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Be a Kitten Hero: Last Ditch Efforts to Try when Trying to Save a Dying Kitten

Charlotte likes pretty things, and she loves the beach, sushi, coffee and seashells.

I took this picture of the kittens on their second week of life. They were born, and then their mother immediately died and they were left helpless and orphaned.

I took this picture of the kittens on their second week of life. They were born, and then their mother immediately died and they were left helpless and orphaned.

Fading Kitten Syndrome

A litter of kittens, or a loner, may have been discovered. They are probably babies, and maybe even have the umbilical cord attached. They seem cold, helpless, and little and scared. Sometimes kittens in these environments, especially without their mothers, will start to fade. After conventional methods of helping a fading kitten, one may begin to panic when seeing the kitten go downhill. Here are a few techniques that may help a kitten pull through, even in the darkest hour.

Community Cat Crusaders

I became part of a group called the Community Cat Crusaders. Their mission is to trap feral cats to spay, neuter and return them. Through this team, I came across six kittens that needed help. Their mother died while giving birth. They were only five days old. One kitten still had its umbilical cord attached. All were in terrible shape, barely eating, and very thin, very sad looking. I took three of the kittens, and another foster mom took another three. All three of hers died, and two of mine survived. The youngest one with the umbilical cord was the first to die on me. Surprisingly, the last two are surviving their third week. It may have been a miracle that they survived, but I also tried a few 'hacks' to try to keep the kittens alive. Here, I shared a few tricks and tips that I attempted on the kittens to try to keep them alive, in addition to helpful background information.

Fading Kittens Viral Versus Bacterial Infections

Usually, lost, orphaned, lonely kittens in dire need have some respiratory distress. They may have labored breathing. If there is green discharge around the nose, the cause is most likely bacterial. If the drainage is clear, the reason may be viral. Kittens may have a runny nose. They may sneeze. They may even have eye discharge. Of course, antibiotics are great for bacterial infections in kittens, but a vet visit is not always possible. Here, I offer a few helpful remedies that may save the kitten's life, especially if antibiotics or a vet visit are not likely.

Why Do Kittens Die?

Kittens usually die from being cold, having low sugar, or from losing interest in eating and drinking due to a loss of smell. They start to develop muscular weakness to the point of death. It's essential that fading kittens remain hydrated, with increased sugar, and with a heat source. Remember to keep the kittens isolated from other pets, cats, and dogs to prevent anything from spreading if the sickness happens to be contagious.

Esential Oils and Dying Kittens

Essential oils are quite popular, but they can be harmful to cats. There are a few essential oils to avoid with kittens. When it comes to essential oils, quality is critical. Many retailers sell synthetic versions of oils, which can be dangerous. When using essential oils with kittens, make sure that it is diluted. This means that there should be one drop of essential oil to four or five drops of an oil diluting agent. An oil diluting agent could be some drops of coconut oil or vegetable oil. A natural oil to dilute with is best. The most that the essential oil is concentrated, the more dangerous it is to the kitten. Never use wintergreen, peppermint, pine oil, or citrus oil with cats. These can cause poisoning and liver failure within the kittens. Cats are missing a certain liver enzyme that helps people metabolize certain oils. There have been instances of people using a tiny amount of tea tree oil on a cat's wound for several days with success. Tea Tree oil has been known to have many antifungal and antimicrobial effects. Tea tree oil, in a cat, can also be dangerous, especially to a kitten. It's important to do more research in this field, but I felt I had success with hemp, lavender, and sage as essential oils when it came to my kittens.

Sage and Fading Kittens

I have a little humidifier in the shape of a whale. I used to use it with some water and a few drops of lavender oil for more of an aromatherapy escape. I decided to use it for my kittens, as the humidifier idea was suggested to me by a kitten foster friend. I upped the ante by adding sage, which is also known as Salvia officinalis. I am Native American and have seen and experienced the burning of sage. Sage burning would be too harsh for a kittens lungs, so I added a few drops of sage to the humidifier, and I feel it has made a difference. There was a study done in 2013 that mentioned that sage essential oil has antifungal and anti-inflammatory potential. (Abu-Darwish, 2013) Native Americans have used sage for changing the ionic compositions of the air, and it can affect the kitten's stress response. Burning sage, in a metaphysical sense, has been used to remove negative energies. It seemed to improve the kitten's mood, and they seemed calmer with the sage essence.

Kitten Bacterial Eye Infections

There is an Herbal remedy called Eyebright. It's supposed to be a natural medicinal alternative for eye diseases, afflictions and infections. A scientific article in 2015 noted that Eyebright helps against several kinds of eye infections, even Staphylococcus aureus and yeast related infections, such as Candida albicans. (Novy, 2015) The main ingredients that helped the eyes are then-hexadecanoic acid and thymol. After that, the myristic acid, linalool, and anethole in Eyebright help cure eye infections as well. It has scientifically expressed antimicrobial effects for many eye infections. This is sold in a dropper and bottle form, and can easily be purchased. It's advised to use an alcohol-free Eyebright solution, and dilute it with some coconut oil and gently apply to the eyes of the cat.

Do not force the eyes open, but leave a bit of the solution near the eyelids so that it may melt over the eye as the day goes on. Lavender oil can also be used on the kitten's eye when applied gently on a cotton ball, in case there is an absence of Eyebright. If someone has some antibiotic for eyes, they can try applying this too, on the kitten's eye. Prescription antibiotics for the eye may be lying around, as usually the full tube is not often used, and applying a bit of this on the kitten's eye may help, especially in the absence of lavender oil. It's best to gently wipe the kitten's eye with a baby wipe before applying medication or oils. Loosen any stiff hairs, and remove any traces of mucous Remember to check the kitten's eye every 2-3 hours to wipe away any crusty areas and to apply the Eyebright, lavender, or antibiotic ointment as well.

Fading Kittens and Hemp Oil

For my fading kittens, I rubbed pure hemp oil on the fur. I immediately noticed two 'drunken' fleas started dancing around the fur of the kittens. I would say that hemp oil is a great, natural way to expose a few fleas. My husband was able to capture them with tweezers and kill them off before they caused any further damage. A lot of over-the-counter flea treatments can be completely hazardous to a newborn kitten's sensitive skin. Hemp oil, according to a 2010 scientific, peer-reviewed journal, has an excellent amount of omega three and omega six fatty acids. These fats are wonderful to maintain cardiac health. I like rubbing the oil into the kitten's fur after a feeding, and after stimulating them to use the restroom on a baby wipe. They sometimes lick each other, and effectively, will ingest some of the hemp oil, which is perfectly fine. Hemp oil does have a strange, grassy taste, so I would not recommend putting it into a kitten's mouth, or formula, as their appetite for food should remain as strong as it can.

Lysine for Kittens that are Dying

A great item to add to the formula is powdered immune support with lysine. Only a sprinkle will do, as the powder or granules may be bitter tasting to the kitten. Great immune support with lysine will help the kitten maintain proper respiratory function and even up to par eye health. Lysine is an amino acid that helps treat virus outbreaks while helping to maintain good gut health. Lysine also health prevent and treat conjunctivitis. A sprinkle of this in the formula will do a lot of good, and little to no harm.

Respiratory Issues in Fading Kittens

Upper respiratory infections are common in kittens. It is usually caused by some virus, especially a virus the mother may have had or died from. These infections are not contagious to humans, but they do spread to other cats in the home. Antibiotics can't help these kinds of upper respiratory infections. If one has any leftover antibiotic at home, they can attempt to use it for the kittens, but it's best only to use a tiny amount in the formula. A liquid form could easily be dropped into the formula, and a tablet form can be dropped in a larger cup of formula. Premade formula can be left in the refrigerator to use and lightly heat up in the microwave. Remember that when microwaving formula, only heat it for maybe eight seconds, and then check it. Small amounts of formula heat up fast, and kittens will not want to drink hot or cold formula. The hot formula can also cause blisters in the kitten's mouth. If one does not have any antibiotic tablets lying around, they can purchase something called PetAlive Respo-K Tablets, and dissolve a tablet in a cup of premade formula. The main ingredients are calc sulph, Ferrum Phos, Hepar sulph calc, Sambucus, and Verbascum. This helps strengthen the cat's immune system and lessen the severity and life of an upper respiratory infection.

Can kittens use Afrin?

I usually have to use Afrin to go to sleep at night. Otherwise, I can't breathe. I noticed that many times, extremely sick kittens couldn't breathe. Something that I have tried that may have worked is to put a few drops of Afrin on a Q-Tip, and then rub it around the kitten's nostrils. After a few minutes, breathing was noticeably better, and the kittens were able to eat. When the kittens have an upper respiratory infection, their noses may become clogged with mucous. When this happens, their ability to smell is hugely diminished, and they lose their appetite for food. Also, they tend not to want to eat as they can't eat and breathe at the same time. After I did this little hack, the kittens were able to sleep better as well. Their breathing wasn't as labored, they ate a bit better, and seemed to be more at ease. I only used it once a day, as using it too long, in humans, can have a rebound effect. If one does not feel comfortable using Afrin, they can try HomeoPet Nose Relief. It's a natural product in drop form that is safe for kittens. The main ingredient is Gelsemium sempervirens, which is also known as yellow Jasmine. Other helpful ingredients include Hepar sulphuris calcareum, Kali iodatum, and Natrum Arsenicosum. This product helps lessen sneezing, common cold symptoms, and any allergy symptoms and has less stronger chemical components than Afrin.

Fading Kittens and Humidifiers

A humidifier and oil diffuser can be used in an area where the kittens are at, but only if it's out of reach for the kittens. A humidifier or vaporizer can also be used in the same room that the kittens are housed it. One doesn't have to use any oils, and the humidifier or vaporizer action will help to keep the air moisturized. Vaporizers release hot tea, while homicides release cool mist. Vaporizers may help loosen any kitten congestion that has built up, and the kitten may be better able to breathe better. Humidifiers and diffusers may be used with essential oils that are not pine, wintergreen, peppermint or citrus based. I was able to successfully use hemp oil with the whale above diffuser, thought I had to make sure to keep the humidifier very clean as the hemp oil caused a bit of build up within the humidifier itself.

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Dewormers and Dying Kittens

Sometimes kittens die from intestinal parasites. A good product for this can be the Homeopath Worm Clear. A few drops of this is a cup of the premade formula is great to help treat and prevent worms. Worms that can kill a kitten can be roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. Usually, people try to feed kittens when it's too late. A set of kittens I had a long time ago were plagued with worms, and I tried treating them too late. I noticed the worms after I noticed long, white, frightening things coming out of their stools. They were slender and long. I was caught off guard as a new foster mom, and those kittens did not make it. Sometimes worms are introduced in kittens by fleas. And as mentioned earlier, a natural flea killer and repellant is pure hemp oil, which is covered in another section. Adding this kind of homeopathic worm clearing solution to the formula is great for preventing an issue with worms. This formula comes in a dropper form, and it's nontoxic. This kind of product doesn't necessarily kill the worms, but it creates a kind of environment within the kittens that the worms cannot thrive in.

Baby Wipes and Fading Kittens

Have several babies’ wipes handy. These are great for gently cleaning a kitten. Kittens may have a bit of mess built up around their private regions. They may have food around their mouths, some nasal discharge around their nose, or even eye gunk around their eyes. Kittens may have hardened clumps of hair where milk may have accumulated. Baby wipes are great for stimulating the urinary reflexes in newborn kittens. When they are in a normal, natural situation, the mother cat licks the kitten's private regions to stimulate waste removal. Since the mother cat, in this case, is not in the picture, the act can be replicated by gentling holding the kitten in the palm of your hand over a washable cloth or paper towel. Gently move the baby wipe around the private area until one feels a warmth, and wait for the kitten to finish voiding. This doesn't have to be forced, as it can lead to irritation, but one does have to do this after every feeding to get the kitten used to use the restroom on his or her own. At about four to five weeks, the kitten will be able to do this by themselves.

Use a Syringe Instead of Bottles for Formula Feeding Kittens

Usually, kitten bottles are hard to find at a regular store. If one can't find a kitten bottle, it's best to look for a child's syringe. Look for a syringe that goes up to 10 MLS. If the kitten survives and gets olds, it will be able to suck on the syringe itself without one having to push on the depressor portion. Some kittens don't do well with bottles, so syringes are a great alternative. Enter the syringe from the side of a kitten’s mouth. An active kitten may try to push the syringe away. Make sure to put the kitten in a sock or a soft cloth to kind of wrap it like a little burrito before feeding it. This action will help the kitten remain warm, comforted and clean if some milk spills out.

Pedialyte for Fading Kittens

The formula can be mixed with baby Pedialyte to keep the kitten hydrated. In the case where a kitten looks like they are fading away completely, attempt to give the kitten Pedialyte mixed with some sugar. The sugar will help raise the kitten's glycol levels, while the Pedialyte will rehydrate the kitten with electrolytes.

Kittens, Hypoglycemia, and Sugar

Kittens may suffer from Hypoglycemia. This is when their blood sugar is way low. It can be a cause or effect or fading kitten syndrome. This condition calls for a need in the kitten's body for glucose, which is another word for sugar. Without glucose, the kitten will be weak, and won't move. The kitten may even experience seizures, as glucose is essential for the muscles and brain tissues' normal functioning. Many websites may suggest using honey or Karo Syrup. I have had success with adding a teaspoon of sugar to the formula and mixing it well as a preventative measure.

Kitten Formula with Taurine

Never give cow's milk to a kitten. This can completely upset their gastrointestinal tract. The best kind of kitten formula is powdered and has taurine. Taurine is a kind of amino acid, and it acts as an antioxidant for the kittens. It also helps keep the kitten's heart healthy. Taurine also helps vision in kittens, and the way it metabolizes into bile salts helps the kitten indigestion. Kittens cannot make enough taurine on their own, so it's essential to obtain kitten formula with taurine already in it.

Keep Kittens Warm

Keep kittens warm. They may do well with a reptile light hovering above them, in an enclosure that allows them to move around if the heated area gets too hot. One can also use a heating pad and add a layer or two of old socks, shirts, or scraps of fabric to make a 'nest' for the kitten.

Last Ditch Efforts to Save Fading Kittens

Ultimately, this is what I had in a cup of the premade formula: Kitten formula with Taurine, Lysine granules, Drops of Dewormer, A teaspoon or two of sugar, and an antibiotic that I allowed to dissolve. In the kitten's room, in the closet, I had the essential oil humidifier with sage, the heat lamp, a box lined with dog training pads, and two little hamster beds. I kept them isolated completely away from my other cats, dogs, and children. I used the lavender oil and antibiotic oil on the cat's infected eye, and rubbed hemp oil on the kitten's fur and skin, and stimulated the kittens after each feeding to encourage them to urinate or make waste matter. I cleaned the kittens at each feeding with baby wipes. I feel like these hacks, tip, and tricks helped the kittens survive. They are on their third week now, still alive, and they are the sole two remaining kittens of a six kitten litter. It could have been my remedies or luck, but either way, I wanted to share my findings and remedies with you, and I hope that some of you find some help that you can use with your kittens. Congratulations on fostering kittens and doing your best to save a little life. When regular methods of saving a fading kitten fail to help, I hope that these unorthodox methods can save a little life.

Fading Kitten References

Abu-Darwish, M. S., Cabral, C., Ferreira, I. V., Gonçalves, M. J., Cavaleiro, C., Cruz, M. T., Salgueiro, L. (2013). Essential Oil of Common Sage (Salvia officinalis L.) from Jordan: Assessment of Safety in Mammalian Cells and Its Antifungal and Anti-Inflammatory Potential. Biomed Research International, 2013, 538940.

Novy, P., Davidova, H., Serrano-Rojero, C. S., Rondevaldova, J., Pulkrabek, J., & Kokoska, L. (2015). Composition and Antimicrobial Activity of Euphrasia rostkoviana Hayne Essential Oil. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine? eCAM, 2015, 734101.

© 2018 Charlotte Doyle


BellatheBall on February 11, 2018:

Clearly, you are a HERO! It would be very hard to find someone with the patients and diligence to foster sick newborn kittens and we all give your our thanks.

I would like to add Witch Hazel as a very gentle cleanser for kittens when applied to a cotton ball. It contains a natural anti-biotic and was used for 1000s of years by Native Americans as a skin tonic.

Also, Dr. Bronner's Peppermint with Hemp Oil is non-toxic and can be diluted with warm water to bathe the tiny kitties. The peppermint is very irritating to parasites and they either die or jump right off.

But my concern is how do you socialize the little darlings without a momma kitty?

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