Kitten Q+A with Smalls Experts Dr. Mikel Delgado and Ellen Carozza, LVT
Earlier this month we invited our friends Dr. Delgado and Ellen Carozza to join us for a special IG Live to chat all things kitten care. Keep reading for highlights, and watch the full event here.
Kitten season is well underway and animal rescue organizations are facing record numbers of mouths to feed and cats to care for. To demystify kitten care we invited two experts to weigh in on both kitten behavior best practices, and kitten health from the perspective of a licensed vet technician who specializes in cat care.
Question: What are the key differences in care for kittens and adult cats?
Ellen Carozza: A lot of people don't fully understand that when they go to the vet, and they have a sick cat it's easier for a doctor to prescribe a remedy, versus a kitten. A lot of drug companies don't test their treatments on kittens younger than 8 weeks, so they do not know the full scope of impact on the kitten's growth, GI tract, or if there are longterm harms. It becomes under the discretion under the vet to say "do we prescribe this baby medications without knowing the full outcomes, or do we let them succumb to a disease". It's a hard position to be in. Progressive vets will weigh those benefits based on experience because the studies aren't available.
Q: From a behavior perspective, are there other considerations for kittens?
Mikel Delgado: One thing with behavior, you can't rest on your laurels. Early life experience can have an impact on the rest of their lives. Usually when we adopt a cat, they are socialized and developed. Genetics play a role in the cats personality and behavior, but we need to increase our understanding of how early kitten care and socialization factor into behavior "problems".
Q: In neonatal kittens who don't have a biological mother cat, what are some health and behavior issues that you two have seen?
EC: What we need to understand is that we can never "replace" a mother cat, we can never meet both the nutritional and comfort needs completely for these kittens. That said, there are ways we can meet their health and behavioral needs in more creative ways. Dr. Delgado needs to come up with some robotic mom cat! But, in the meantime there are still problems especially in litters where kittens suck on each other in search of their mom. This can be detrimental to their health, and be horrifying.
MD: The guaranteed way to stop the problem is to separate the kittens, but it gets tricky when that's at odds with their socialization needs. They're already deprived of maternal contact, so its essential to minimize other deviations from what they need behaviorally. If you're rescuing kittens, always make sure that they are truly abandoned from their mother, because that separation can lead to more stress than necessary. We need to think responsibly, can we trap mom and babies? We can't address the internal motivation to suck; it is their instinct. We're currently experimenting with surrogate "moms" for kittens. We're seeing if we can direct that behavior towards something else. It's worked in other species, such as pigs, and we're hoping we can replicate that research for cats... but it's hard to say that it's been a success quite yet.