby boy, solid black boy and smoke tortie girl.

When one of my Facebook followers suggested the reindeer theme, I hesitated as I didn’t expect all nine kittens to make it. I couldn’t very well have Santa’s reindeer without the whole team. I’ve never had a litter that large where all survived. I once before had a litter as large as nine, but only five kittens survived. With larger litters, sometimes the mother just doesn't have enough of her natural immunity to pass on equally.  Until this one, the largest surviving litter I’ve had is seven. I’ve had a few of seven, but four or five kittens are more common for Maine Coons.

Sunday is a small cat, but produces a ton of milk fortunately.  Her kittens gained as much, if not more than, kittens from smaller litters would.  I supplemented kitten formula once or twice daily to those kittens who would take a bottle.  About half of them refused the bottle, but I figured it gave Sunday a bit of a break in the demand.  And to answer the question that many have asked, there are typically eight stools at the feline milk bar, so someone always has to wait until a littermate falls off the stool, so to speak. 

There were a few bumps on the road, the scariest was when Sunday started vomiting and required veterinary intervention. Vomiting in a cat is not something I normally get alarmed about, but Sunday looked ill, and stories over the years of breeders losing queens due to infection, ruptures or calcium deficiency haunt me. Feeding such a large litter took its toll on Sunday’s immune system. Fortunately, Sunday responded to her treatment and was her ravenous self by the next day.  A couple of kittens stopped gaining and I had to tube feed them for a few days until they caught up since both refused to take the bottle. 

It’s the ravenous appetite which is quite trying right now that the kittens are five weeks old. Actually, “quite trying” is an understated description. The meowing, the leg-climbing, the poop on the floor…they’re a pain times nine. I keep telling myself this is temporary; they will grow out of this stage in about a week.

They have dry kitten food available at all time, plus I feed about five cans every day, and that’s just for the mother. Poor Sunday is doing her best, but as her team grows, mother’s milk isn’t enough. Some of them have learned to eat solid food, others just don’t get it yet. It may not help that I’ve been supplementing the kittens with two bottles daily since they were born so they equate me with food. The smell of my hand is very attractive to the little monsters now as they attempt to latch onto my fingers in search of food.

As I’m bottle-feeding one kitten, the others will climb into my lap, deafening me with their cries, and try to bite the bottle or the hand holding it. Their cute little needle-sharp teeth are in now, and pierce the skin quite easily.

I’m trying to teach the fuzzy piranhas by putting a small amount in their mewing mouths. Some like the meat taste, but prefer it only on my finger. Others just spit it out and keep yelling at me to feed them while still others climb up on my back, checking for food under my hair. Luckily each day another kitten has an “aha” moment when he/she discovers that solid food means self-feeding equals full tummy. At this rate, they may all be regular little pigs at the trough by next week.

Donner, the black boy, was originally a ravenous bottle drinker. He was one of the first to graduate to solid food, thank goodness. Last week, Donner stood in his plate of food and I added the remainder of the kitten formula to the food to entice him. He sniffed it, then squatted and peed.  A few of them stand in the food to eat, then climb in my lap afterwards, leaving canned food pawprints on my jeans.

Not only is this time period trying because the kittens are hungry and all of them don’t know how to eat on their own yet, but it’s also the messy time. Each day is a bit better, but experience has taught me that the larger litters tend to take longer to litter box train. Every morning entails wiping, scooping, disinfecting, and sweeping up after nine little butts who don’t understand staying IN the one of the boxes until they are completely finished. A few seem to believe that just because the litter box is in view, that counts.  This activity is repeated throughout the day.

One thing about having kittens who climb legs and stick to you like Velcro squirrels is that I am compelled to keep their claws clipped regularly. I can’t dull their needle teeth, but I can lessen the severity of the needle claws. As I was clipping claws the other day, I did the math. Each kitten has 18 claws (10 in front, 8 in back). Multiply 18 times nine (hang on here, I need the calculator) and you’re talking 162 individual little claws attached to a one-pound squirming ball of furr.

Of course, as I sit here itemizing my complaints, Dasher sits on my lap, purring loudly the minute I look at him, gently tasting my fingertips and looking angelic with his pearl-colored red-silver face and blue eyes. Cupid “draw back your bow” climbs up to join Dasher. Comet and Vixen play at my feet, Rudolph sleeps on the back of my calf. The others are napping. Nine healthy kittens, beautiful when they’re at peace, vampires when they’re hungry.

To be continued…