Saving tiny kittens at the Best Friends Kitten Nursery

Like most tiny kittens who arrive at shelters as orphaned strays during the spring and summer months, Porcelain’s life hung in the balance.  

When the week-old kitten arrived with her four siblings at Salt Lake County Animal Services in April, she was much like the ceramic she was named for — beautiful but delicate, and needing careful handling. It would also be at least seven weeks until she’d be big enough to be spayed and ready for adoption. That’s a long time for a busy municipal shelter to hold any pet, especially when the pet needs round-the-clock care and bottle feeding.

Luckily for Porcelain, along with hundreds of other kittens who will arrive at Salt Lake County Animal Services and other shelters in the area, the Best Friends Kitten Nursery is ready to help.

Porcelain the kitten being bottle fed at the Best Friends Kitten Nursery

Kitten nursery to the rescue

The staff at Salt Lake County Animal Services knew that Porcelain, like all kittens they take in, needed a chance to find her forever home. After all, kittens perform a critical role in this tough world. With the right care as newborns, they grow up to serve as reminders that we don’t need much to be happy — maybe just a cat toy or, at least in their case, your own tail. If they can just survive until they’re big enough to be spayed or neutered, they almost always are adopted quickly. They just need to make it through those critical first two months in the world.

To make sure Porcelain and her siblings got the chance they deserved, Salt Lake Country Animal Services brought the kittens to Best Friends Kitten Nursery, where staff and volunteers work around the clock to care for some of our most fragile pets — newborn kittens.

From October of 2015 through September of this year, the Best Friends Kitten Nursery in Salt Lake City will take in about 1,500 kittens from Salt Lake County Animal Services and other Best Friends partner shelters in the area. The kitten nursery can accommodate about 200 kittens at a time.

The nursery also serves another purpose: It not only saves hundreds of kittens, but it also frees up much needed space at the shelter for other homeless pets, which is a key component of our No-Kill Utah (NKUT) initiative.

Learn more about Best Friends’ no-kill initiatives

Porcelain the kitten at the Best Friends Kitten Nursery

Caring for little baby kittens

As soon as Porcelain arrived at the Best Friends Kitten Nursery, the team went to work keeping her healthy. She got a veterinary exam, which she passed with flying colors despite the fact that she weighed only a few ounces and easily fit into the palm of her caregivers’ hands. Like all kittens her age, she was bottle-fed every two hours until she became strong enough for a regular feeding schedule. The trick would be to keep her healthy.

The nursery’s sterile, carefully controlled environment helped keep Porcelain safe and well. Kittens are highly susceptible to disease, and the nursery team takes very seriously its task of keeping the environment germ-free. All staff and volunteers must follow the nursery protocol and wash their hands before and after handling each kitten.

The first three weeks of a kitten’s life are critical time for their growth, which is why the nursery is staffed 24/7 to care for the little ones. “We try to recreate with the kittens, as best as we can, the experience they’d have with their mothers,” said Lawrence Nicolas, adoptions manager for Best Friends–Utah. “This means that for kittens like Porcelain, they’re fed about 10 or 11 times every day and night.” It’s a big job, but worth every second, considering what’s at stake. Every full, furry belly and grateful purr makes the time go faster.

What to do if you find orphaned kittens

Porcelain the kitten playing

From the kitten nursery to a foster home

Currently, about 80 percent of kittens at Best Friends Kitten Nursery are lucky enough to be placed in volunteer foster homes, where they have an opportunity to try out life in a home for the first time. This helps kittens become better socialized and gives them the room they need to play and frolic. It’s also a first glimpse of what lies ahead, once they go to their forever homes.

After a few weeks in the kitten nursery and once she had graduated to eating on her own, the staff found Porcelain a foster home, where she got to frolic, play and get lots of love as she grew. And once she reached two pounds — the weight at which she could safely be spayed — she went back to Best Friends for the surgery. And then came the big day. Staff brought her into a room she’d never been in before at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Salt Lake City. It was an adoption room, where the public could come and meet all the kittens ready for homes.

Within hours, a couple came in and chose to adopt Porcelain and a little black kitten named Ruby.

And with that, the delicate little kitten must have felt very grown-up and ready for the next phase of her life in a very special place — a home of her own.

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Porcelain the kitten being adopted

Photos by Sarah Ause-Kichas

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