Saving lives from day one - a day in the life of a bottle-feeding kitten foster parent
Every year thousands of kittens come through SPCA’s doors at just days old and clinging for life. They will need round-the-clock care to make it through the weeks ahead. This is the story of one of our bottle-feeding kitten foster parents who looks after SPCA’s most vulnerable animals.
Becoming a bottle-feeding foster parent was something that Archie stumbled upon by chance.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor of her office with her foster kitten, Gunther, tumbling around her lap, Archie talks about how she first became intrigued with the idea of becoming a bottle-feeding foster parent.
“I walked by our assessment area, where a litter of kittens had just arrived. I went up to the vet nurse looking after them and went “ooh can I learn?” she says.
“I was just comfortable with it straight away. There has always been this part of me that just loves giving high risk animals a chance. The animals that people are normally scared of, I will think. 'I'll do it, that's fine,' and it is."
Since then, Archie has never looked back and fosters litters of bottle-feeding kittens for SPCA every year.
Becoming their mother
You may think feeding milk to a tiny kitten is easy, but Archie says there is a lot more involved than people would expect.
“When you are a bottle-feeding fosterer, you essentially become these kittens' mother,” she says.
“You have to feed them, you have to toilet them, and because mum toilets them by licking, you have to manually stimulate them with a cloth.”
“Young kittens can’t regulate their body heat at all, so making sure they are warm at all times is crucial. When they are really young you need to burp them as well by tapping them and making sure they don’t have any gas, trapped air, and are comfortable,” Archie adds.
“Their only job at that point is just surviving. They eat, sleep, toilet, repeat.”
Archie’s most intense bottle-feeding experience was looking after three kittens called Yoshi, Romeo, and Gomez. At just one day old, their umbilical cords were still attached, and they didn’t even look like cats.
“I just happened to be at the printer near the assessment area, and saw one of our volunteers with them and I asked,“what is that?”
“They were so small and vulnerable no foster parent had wanted to take them, so rather than one of our vet nurses taking another litter, I took them home.”
Archie fostered them throughout their time in SPCA’s care, watching them grow into cheeky young cats with their own personalities. She even signed adoption papers, adopting Yoshi into her family.
Looking after high-risk animals.
Being a bottle-feeding foster parent poses many challenges, Archie says.
Gunther continues to climbaround in her lapand playswith the tassles on her scarf as she speaks.
“Because I take the higher-risk animals that are more fragile, there is a chance they aren’t going to make it. That’s the hardest bit. Sheer willpower isn’t enough to keep them alive. You have to accept that nature may take its course when they are that young and vulnerable,” she says.
“It’s something that is always in the back of your mind, and you think, “If I really want it to, maybe it will survive”, but that’s not always the case.”
Another big challenge is sleep and overcoming the lack of it while bottle-feeding. When looking after litters of kittens that are days old, Archie feeds them every few hours throughout the night.
“The first few days are so tiring. The hardest litter I had was feeding a litter of six kittens every two hours. It wouldn’t have been that bad but some of them weren’t feeding or taking to the bottle that well. It took 45 minutes to feed all of them, toilet all of them, burp all of them. It was exhausting.”
Watching them grow
Gunther has moved on from Archie’s scarf and is now tugging on the end of her sleeve. She looks at him and smiles as he acts so cheekily.
“My favourite thing about bottle-feeding is watching them develop, seeing their personalities come out, seeing them gain confidence, open their eyes, learn to purr, eat by themselves. It is always so amazing.”
“I just love the purring. They learn to purr at a very young age, and it sounds like bubbles popping,” she laughs.
“They can’t see you, but they love you.”
Gunther was found in Waikanae and brought into SPCA late on a Friday evening. Unable to find any other bottle-feeding foster parents, Archie ended up taking Gunther home with her.
“We were only supposed to take him for the weekend, and we were going to look for someone else to foster him.”
But Archie has been looking after him ever since and Gunther is now eight weeks old.
“I thought he was going to be an easy bottle-feeder, but he ended up having a medical emergency the next week and he wasn’t so easy after all,” she says.
I was grateful he was with me and I could pick up the signs. It turns out he had giardia [a parasitic infection]. He was really flat, and needed fluids and antibiotics.It was a very scary time.”
Now after caring for Gunther for weeks and watching him grow, he will soon be ready to go up for adoption once he weighs enough to be desexed.
Being with bottle-feeding kittens, guiding them through the most vulnerable stage of their life, and seeing them off to new forever homes is a bittersweet moment for Archie.
“You hope that they are healthy, happy, and that you have set them up well for the future.”
As Archie talks, Gunther is lying on her legs, trying to bat his paws at her hands and grab them.
“Gunther is a bit of a menace, because he was a single kitten. He will have to go to a home with other animals, as he likes to bite more than he should. Kittens in a litter learn not to bite by their siblings biting them back, it teaches them that it hurts. Obviously, I haven’t been able to bite Gunther back,” she laughs.
Becoming a bottle-feeder foster parent
To anyone considering becoming a bottle-feeding foster parent, Archie has some words of advice.
“It’s great if you are not too attached to your sleep,” she laughs.
“It’s also important to be emotionally aware that it is exhausting and, no matter how good a job you do, it might not always work out. They are really small, and we don’t know what they exposed to before they came into our care,” she adds.
“But the ones that make it, it’s worth it, it’s absolutely worth it!
“All the effort you put in - even if they don’t make it - remember they were in a loving home where they were cared for. That’s important - they felt the goodness that’s in the world.”