Written and Photos by: CaM Fan, S. Hosenfeld – Texas
On the 14th of March, one of our rescues gave birth in our closet to five kittens. My fiancé and I have both been rescuing, fostering, and rehoming cats and kittens for years; I’ve been caring for nursing cats and bottle babies since high school, so kittens are pretty familiar territory for both of us.
This particular litter was a bit atypical though, with four of the five kittens born abnormally small, and only one normally-sized kitten. The other four were incredibly tiny and almost underdeveloped, and felt skeletal to the touch. Unfortunately, three of the kittens passed away in the first 48 hours, leaving one normally-sized kitten, Mort, and his sister Esk, who was the smallest kitten I’d ever seen.
Mort was a healthy 3.4 ounces at birth, but Esk was born at just 1.3 ounces. Esk was the picture candidate for Fading Kitten Syndrome, and we didn’t even expect her to survive the weekend.
We consistently had to make sure the kittens were warm, especially with only two of them and Esk being far too little to maintain warmth. Their bed in the closet initially was towels with a heating pad under it, but the third day their mother had a better idea. We came home from work and the kittens weren’t in the closet, under the bed, or anywhere we could find!
When we did find them, they were in our bed, under the blankets. From the third night on their mama has kept both kittens in bed with us, snuggled under the blankets and against our thighs, or on top of the covers curled into our hips. She decided the warmest and safest place for her kittens was with us, so there they’ve stayed.
We’ve been doing everything we can to make sure Esk and Mort stay healthy and grow well. The bed always has a heating pad under the blankets, and we’ve got extra kitten milk replacer just in case their mother decides to stop nursing.
We started weighing her twice a day; a normal, healthy kitten is usually born around 3.5 ounces, and typically gains half an ounce or so a day. Her brother Mort was more than twice her size at any given moment, and there were days she only gained .1 ounce, and at least one where she didn’t gain any at all.
She’s been constantly watched for signs that she’s fading, and it took a week for her to just get to 3 ounces. In all the years I’ve cared for abandoned runts and bottle babies, I’ve never ever had such a tiny kitten to survive. But every day, there she is, nursing and fighting to get bigger. For being so small, she crawled around the bed really well, and when she is unhappy or hungry she’s got a surprisingly loud squeak for her size. Every day she shows us what a fighter she is, and how badly she wants to live.
She’ll be four weeks this week, and now weighs in at 7.9 ounces – still below the weight she should be for her age, and is about the size of a kitchen sponge. But it’s a long way from when she was born and the size of a large ravioli!
Her eyes are open and she’s getting stronger as she gets better at walking, and petting her I no longer feel every bone in her little body. They still sleep in bed with us every night, and they probably will until they’re ready to be adopted.
Esk and Mort are named after characters in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, and we thought Esk’s name was particularly fitting, given the character’s nature to defy the odds and show that she’s much stronger than people think she is.
When they both get to 8 weeks and show they’re healthy enough, we’ll be looking to find them both forever homes that we know will be able to care for them, and will hopefully see just how rare and truly special little baby Esk is!