Bottle-fed kittens: Nightmares in the making?

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: July 06, 2008
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It’s a good thing I have the weekend off. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing little with it beyond feeding a five day-old kitten every hour…on the hour.

Sure, I’ve been reading, cooking and organizing my house, too. Too bad I’ve also been suffering a breakdown in my central AC…in Miami…in July…with every AC repair service asking triple-overtime rates…ouch.

So maybe that’s why I’m feeling cranky—not to mention bleary-eyed. The kitten’s only half the source of my discomfort. At least the kitten promises to be a successful endeavor: One more cute kitten placed in a forever home by summer’s end (I hope).

It’s been a long time since I took on a handful-sized cat and nursed it. After all, my staff is usually much more adept at their care (I’m way out of practice). But there’s no staff around this weekend to attend to a newborn kitten’s whims. It’s all me…and a mewling creature who seems to prefer midnight feedings over the mid-day variety.

That’s what got me to thinking: Oh no, here I am saving a kitten from the slithering maw of death-by-maggot only to create another bottlefed-kitty monster.

Some of you know what I’m talking about, right? I’m referring to the old wives’ tale of the bottle fed kitten yielding to aggressive, dominant-cat adulthood.

In my experience the clucking old wives were right on this one. Kittens whose whims are catered to by humans from an early age turn out to be monster cats with little conception of humans as “others.” They seem to conceive of us as “one of them” more than other cats do, making their household interactions with us more likely to approximate the inter-cat society norms.

And that’s a problem for cats with certain personalities. That’s because territoriality is a big thing for cats. If they perceive us to be competitors for their natural space they’re far more likely to exhibit the unwelcome signs of their stress and displeasure: picture a urine-soaked couch, ruined carpets and, worst of all, an unhappy cat.

It’s my view that cats get the raw end of the deal when it comes to behavior medicine. Mostly I think that’s because cats are so socially different from us that fathoming their feline logic eludes us at every turn. But bottle feeding-related “dominance” is one area where their confusion makes some sense to me. I just wish there was something I could do about it.

Anyone have any ideas? And while I’m at it, anyone know an AC repair company in Miami capable of delivering this currently-stressed kitten bottle-feeder from the hell of a South Florida July summer…on a Sunday?