SPCA New Zealand

In safe hands: meet our latest bottle-feeder kittens

05 April 2024

A litter of kittens at our Wellington Centre have been given a second chance at life after being cared for by our team, and have been the important subjects of bottle-feeding teaching sessions.

In safe hands: meet our latest bottle-feeder kittens

“Bottle feeding” is a term used in the SPCA world to refer to the more hands-on care needed for newborn animals without their mums – often felines.

It can sound daunting to those who haven’t tried it, but we are always on the lookout for new people to help us care for these most vulernable animals, and our Wellington Centre recently ran some special sessions to introduce staff, foster carers and external vet nurses to the process.

The stars of the session? A litter of four very lucky of kittens. Gooseberry, Blueberry, Strawberry and Raspberry (or “The Berries” as they’re lovingly known by our team) are just one example of the countless litters we see across the country every year in need of bottle feeding.

SPCA’s Wellington Centre Manager, Archie, told us that kitten season is no longer limited to just the warmer months.

“The term ‘kitten season’ is actually misleading, as the period that we’re seeing fewer kittens is lessening,” Archie said. “In the past, we typically had far fewer kittens being born and coming into our Centres as the weather got colder, but that hasn’t been the case over the last year.”

“It also seems to be worse in certain regions. Up north, the teams have told us it didn’t quieten down at all.”

Sharing the love... and the knowledge

Archie took on the job of fostering the young Berries, being highly experienced with bottle-feeders already.

With this latest litter, she decided to take the opportunity to train up as many people as possible on the proper methods. Having more staff and volunteers trained in this very special area will hopefully provide much-needed relief for future influxes of kittens.

“There’s a fair bit to learn in the beginning, but it’s very rewarding,” Archie says.

The teaching sessions were run as both group and individual sessions. Participants were a mix of our SPCA team members and fosterers, while we also ran a session for the nurses at a local vet clinic. There are now an additional 18 people trained to bottle-feed kittens, and some groups have come back to the Centre for further learning. An amazing outcome!

We’re thrilled to be able to share this important knowledge, and to have new enthusiastic groups willing to put their hand up to care for vulnerable animals like The Berries.

“It’s been a great opportunity for people to get comfortable learning to feed and care for these little ones, without the pressure or responsibility of having to take them home,” Archie told us.

Our team received hands-on training to learn how to bottle-feed the Berries.
Our team received hands-on training to learn how to bottle-feed the Berries.

What’s involved in caring for bottle feeders?

Bottle-feeders, also known as neonates, require all of the care they would typically receive from their mothers under normal circumstances. This is from just one day old, up to about four to six weeks old.

If you’re considering volunteering and could see yourself caring for bottle-feeding kittens, here is some key information:

  • It’s important that they’re kept warm, as being too cold can affect their digestive system. Heat pads are often used, as they cannot regulate their own body temperature.
  • Feeding is frequent – newborns typically require feeding every two hours, with this extending to about every five hours as they grow.
  • They are toileted every time they are fed. This involves rubbing them with a rag to stimulate toileting, as this would normally happen when the mother licks them.
  • Neonates can mostly live in their carriers for the first few weeks, so you don’t need to worry about not having enough space!

Every litter and every kitten is different, but the weaning process typically begins at around five to six weeks of age, when solids are slowly introduced to the milk.

“Some kittens are more stubborn,” Archie said. “You generally know they’re ready to be weaned when they start chewing the teat – their little teeth come in, and the teats are regularly destroyed!”

While some may be stubborn, everyone has agreed that they make up for it with their incredible cuteness.

The Berries have now spent time growing bigger and stronger in foster care with both Archie and another SPCA team member, and are almost ready to have their desexing surgery.

At SPCA, we ensure that all animals are desexed before they’re made available for adoption. Through desexing, we can prevent thousands of animals being born into lives of neglect.

Gooseberry, Raspberry, Blueberry and Strawberry grew strong and confident in foster care.
Gooseberry, Raspberry, Blueberry and Strawberry grew strong and confident in foster care.

We want to give a huge thank you to Archie, our Centre staff, and everyone who took part in our bottle-feeding training sessions. We may be working to prevent as many unwanted litters as possible – but together, we’re able to provide the utmost care to those that need us.

If you’re interested in fostering, or learning to bottle-feed animals, you can visit our website for more information and to sign up.

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