Hand-Rearing Kittens: Hypothermia

Hypothermia frequently occurs with Hydrocephalus, Fading Kitten Syndrome, shock etc. Kittens with pale mucous membranes may respond to treatment. Those with blue or purplish membranes are likely to be beyond help due to circulatory collapse. They will have suffered permanent damage to the internal organs and brain damage due to lack of oxygen.

The first priority is to SLOWLY raise the kitten’s temperature e.g. over a couple of hours. Too fast and the kitten will go into shock and may suffer heart failure. Wrap the hypothermic kitten in a piece of towel or cotton fabric with its nose and mouth left uncovered. Place the wrapped kitten in a warm box at 30?C (86?F) e.g. on a warm hot water bottle, heated pad or using an incubator. Turn the kitten over at regular intervals. Adjust the temperature in the box as the kitten warms up so it does not become overheated. As it warms up, its gums etc will become pink as circulation improves. Do not feed milk to a hypothermic kitten – its digestive system will not be working. If its rectal temperature is less than 35?C (95?F), the milk will stagnate in the stomach and cause further problems.

If there is no suck reflex tube-feed the kitten with glucose and electrolyte solution. If the suck reflex has not returned when the kitten’s temperature rises it will need subcutaneous fluids. When the sucking reflex is present, feed with a small quantity (up to 1 ml) of glucose solution every 20 to 30 minutes. After 2 or 3 such feeds, it should be strong enough for the amount to be increased and the frequency decreased. Gradually reintroduce diluted milk feeds until the kitten is back onto normal strength milk.

Once they have been warmed up and given fluid therapy they must be allowed to recover quietly. Feeding can only be begun once the kitten is warm and able to suck. Stomach tubing is not helpful here, since when a kitten is cold and collapsed its intestines stop functioning, so stomach contents can be easily regurgitated, and then aspirated into the lungs.