Three Little Kittens featured in an article on Best Friends Animal Society

On January 11 2011, Best Friends Animal Society featured an article written by Three Little Kittens‘ Dee Dee Williams titled,  A Soft Spot for Kittens: Three Little Kittens provides much more than mittens when caring for their young charges.

Hi! My name is Dee Williams and I operate Three Little Kittens, a nonprofit neo-natal kitten rescue located “by the shore” in Asbury Park, New Jersey. I rescued my first neo-natal kittens thirty years ago and after 23 years of part-time rescue, I created Three Little Kittens (or as we like to call it, TLK), now seven years in full time operation.

What is a neo-natal kitten? Well technically, it is a newborn kitten, but I consider them to be young kittens still bottle feeding, or up to about four weeks of age.

The reason that an otherwise sane person would choose to do this comes from the difficulty this age category represents for all shelters. Aside from the extensive care that new-born kittens require, they are especially susceptible to the many diseases that older cats have developed immunity to, diseases that are present in any shelter, no matter how clean. This creates a need for a specialized shelter.

Read the full article here.

Caring for Special Needs Kittens/Cats

We have acquired a lot of knowledge about treatment and care of special needs kittens and cats at Three Little Kittens over the years.  We’ve written previously about what we have learned about the testing for and care of kittens with Feline Aids (FIV).  This is one of the conditions that a special needs kitten, available for adoption from Three Little Kittens, might have.  More likely, as this previous article stresses, additional FIV testing might be needed for one of our adoptable kittens as, when they are ready for adoption, they are still too young for definitive testing.

In this new feature article, the aim is to share what we’ve learned about three other  medical and social conditions of kittens that warrant special consideration on our part in foster care, and on the part of adopters. These are:

  • Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH)
  • Feline Leukemia (FeLV)
  • Late Rescue & Socialization

Special needs kittens can make terrific pets, often with normal life spans and just minor accommodations in care routines.

Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH)

Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH) occurs when a mother cat is exposed to one of the distemper viruses during her third trimester of pregnancy.  Distemper is very common, so all unvaccinated outdoor cats are  vulnerable to it. Three Little Kittens has also seen cases where CH kittens were born because a pregnant cat was given a distemper vaccination at the wrong time.

CH affects development of the cerebellum, leaving a kitten with permanent motor and muscle control issues.  Some call these kitties “wobblers”.  The most similar disease in humans would be Cerebral Palsy.  Film clips showing how cats that have Cerebellar Hypoplasia move are easily found on the web (e.g., on YouTube).   As I write this, there is a particularly good video clip available of a cat with CH, named Gordon, as an infant and again as a 1 year old.

When kittens with CH are faced with  the normal challenges (e.g., learning to use the litter box, competing with other cats for food, climbing stairs, etc.), they are just as quick as other kittens at figuring out “what” they want to do.  However, it takes them a little longer to gain the physical skills to do it.  They can improve in motor skills as they get older, but they will remain, at least, somewhat uncoordinated in their movements for life.

Though there is no treatment, kittens with Cerebellar Hypoplasia are otherwise normal and healthy and have a normal life expectancy.  They will thrive best when treated the same as other cats.   Much the same as with humans who have disabilities, over protection can harm them more than help. There is often much to admire in their spirit.  CH kitties do tumble over regularly, especially when they are excited.   They frequently move forward in a zig-zag run and sometimes experience tremors as well.    While they have to work harder than other cats for everything they do, they typically don’t need special accommodation.

Possible exceptions to the no-need-for-special-accommodation rule could be related to litter box access or protection from tumbling down the stairs.  Most CH kittens, however, learn to handle both stairs and litter boxes  just fine.

Feline Leukemia

Feline Leukemia is a highly contagious retrovirus affecting cats, but not humans or other species.  The virus is shed in high quantities in the saliva and nasal secretions of affected cats, as well as in their urine, feces and in milk, in the case of infected nursing mother cats.  Cat-to-cat transfer of virus can occur during grooming, from a bite wound, and (though rarely) through shared use of litter boxes and feeding dishes. Transmission can also take place from an infected mother cat to her kittens, either before they are born or while they are nursing.  FeLV doesn’t survive long outside a cat’s body— less than a few hours under normal household conditions.

Because FeLV is easily transmitted, kittens who test positive for Feline Leukemia must be kept apart from healthy cats.  There is no cure.  It is the most common cause of cancer in cats, it may cause blood disorders, and it may lead to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself against other infections.  It is a condition that can shorten a cats life considerably.

Three Little Kittens kittens are tested for Feline Leukemia before adoption.   In the US, FeLV infection rates are only 2-3% of the entire cat population.  Rates are higher, though, among very young kittens, which are very susceptible to the virus.  Despite this, in its first five years of operation, Three Little Kittens has been fortunate to never have had a kitten test positive for Feline Leukemia.   That doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, though.

The perfect home for an FeLV positive kitten would be one with other FeLV positive cats; and we have met and read of compassionate care givers who provide just that.  The second best alternative is a home where there are no other cats.  It takes a special person to adopt and commit to caring for a terminally ill pet.  If you have that capability and interest, we would love to know you.

Late Rescue Kittens

Elsewhere on Three Little Kittens‘ website, we have talked about kitten rescue and the ideal age for it to occur (under 6 weeks old).   At this young age, kittens have a very good chance of forgetting their mother-taught-fear of humans and becoming loving, affectionate pets.   Sometimes, Three Little Kittens ends up fostering kittens that were rescued after the age of 6 weeks.  We’re pretty good at judging kitten age, but even we make mistakes.  Also, sometimes we’re just too soft-hearted to say no.

