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  • Writer's pictureArt City Vets

Rescue Rounds - Preparing for Kitten Season

Updated: Mar 13

Art City Vets works closely with many local rescues. This blog post is part of our Rescue Rounds series where we discuss important topics with our Rescue Partners.

Everyone in the animal rescue world knows that kitten season is an incredibly busy time of year. Shelters and fosters will be at capacity and the calls will keep coming in. By preparing for this ahead of time, we hope we can take some of the stress out of it and do our best to maximize safe and efficient placement of kitties. February is a great time to take a look at rescue intake protocols and refresh your pool of fosters.

The first thing for rescues to think about is from a marketing, fundraising, and networking perspective. February is a great time to schedule social media posts highlighting the upcoming kitten season. Set up or refresh your Amazon wishlists and consider posting wishlists on apps like Nextdoor or Facebook. As local scout troops, classrooms, churches/synagogues/mosques/etc to do donation drives for blankets, bottles, kitten milk replacer, gloves, paper towels, cat litter, and cat food.

Being proactive with your foster network during the winter can help with a successful kitten season in the spring. Get new fosters recruited and get return fosters lined up and reminded to be available and quickly able to mobilize. Compile a “fosters on deck” list and keep notes about what they can handle (bottle babies, ringworm, nursing mamas, etc). Setting up an on-call schedule for Foster Mentors can be very helpful for preventing the rescue leadership from getting too burnt out from always answering questions. Foster Mentors are senior fosters that are experienced and comfortable troubleshooting basic kitty issues. This filters questions to more experienced/senior fosters and splits up the work load. For example, out of seven senior fosters, one could be “on call for questions” each weekday. Senior fosters can still always escalate questions to rescue leadership.

Organize other resources to help fosters so that they are easy to access.

From a medical perspective, February is an important time to review and update rescue intake protocols. The highest priority thing rescues can do to limit infectious disease spread is ensure that cats receive FVRCP protection within 12-24 hours of being taken in. Injectable FVRCP can be given as young as 4 weeks. There is an intranasal FHV + FCV (herpes and calici) vaccine that can be given starting as young as 2 weeks (or as soon as eyes open). This can give faster protection for respiratory viruses (meaningful protection in 1-2 days versus 1-2 weeks). Consider adding this to the intake protocol on an “as needed” basis when there are increased cases of URI in the community. The downside of the intranasal vaccine is that it does not have panleukopenia coverage. If there is an active outbreak, the intranasal FHV+FCV can be given concurrently with the injectable FVRCP vaccine to give faster protection against herpes and calici while also providing panleukopenia coverage. We can order this for our rescue partners if needed. Vaccines should always be stored as required by the manufacturer, and vaccines should be administered shortly after reconstituting (within 1 hour max).

The next intake priority is having a thoughtful deworming protocol. Cats should receive deworming within 72 hours of intake (ideally within 12-24 hours). An example of a basic protocol:

  • Kittens under 8 weeks: pyrantel starting at 2 weeks of age, given every 2 weeks until 8 weeks of age

  • Kittens 8 weeks or older: Bravecto Plus or Revolution on intake then pyrantel or Profender 2 weeks later

  • Our common flea treatments like Bravecto Plus and Revolution also deworm against roundworms and hookworms, so cats that receive these on intake do not necessarily need a dose of pyrantel the same day, though it is not harmful to do both

  • When fleas are present, consider Profender 2 weeks after flea treatment (instead of plain pyrantel) to cover for tapeworms

For cats and kittens with diarrhea that does not resolve within 2-3 days of probiotic and/or psyllium fiber, consider empiric ponazuril 50 mg/kg once daily for 3 days. Ideally all cats should be checked for ringworm under a wood’s lamp or at the very least have a visual check to look for signs of ringworm.

As cats and kittens are taken into rescue, careful consideration should be taken into how they are housed. Bottle babies should have very strict separation from other cats since they are our highest-risk group. For example bottle babies should never be in the same room as recent intakes (unvaccinated or recently vaccinated). Recent intakes will be most susceptible to disease during the first 1-2 weeks after intake, while they are waiting for vaccine efficacy to kick in. If recent intakes must be housed in the same room with other cats, ideally they should try to be housed near already-vaccinated healthy adult cats, not nursing litters or orphaned kittens. Most female cats coming into rescue will be pregnant so it is imperative to get them scheduled for spay as soon as possible after intake to prevent surprise litters from being born in foster care.

