It is unfortunate that in some sad cases, mother cat may die because of a complication from pregnancy. In this case, the kitten must be helped promptly in order to survive. However, in some cases, the mother is well and alive but she may refuse to look after the kitten, often leaving the poor kitten to die.
This is the course of nature, but as humans we often feel the urge to intervene and help out the kitten. The most relevant issue at this point is to provide kitty with milk.
In nature, kittens upon being born are fed by their mother a very important type of milk known as ''colostrum''. This milk often known as ''mother's gold'' plays a very important role in the life of the kitten. This thick yellow golden substance is available generally for only 72 hours so a kitten without a mom may miss out this very important milk that will provide the kitten with important antibodies that will help him develop and fight off diseases.
So what to do if the kitten's mother has passed on or if her mother will not care for him? There are various not so well known solutions that may be available.
1) Look for a Cat That has Just Delivered
This may be difficult but it may be worth a try to call any cat breeders or local shelters in the area. In order to produce colostrum, the mother cat must have delivered within the past 36-48 hours. If the mother cat is still alive but simply reluctant to nurse the kittens, it is worth it to try to hold her down as the kittens nurse even for a few minutes, this may be much better than nothing.
2) Find a colostrum donor
Yes, even that (healthy) male cat full of scars living in the alley may help the poor kitten! How can this be feasible, if male cats do not produce any milk? The answer is that in this case, a product very similar to colostrum is produced by taking a sample of the cat's blood. Any cat may basically be a donor as long as not pregnant.
Here is how it works: blood is drawn and spun so that the serum separates from the blood cells. This serum is what is called ''serum colostrum''.
In order to work well this serum should be provided within 36 hours (but ideally within 16 hours) from the birth of the kitten. This is when the gut is receptive in receiving the healthy milk. The serum colostrum therefore must be promptly bottle fed to the kitten.
3) Milk Replacement Products
If there is no luck in finding the kitty a source of colostrum, then the kitty should be fed commercial milk replacements. While these may help the kitty survive, they will never match the important role natural colostrum plays.
While colostrum is beneficial, in some cases kittens may react to it because they are genetically incompatible. In this case, the kittens are born healthy, but upon suckling they begin to weaken and develop what is known as hemolyisis of the new born or ''fading kitten syndrome'' which ultimately leads to death. Affected kittens usually develop brown colored urine and a yellowish coloring of the skin (jaundice). In some cases, they may lose the tip of their tail.
Bovine (from cows) colostrum is produced nowadays for pets with a low immune system or with a sickness. Pet owners often report great improvements in their pets fed colostrum.
KT pdx from Vancouver, WA, USA on July 23, 2009:
With our current fosters, we had the mother cat available. She wasn't nursing as often as she should, but we remedied that by holding her down until the babies latched on for a while. After she realized that she felt better with the babies having nursed (i.e. mammaries not as full), she started purring like a motorboat anytime the kittens started nursing!
Two years ago, we needed to bottle-feed our first fosters for a week. No mama cat was available, so we got KMR (kitten milk replacer), which has synthetic colostrum. Not the best, but it did the trick, and those kittens are now healthy, happy 2-year-olds.
I didn't know that you could extract it from blood serum!
Raman Kuppuswamy from Chennai, India on July 22, 2009: