Case Studies

Sweet Pea

One Easter Sunday, some years ago, I received a call from an elderly woman who, early each morning, long before people were out and about, was feeding a colony of neutered feral cats. Some weeks ago, a ginger cat had joined her little group. This cat was very shy and usually watched the others eating from a distance, but that morning he had run straight up to her ate greedily and disappeared for the rest of the day.

Sweet Pea

The old lady was in fact  alarmed and rang us straight away because she could see that “he” was in fact female and heavily pregnant, “she will have them any minute!” she cried. There was no time to lose and my friend Molga skilfully trapped the cat at 6.30 am the next day. I had a unit for the feral mother cat already prepared in my bedroom so that I would wake up and be able to watch over the birth should it happen during the night.

Little or rather big Ginger was nervous but at the same time obviously appreciated the supply of good food and ate her heart out. During the night, she scrambled up the paper in her nesting box, usually a sign that the birth is due within the next 48 hours or so. In the small hours, I was woken by a faint little squeak; Ginger had given birth in her little tray! Attempting to wash her baby she had rolled the kitten over and over until it was twice wrapped in its umbilical cord and “bread crumbed” in litter. She was unable to bite through the cord and separate the afterbirth because she didn’t have any teeth; I realised that she was an older cat who was not coping anymore. Disguising my hand in a thin cloth I quickly removed the kitten and rushed it into the bathroom where I unwound the long elastic umbilical cord, removed the afterbirth with disinfected scissors and gently but quickly washed the baby in warm water. After rubbing it fairly dry, I shortened the cord to one inch.

Returning to the bedroom ginger had done a repeat performance and a second kitten was whimpering in the littler tray in the need of the same treatment. Fortunately, the first-born, a little ginger, was now very alive and noisy and once I placed him in the nesting box, his mum immediately joined him. I was then able to confine them both to that section with a division panel while I attended to kitten number two. This dramatic episode taught me an important lesson, and since then expecting queens get only a small, shallow litter tray that is less attractive for birthing, filled with shredded paper and a sprinkling of clean compost from the garden centre on the bottom until the kittens are born. Afterwards a standard size tray and commercial cat litter can be provided.

Very happy weeks followed. Ginger was a devoted mum and supported by an excellent diet she was able to raise her bonny kittens. She gained weight and washed herself and gradually her scruffy appearance changed. Watching her nurse her kittens, I often wondered what had happened to her pervious litters and her sad eyes seemed to justify my fear that they might have perished.

After eight weeks, her kittens went to good homes: Tortie lives with a family in Highgate and little Ginger, now called Nabat (Persian for Candy Sugar), is the cherished companion of an Iranian lady in Maida Vale, keeping her company while her sons are at work. Ginger mum was lucky too; her sad eyes and advanced years touched my friend and helper Marion, who adopted her after she had been neutered. Now called “Sweet Pea” she had the happiest time of her life, receiving love and care, which she had probably never known before. Marion often commented on Sweet Pea’s gentle and affectionate nature; how grateful she seemed for her new secure and comfortable life and how she would follow her around the flat with her tail in the air. Marion and I were both upset when she died two and a half years later and her happy time was cut short. I still choke whenever I think of her eyes, which never lost their expression of sadness and pain.

Elke de Vries

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