We love to work with rescues in the community, so please let us know if you would like to schedule a telehealth appointment to discuss your specific intake protocols in more detail.

Q&A's -

Q: Mothers nursing litters often get stressed in the days after being taken in and sometimes stop nursing. What can be done to combat this?

A: Many of the tools used to help minimize stress for cats in general can be applied to nursing moms. Using pheromones like Feliway can be helpful. Consider the set up of the housing. Having hiding spaces within the cage or kennel or having a visual barrier like a towel over the opening to the outside can be helpful. A quiet white noise machine or fan running (not pointed at the litter) can help minimize stress from hearing unpredictable background noise. Try to house these litters in their own room if possible or at least away from the noise of orphaned kittens. Hearing other kittens meowing for their mother can be particularly stressful for nursing queens.

Stopping nursing or poor appetite can also appear in the 1-2 days before a cat becomes symptomatic for a URI or GI illness, so these kitties should be closely monitored for development of other symptoms.

Q: What is the best protocol for putting an orphaned neonate with a different nursing mom?

A: The decision to do this depends on how many foster homes are open/available, the health status of the mom and orphaned kitten, and their socialization levels among other things. There is going to be some inherent risk of disease transmission when using surrogate moms, but in general the socialization benefits do outweigh the risks. These choices should always be made on an individual basis.

Before introducing the orphaned kitten, the mom should be tested negative for FIV and FeLV. If possible, the orphaned kitten should be tested for panleukopenia with a parvo snap test (note that recent vaccination can cause a false positive). Kittens that appear healthy are less likely to transmit disease than kittens than appear unthrifty, so if it is not possible to test all orphaned kittens for panleuk, the ones that appear sick should be prioritized.

The mom should have gotten her intake vaccines and if the kittens are 2 weeks old they should ideally have gotten the intranasal FHV+FCV vaccine. This doesn’t provide panleuk protection but should help minimize URI risk. If the kittens are 4 weeks old then they can get their first FVRCP vaccine which will provide both respiratory and panleuk protection. Nutritionally the kittens can be offered kitten food at 3-4 weeks of age but there still may be social benefits to integrating an orphaned kitten at this age. Nursing queens should get pyrantel every 2 weeks during lactation. Kittens should get pyrantel starting at 2 weeks then continued every 2 weeks until 8 weeks of age.

There should not be a major weight/size difference in the orphaned kitten and the kittens of the existing litter, since the bigger kitten may push off the smaller kittens. Try to stay within 1-2 weeks of age. If there is a size difference, make sure to monitor weight of all the kittens to stay ahead of any caloric issues. The newcomer should be weighed on a gram scale twice a day initially, then once a day until weight gain is consistent, then every other day. Before introducing the orphaned kitten, rub a towel all over the nursing mom and then rub the new kitten with that towel to help the kitten smell like it belongs. It is usually more successful introducing a bigger singleton to a litter of smaller kittens, than a smaller singleton to a litter of bigger kittens. Try not to give queens more than 6 kittens to nurse at a time.

There can sometimes even be social benefits of introducing a singleton to a surrogate parent that is a male cat. Many adult male cats will happily accept and care for a kitten. This can be a great option for singletons or even a pair of kittens that are 4-5 weeks old and weaned but could still benefit from an adult cat role model. The same principles as above apply to try to limit disease transmission. Ideally the male cat selected would have been in foster care for at least 2 weeks to give the initial round of vaccines enough time to be fully effective.

Q: What are some tips for the general public when they see a stray kitten or litter?