We find that these “late rescue” kittens are more difficult to socialize.  They are likely to be human shy, dislike handling and frequently hide.  Three Little Kittens works to help them get accustomed to living with people.  Our volunteers pay special attention to them, carefully and patiently coaxing them to come out and play – even if just for a minute.

The special needs of these “late rescue” kittens are for acceptance and understanding.  These kittens weren’t raised knowing people – they were raised to stay away from them.  They are fine with other cats, and not aggressive, they just don’t act affectionate (or if they care).

Their adoptive family’s patience will be rewarded by their trust, eventually.  Once an adopted kitten of this temperament realizes that this is “home” and the place where they get fed, they will naturally come out and socialize with their “family”.  However,  they may never like being picked up and they will probably choose to move to a hidden spot whenever you have visitors.

Three Little Kittens asks all potential adopters to tell us whether they’d consider adopting a “special needs” kitten.  We hope you understand, after reading this article, that there are a wide range of conditions that might necessitate special care for a kitten.  Some might not be conditions that you can accommodate, but others most certainly could be.  We believe that all of our kittens have the potential to be loving companions, to the right loving human companion(s).  Part of our pleasure is helping to make the right match.

One more note:  Although Three Little Kittens sometimes fosters and adopts out rescued kittens with physical disabilities (e.g., a missing limb or eye), we don’t consider these kittens to have “special needs”.  Well, they wouldn’t make good barn pets, perhaps … as they’d be extra vulnerable.  But, they make just fine house pets; as quirky and lovable as any other kittens!

Feature Article – Feline Aids (FIV)

This section of the Newsletter will provide information about particular cat care issues in short articles written by us or by guest authors.

Feline Aids (FIV) – What Dee Dee and Tiffany learned from Emerson and Katie

In the spring of 2003, Dee Dee’s feral colony matriarch (Poe) had her last litter and, when they were barely two weeks old, Poe delivered these four kittens to Dee Dee’s backdoor.  One of them, a spry tiger male, was adopted by Tiffany Miller (see the profile of Tiffany later in this newsletter) and is now known as Emerson.  Another of them, a female, who is white with tiger markings and very fluffy, was adopted by Dee Dee, named Kate (after Katherine Hepburn) and is now called Katie.

Both Emerson and Katie were kitten false positives for Feline Aids (FIV). (By false positives, we mean that while they tested positive as kittens, they were later found to actually be FIV negative.)  Emerson tested negative by eight months of age.  Katie still tested positive at ten months, but at one year of age was able to have a more definitive test for FIV and, gratefully, finally had negative test results as well.  This was an important learning experience for both Dee Dee and Tiffany. They were aware of FIV, but had luckily had only had FIV negative test results for their kittens until this time.  With Katie and Emerson’s initial test results, their learning curves went way up as a matter of necessity.  They now know that FIV is NOT a death sentence, and that many FIV positive cats live happy normal lives (with an average lifespan of 10 years). They also learned a lot about the reliability of various FIV tests.

The most common (and the least expensive) test used to detect FIV is the Combo Test, which is also used to detect Feline Leukemia.  This test can be administered to kittens at eight weeks of age.  The problem with its use for FIV testing at this age is that, since it tests for FIV antibodies instead of the disease itself, it will almost always yield a positive finding for any kitten that has been fed by a mother cat who either is FIV positive herself or who has been exposed to FIV.  Having the FIV antibodies present, however, does not mean that the kitten will actually get Feline Aids; the FIV antibodies may, and often do, disappear with time.  Repeat testing with the Combo Test when a kitten that originally tested FIV positive will often yield FIV negative results, as it did in Emerson’s case.  But, sometimes, as in the case of Katie, even that isn’t sufficient.  In these cases, veterinarians recommend that the Western Blot test be given when the cat reaches its first birthday.  The Western Blot tests for FIV itself and can definitively validate or refute earlier test results from the Combo test.       

Because FIV is communicable to other cats, Katie needed to be kept isolated from the rest of Dee Dee’s cat household during her first year of life, until her negative test result came in. Her socialization to the household was, therefore, incomplete.  She was comfortable with the humans, but didn’t even know the other cats.  Dee Dee and Tiffany are currently making the effort to socialize Katie, one cat at a time. Understandably, a few have passed on making friends with her and there are also a few that she simply hisses at.  But progress is being made.  Luckily, patience is one of Dee Dee’s and Tiffany’s strong points.

Key Lessons Learned:

  • An FIV positive test result on a Combo Test for a kitten is not definitive; only the Western Blot test actually tests for the disease.  Retesting when the kitten is older is essential to detect kitten false positives for FIV.  The Cornell Feline Health Center recommends retesting 60 days after an initial FIV positive result.
  • According to The Cornell Feline Health Center, FIV’s primary mode of transmission is bite wounds. Casual non aggressive contact does not appear to be an efficient route of spreading FIV.   Additionally, sexual contact is not a major means of spreading FIV. 
  • In a household with other cats, isolation of a kitten who has tested FIV positive is a necessary course of action.  If the kitten later tests negative, socialization to the other cats in the household will take special effort, but is definitely possible.
  • In a household with no other cats, an FIV positive cat can lead a positive, healthy life, with no special restrictions
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