At the Milk Bar18 May, 2008
Day-old kittens, jockeying for position at the Milk Bar
Last night was particularly noisy on the kitten front. I was woken up several times by squeals and screams from the kittens. Each time I stumbled out of bed to discover that the kittens were fine, they weren’t in the process of being squashed. They were just fighting over their spaces at the milk bar.
The first few days (and nights) of a kitten’s existence seems to be taken up with working out where mum’s teats are, which are the best, and who can get the best teats.
It’s a bit of a cat-eat-cat world where the Teat Wars are concerned. It’s quite shocking to see how these little cute kittens which are smaller than the palm of your hand, and are born blind and deaf can get quite aggressive when it comes to food.
I have seen kittens scramble around and shove another one off a teat so that the kitten falls off, onto its back, waving its paws like an upturned turtle and emitting a scream that will wake anything up. I have also seen kittens moving from one empty teat to a fuller one, never mind that they have already had a teatful of milk. It’s all me-me-me, where milk is concerned.
Kittens must orientate themselves towards the teats by mostly smell. The urge to suckle must be all-driving. I watched as a kitten from this litter, newly-born and barely 15 minutes old, wriggle out of mum’s grasp and cleaning tongue, to unerringly find its way to a teat. Mind you, on occasion, I’ve felt sorry for a kitten bumbling its way helplessly around the rotund landscape of mum’s belly, and picked it up and held its nose to a teat until it latched on.
Oops, just missed it! The cream kitten on the left tries to locate a teat by smell and touch.
I think that in most cases, the largest and strongest get the best teats. These are the ones located towards the rear of the mother cat – they are the plumpest and most engorged with milk. The two at the frontmost, the ones just next to the front legs aren’t as juicy.
Umm … a bit lower down … towards your right.
One year I had a litter of 7 kittens which meant that one kitten always ended up at the front. In the end I had to top up with commercial milk because the kitten wasn’t getting as much nourishment as it needed and was losing ground to its siblings. I fed just enough to give it the strength to fight for its teat.
Er … not that low. Watch out – Ginger has smelt your teat!
Last year I had a litter of just 2 kittens and it was like a 5- star restaurant for them, with a choice of teats for starters, mains and dessert. They waxed plump and fat throughout their kittenhood and I named them Roly and Poly.
Phew … made it in time. Ginger will have to find his own.
Mum tries to help all she can. I can hear her mewing encouragement at the kittens as they stumble around. Most recently, I’ve heard her growl at the kittens, a strange low rumbling growl that sounds more like an admonishment and warning than a preamble to a smack.
When she had 7 kittens I used to put my hand under her and place her on her back so that her teats were more accessible. I’ve seen her occasionally turn from side to side, as if making sure that the kittens suckle evenly from the teats. She also gets up and changes position when she’s fed up of the kittens squabbling over the teats. Each time she moves a wail of kitten screams rise up as those who’ve got seats at the top table must now relinquish them.
It’s said that by days 3 to 5, the kittens would have worked out some sort of teat hierarchy and tend to stick to the same teats. Which is good news if I’m going to get any sleep at all.
(With many thanks to Mum cat, Ananda, for inspiring me and letting me out of the bedroom to post this)