A: The first thing is to try to assess if the kittens are truly abandoned. If the kittens look sick or unthrifty, then likely they are abandoned, but if they seem to be in pretty good shape, there could be a mom in the area who is caring for them. Kittens generally nurse from mom as their only source of food until they are about 3-4 weeks old at which point they slowly start weaning onto solid food. By 6-8 weeks of age they should easily be eating solid food by themselves. If you find kittens under 6-8 weeks of age WITH their mother, the best thing you can do is leave them be then provide food, water, and outdoor shelter for them. Once they are older you can try to trap them all for spay/neuter.If the mother and kittens are not safe (due to weather, location, etc) or appear ill, bring them inside to a quiet room and provide a hiding spot, litter, water, food, and peace and quiet until you can get in touch with a rescue or veterinarian.If you do not see the mother, try to wait 6-24 hours to determine if she is around. Try to observe from far away because the mother may be nearby watching you and waiting for you to leave. Some people will sprinkle flour around the kitten nest to check for paw prints indicating mom is coming and going. If you see no sign of mom, and the kittens are becoming progressively more distressed, then you likely need to step in and rescue them. If at all possible, care for the kittens yourself and avoid taking them to a shelter where they will have a higher risk of infectious disease. There are tons of great resources online about orphaned kitten care.

Q: We currently tell our fosters to deworm adult cats monthly. However, we heard from someone that this could be too much because it can cause immunity to the dewormer. Could you elaborate on what is the right thing for us to do?

A: You are correct in telling them to do that! The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) guidelines are found here: and this is what they recommend. Their guidelines state to "administer year-round broad-spectrum parasite control with efficacy against heartworm, intestinal parasites, fleas, and ticks." If you are thoughtful about which flea preventative you use, then the deworming is included in that and you would not have to give them something additional like Drontal or Pyrantel. Some kitty options that include deworming with their monthly flea treatment:

  • Bravecto Plus - lasts for 2 months, excellent for fleas and ticks, is a heartworm preventative and kills intestinal roundworm and hookworm

  • Revolution - lasts for a month, is good for fleas, not great for ticks, is a heartworm preventative and kills intestinal roundworm and hookworm

  • Revolution Plus - lasts for a month, is great for fleas and ticks, is a heartworm preventative and kills intestinal roundworm and hookworm

  • Advantage multi - lasts for a month, is good for fleas, not great for ticks, is a heartworm preventative and kills intestinal roundworm and hookworm

If you are using one of these flea preventatives, then you do need to give something additional to deworm for intestinal parasites:

  • Bravecto - lasts for 3 months, is excellent for fleas and ticks, but has no deworming/heartworm prevention

  • Advantage II

  • Frontline

  • Vectra

  • Credelio

Q: We take a lot of bottle babies & the number 2 concern we have with them is diarrhea due to parasites and URIs. If we start them on the intranasal vaccine at 2 weeks, can we at 5 weeks (and 1 lbs) switch to the regular FVRCP that covers panleuk?

A: Yes you can start the intranasal vaccine at a younger age, especially during times of high URI prevalence or high populations within certain foster homes, and then switch to the normal injectable FVRCP vaccine once they are old enough. This way they get some additional bonus protection from URI when they are super young, even if there is nothing more we can do to prevent panleuk at that age aside from having good cleaning practices and testing/isolating symptomatic individuals.

Q: If we give our rescued cats Profender as a dewormer when we first bring the cats indoors, is it needed to give a 2nd month's dose of Profender to follow up? (These cats would no longer go back outside, strictly indoors now)

A: It kind of depends on what you are treating for. In general, and according to the manufacturer, no you do not need another dose. "A single treatment is effective for most parasites; if reinfestation occurs, product can be reapplied after 30 days." For a kitty that isn't having diarrhea and doesn't have a heavy flea burden on intake, then the single dose should be fine, especially if followed up with regular Revolution or Bravecto Plus. For kitties with heavy flea burden, you may want to consider treating again in 30 days since they may re-infect themselves with tapeworm if they are grooming the fleas off themselves. For kitties with suspected or confirmed intestinal parasites, the Profender should be followed up with either another dose of Profender or Revolution/Bravecto Plus or pyrantel or Drontal, to kill any parasites that were immature at the time of the first Profender application.

Because Profender is more expensive than some of the other dewormers, using it as treatment #2 instead of treatment #1 can give you more bang for your buck. For example, on intake give Bravecto Plus to cover fleas and intestinal parasites, then 2-4 weeks later give Profender to cover the immature life stages of the GI parasites and to kill any tapeworms that the cat got from its now-resolved flea infestation.

Good resources:

Written by Dr. Morgan Shafer

Associate Veterinarian at Art City Vets

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