Evaluation of Newly Developed Lifesaving Protocol for Prematurely Born Kittens

April 30, 2019

Audience: Executive Leadership, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: Second Chance Animal Services, Inc.
Investigator(s): Sheryl Blancato
Grant Amount: $11,740
Project Type: Phase 1
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

The study evaluated the success of Second Chance Animal Services' protocol to save pregnant feral cats and their kittens by performing a C-section, spaying the feral moms, returning them to their habitats, and providing care for kittens until adoption. Kittens from litters born to reasonably healthy moms were all successfully adopted as pets and extremely well-adjusted.

Objective(s)

To determine the success of the current protocol at Second Chance Animal Services for premature kittens.

Methods

A prospective study design was used based on convenience sample. This study did not require a control group due to lack of any other alternative solution for this population. Kittens were delivered via Cesarean-section from near-full or full-term feral queens. The queens were spayed and released back into their original habitat. Upon delivery, kittens were weighed, given identification, incubated for warmth, and placed in the care of a veterinary technician trained in this protocol to be hand-raised. The protocol included daily monitoring sheets and procedures for adjusting intake of formula and related supplements. Complete weaning generally took place around six weeks of age, at which point the study stopped. Problems were treated as they arose, and kittens who died were necropsied in-house.

Results

  • 21 kittens were delivered via cesarean-section from near-full or full-term feral cats; 20 kittens came from 5 litters and one kitten was a singleton. •Average weight at birth was 90 grams; the average gestational age was 62 days.
  • All kittens except one appeared healthy (one kitten had a decreased heart rate and struggled with respiration).
  • One litter died, with suspicion of an underlying condition that was unrelated to the protocol and was unpreventable.
  • Out of 21 kittens, 7 (33%) kittens survived to the six-week age mark. Although the results showed a lower survival rate than expected, the protocol saved 33% as compared to 0%.
  • None of the variables (gestation age, weight, sex and whether probiotic was given) included in the logistic regression model were predictors of survival (p-value>0.05).
  • Surviving kittens were all extremely well-adjusted and were successfully adopted as pets.

Conclusions

The protocol provides an alternative to current practices where near-term kittens may face certain death. The study demonstrated a viable option to successfully spay and return feral queens to their habitat, as well as provide kittens the best possible chance for survival and adoption into a home. This study reported to improve staff morale. Alternative options for these kittens might include keeping the feral mom in foster care for the first few weeks of the kittens' lives and then separating them from the queen once they are healthier. Further research with a larger sample size would help in potential identification of any predictive variables, and in reassessing survival rate.

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