Thursday, April 06, 2006

Feline Midwifery

Having moved to a farm with a three stall horse barn, we began our quest to acquire a barn cat or two, which proved surprisingly difficult. The humane society adopts only indoor cats and requires a signed contract promising the cat will not be allowed outdoors. So, we ended up with Mr. Buttons, Julia's kitty whom she adores and who wistfully twitches his tail while watching the birds out my bedroom window. He would have made an excellent mouser. But, contracts and commitments, not to mention the heartbreak my daughter would experience if Buttons ended up on the losing end of a collision with one of the vehicles that regularly whips down our road and Buttons is condemned to a lifetime of imprisonment.

When our neighbors' adopted stray showed every sign of being pregnant, we immediately offered to take one or two of her litter and then to have her spayed. The birth began March 31st, a Friday afternoon. When the first kitten arrived, the mama, still a 10 month old kitten herself, didn't quite know what to do. She just kind of walked around dragging the kitten behind her bouncing off the driveway rather than hunkering down somewhere quiet. Once the kitten was out, the mama walked away from him without cleaning him or really even acknowledging him at all. Poor girl just seemed utterly confused.

I took the kitten, cleaned it up and kept it warm for several hours and in the meantime, the mama birthed and cleaned two more kittens. Unfortunately, the spot she chose was a tool shed with pooled motor oil and sharp rototiller tines. We decided to help her along a little, and put her in a large dog kennel where she could be with her kittens in a shallow tupperware container and still have room to move around, have her food and water and a small litter container. Once clean and dry, she happily accepted and nursed the first kitten along with the other two.

The next morning, there were two more kittens and mama was nursing them all. I gave her a little bit of the open can of formula I'd purchased in case I needed to feed the first kitten, and she seemed quite content. We checked on them several times throughout the day, but were reluctant to meddle much further.

When I went in Sunday morning to give them fresh bedding, I discovered the last kitten's umbilical cord wrapped tightly around the mama's leg as the mama walked over to greet me. Much to my chagrin, I also discovered a blood-red mass protruding from the mama's vaginal opening. I was able to tease away the umbilical cord from the kitten and separate her, but her tail was quite lacerated. As I changed the bedding, the mama began straining in her litterbox and the mass grew larger. I immediately feared that it was a prolapsed uterus and guessed it had been exposed to the air for at least 24 hours.

After doing some research and talking with my vet, I confirmed that it was, indeed, a prolapsed uterus, which required immediate surgical intervention--only by now, nearly 36 hours had elapsed and, judging by the smell, it had definitely gone septic. The mama refused all food and drink and just laid down stoically nursing her litter.

Along with our neighbors we made the difficult decision to put the mama cat down late Sunday afternoon, one of the most excruciating decisions I've ever had to make in my life. Losing animals is definitely the down side to country living.

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