Two parts water to one part formula is a mixture that makes for happy, healthy kittens, and with the onset of warm spring weather heralding the annual influx of newborn felines to area shelters, the Pet Placement Center in Chattanooga will go through a lot of it.
"One female cat can produce three litters a season, and if you average five kittens a litter, that's 25 cats a season per queen, and that adds up very quick," Executive Director Charles Brown said as he cradled a 6-week-old kitten in his hand. He estimates that area shelters will likely see thousands of kittens through the season, and he expects that the center will be bottle-feeding kittens all through the summer.
Despite relatively good awareness in the area of the need to spay and neuter, Brown said that there might not be so many kittens needing care each year if that awareness were broader
"It's a broken record," he said, "but anybody in this industry will tell you: spay-neuter, spay-neuter, spay-neuter."
Today, the center has about 20 kittens in a small, quiet room used as a nursery. The tiniest nurse from two surrogate mother cats, which had litters of their own but didn't mind the addition of a few more, while the other 6-week-olds are being weaned from bottles to wet and dry kitten food. It's still important to supplement their growth with formula, Brown said, because kittens usually nurse from their mothers for eight to 10 weeks.
The center makes use of foster families to help with the bulk of kitten care, usually with a foster parent who stays home during the day and doesn't mind losing a few hours of sleep waking up for late-night feedings.
The formula itself is expensive, particularly with newborn kittens eating a few ounces for each meal and more as they grow. A group of three kittens might eat as much as $25 a week in formula, which the center provides to all of its foster families.
The cost and work involved in caring for these tiny felines isn't going to deter the center from performing its annual kitten-care duties.
"Obviously, these guys don't have a chance without us," says Brown, "so that's why we do what we do: To give these guys a fighting chance at a long, happy life."