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Losing Kittens, Heartbreak on a Cellular Level

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

It was one of the first kittens born that didn’t breathe. Cats can conceive kittens over a period of days. Unfortunately, they can even conceive weeks after their first conception. With gestation being around 63 days, being born 14 days early is an almost guaranteed death sentence.


This is what happened years ago, when one of my mamas, Midge was delivering her litter. After birthing a chunky kitten, a tiny little kitten followed without effort. The little baby girl was so small her bones looked like glass, her skin almost see-through. She was only about 40% the size of the litter mate born before her. The kitten fought to release itself from the amniotic sac, so I stepped in and removed the membrane and cut the umbilical cord. I held that baby in my hands hoping, praying that it would take that first breath. I held it up to mama’s face, so she could stimulate the kitten by cleaning it. It was clear that the kitten wasn’t able to take the first draw, and quickly went limp. I did the only thing I could think of, and that was to start mouth-to-mouth. I put her entire face (about the circumference of a nickel) into my mouth and blew into her airway, as delicately as possible but hard enough to fill her lungs. I felt her ribs extend outwards, and then fall. I did this four times, and then realized she had no heartbeat. Quickly I alternated between filling her lungs and gently pressing down on her chest repeatedly. I had seen life in her and I wasn’t going to let that go away. I stayed in resuscitation mode for about 15 minutes. Her white little lips looked blue, her skin cold. Her paw, about the size of a drop of water, pushed against my fingers as she took that first, challenging breath. The breath looked so labored, her ribs flexing under the effort. She still lives today, thrives actually. Even being born too early under such challenging circumstances, it didn’t stop her from becoming a huge personality, an energic, playful spirit named Casper. Her adoptive family still loves her today.


When I decided to pursue breeding Sphynx cats, a Maine Coon breeder friend of mine told me to “Get ready to have dead kittens.” I took her warning as only her experience, that I wouldn’t have the same losses. I was so wrong. There aren’t words for the heartache that comes from losing a kitten, especially after trying so hard to save it. Most struggling kittens don’t end up like Casper. Sphynx have an additional challenge, to regulate their body temperature as they try to consume enough calories to grow. Like Casper, I fight hard for every baby, regardless if it’s born too soon, born too small (or too big), or if mama isn’t able to care for it. I’ve lost them at birth, I’ve lost them when their mother rolls over on them while sleeping, and I’ve lost them at six weeks. The loss of kittens farther down the line is harder, as I’d fallen in love with them. I’d seen their personality, I’d seen them play, and cuddle and purr. Sphynx are so delicate when they’re young, and they can go from playing happily in the morning, to crashing that evening. It's just another reason it’s best to hold onto them until they are stronger, regulated, and have developed strong immune systems.


In early 2021 a had a mother that delivered six beautiful, chubby babies, and one small, weak one. The kitten was half the length of a Direct TV remote. It had no chance to nurse on its mother as the stronger kittens pushed it away. I picked up the tiny soul, tucked him in my left hand where he stayed for 10 days. The heat of my hand kept him toasty. A rodent baby bottle nipple was small enough to fit in his mouth. The high fat content of the kitten milk replacement filled its belly. For those 10 days I did everything with the kitten in my hand. I slept on my right side, my left hand cradling the baby under my chin. My husband took over for me when I needed to shower. I started getting good at doing everything one-handed. We named the little boy Quark, a particle smaller than an atom. Quark would purr when his belly was full, stretch when I’d stimulate him to potty, and nuzzle into my flesh when he was content. Around day five his eyes opened. He was inquisitive and came to recognize when the bottle was there and food was coming. It was day nine when I saw that his spine was becoming more defined. Increase his feeds, up the calories! I was bound and determined that Quark was going to grow and thrive. But on day 10, I could see the outline of his intestines, inflamed and full of nutrients his little body was too immature to absorb. No matter what I tried with this baby, he was not going to survive. He was four ounces. My sheer determination couldn’t save him. Quark passed the evening of his 10th day. He tucked his chin to his chest, closed his eyes, and let out his final breath. Every loss is painful. Quark’s passing impacted me more because I felt an indescribable emotional loss, and literally a physical one. The previous 10 days I’d carried him around everywhere, no bigger than a small chicken egg, and now my hand was empty. I cried for days.


When my first Sphynx passed away I cried for days. He’d been with us for over a decade. For three days I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t need to open my eyes for the tears to start falling. It was the worst pain I’d felt outside of losing a human family member. I breed Sphynx because they bring so much love and joy to people. I have to accept that I can’t save them all. Mother Nature doesn’t work that way. Loss has taught me so much, and that loss has made me more and more determined to focus on reducing every possibility of weak kittens caused by bloodlines that have history of inbreeding or line-breeding. Testing the parents for congenital and genetic conditions is the priority. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone experiencing the loss of a kitten or young cat. They walk into our life and right into our heart. When they leave, they take a part of us with them. The kittens that take their first breath in my home need to live long, happy, healthy lives. I want my adoptive families to know they’re going to have many years with their cat because I set them up with the best possibilities.


Dedicated to Quark and the others. My heart beat with theirs.



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