Weaning and weighing

Day 94

Stipke, the smallest (female) kitten of the kindle (I have recently heard that this is actually the proper term for kittens in a litter), has trouble being weaned. There are lots of books and information sheets out there about this phenomenon. Most will tell you not to worry about it when the mother is around. She will ‘close the taps’ when she sees fit. I think that maybe people who breed pedigree cats will want to lend ‘a helping hand’ to get their kittens ready for adoption at a certain age. And when very young kittens are found by rescue groups it may also be an issue.

In our case, the twins Stipke and Sipke, have the luxury of living with their mom, who is properly looked after by us and thus does not have to worry where her next meal comes from. In nature, the mother cat (a.k.a. ‘Queen’) exclusively cares for her kittens for a week or two. After that, she regularly leaves the nest, for longer and longer times, and at around 5 weeks she is presenting prey to the cats to eat. First dead prey and later live prey so the kittens can learn to hunt and to know what is edible and what is not. As you can imagine, 5 week old kittens are really still babies, just barely able to move in a coordinated way. Lots of them, when they are feral, will develop quicker or else they will perish.

When kittens grow up with humans, they have much more time to hone their skills in a safe environment. As human, we can help them develop their reflexes by playing with them at least once a day. The twins and the Queen go through a stick toy each 2 weeks. They tear it up, they hunt it and chew it to the point that it becomes useless. Back to Stipke: when comparing her progress with her brother’s, I can really tell that she is a bit behind. She is still less coordinated than him and she is much smaller. Now that they participate in playtime, I can see fast progress though. In the beginning she would bump into things when hunting the stick toy. Her jumps were not as high as Sipke’s, and often ended in her falling over. But now she is starting to get the hang of.

She has a completely different way of hunting though. Sipke keeps his ‘eye on the ball’ and follows the toy from left to right, top to bottom and ends up getting it. I can get him to race through the room for minutes on end, until he is panting. He is that focussed and fanatic. Stipke clearly enjoys herself when hunting the toy, but she has a girlie way about her. She will follow the toy and jump up in the air with all paws every few seconds. Almost as if she is skipping; or jumping on a trampoline. It is very funny to watch. Recenty she got a lot better at not bumping into things as well. 

They all have different styles of hunting. Mitsy is of course completely out of shape after 2 pregnancies and being in our house. She is not getting a lot of exercise and it is only now that the twins are slowly being weaned that she has more energy. I can barely get her to run after the toy, but there is progress there as well. I shudder if I put myself in the place of the hunted, because she is still very fast and she is very strong. She curbs her efforts when a kitten gets in the way, which I find very sweet. She does not like toys with a tinker bell. Almost as if she is saying: “Really? You expect me to hunt that?”. She is most enticed to play when I can hide the toy underneath or behind something. Like hunting a mouse in a narrow space or something. In the above video you will see that in action. It makes it into a family hunting party!

Stipke loves the tinker bells. Ever since one of the newer ones had a tinker bell, she has made progress in leaps and bounds. I think that maybe they help with her locating the toy. She uses all her senses and it makes up for the fact that her object-eye coordination is not perfect yet.

At feeding times, I kept my eye on her and it became clear quickly that she still depended on Queen milk. But Mitsy is now regularly disallowing access to her milk and that usually triggers the kittens’ interest in food. I remember that Pumba, Kabiri and Sipke were the first kittens to show an interest in wet food and kibble. The three males of the kindle. The females were later and Stipke is most certainly is the last. Strangely enough she does like kibble and eats little bits of it. Now that I am really paying attention to her, a couple of things stand out.

-She seems to find it hard to pick up and eat kibble that is small and served in a big bowl. When I pour some out on a saucer or flat surface, she does much better; and I have found a kitten kibble with larger pieces that works better as well

-I can tell she is hungry by how eagerly she comes to the ‘dinner table’ and meow expectantly at me, but when she sniffs the wet food, she retreats as if she is saying: “Yuc! What IS this stuff!”

-She still tries to drink with Mitsy as often as she can get away with it

So, I have started trying to encourage her, individually. Not easy, because both Mitsy and Sipke steal her food when she lets them. And she usually does. I have decided to supplement her diet with kitten milk (the powdered version). That is a big success. She loves it. First I gave it to her pure and now I am starting to mix in some wet food. So she is actually eating a bit of a soup. It must smell great, because I have to ward off the other while she is eating! They all love it! Sipke also gets some of it, and if there is a bit left at the end, I let Mitsy finish it.

I have been wondering if Stipke is not just late in developing her balance and reflexes, but also with her teeth. It is hard to see them, but I did make some pictures where she is yawning. The teeth are there, but I think they might not have come through the gums completely. Either that, or her gums are painful. I have noticed her biting carton, for instance. Like a baby with a bite-ring? Which is fine, there is no danger in that. And I bought a toy that has branches of Silver Vine that some cats like to bite. Not sure if she is interested.

Someone also suggested I keep an eye on her weight. I don’t know why I did not think of that myself. The last time the twins were weighed, was at their vet visit when they got their vaccinations. And the news is good! Both are right on track! And it looks as if they are now almost the same size too.

Stipke: – 2.2 lbs at the vet on September 8, now 3.9 lbs (1795 grams)

Sipke: – 2.4 lbs at the vet September 8, now 4.2 lbs (1902 grams)