Kitten ICU: Healing Begins Here

When warm weather hits, more animals are brought to Dakin than at any other time of the year. And most especially, kittens. In 2023, 45% more kittens were admitted to Dakin than the year before, and this year is also on track for many arrivals.

Many of these kittens are usually quite ill, having been found living outdoors, often without mothers, by our Kitten Street Team. There are also many kittens brought in by people who found them abandoned outside, or are surrendering them as pets they cannot care for.

This year, Dakin’s Kitten ICU (KICU) is ready for them.

From July through October, the KICU will operate with a rotating schedule of dedicated volunteers and supervisory staff working three shifts daily to save moderately to critically ill kittens 5 to 12 weeks of age. The unit originally opened in 2014, remains New England’s first and only Kitten ICU.

The pandemic shuttered the KICU in the summer months of 2020. The number of sick kittens brought to Dakin during the warm weather months of 2020 through 2022 was lower than usual, so medical staff tended to the kittens, with valuable assistance from foster caregivers. Last year’s booming number of patients were treated by staff and fosters, who took home many of the kittens whose medical needs they could provide.

Because the number of patients rose so rapidly last year, there was not enough time to recruit and train program volunteers and prepare to reopen the KICU, but it was decided that the unit would re-open in 2024. “There is a great deal that goes into the planning and implementation of the Kitten ICU,” noted Meg Talbert, executive director at Dakin. “We had to determine the hours of operation, the number of volunteers needed to provide care to the kittens, and the staff to oversee the whole program. A training program for the volunteers had to be created before the recruitment process – and training itself – could begin. There’s also the effort to keep enough supplies on hand to meet the demand. It’s been a multi-month process that began in January.”

The KICU expects to treat a minimum of 250 kittens this season, many suffering from respiratory infections, dehydration, severe diarrhea, malnourishment, trauma and other issues. The goal of the KICU is to nurse these kittens back to health through comprehensive treatment that will allow them to become adopted or enter foster care. The many tasks the volunteers will perform include feeding, cleaning, and weighing kittens, monitoring vital signs and making medical notations, administering oral and eye medications, conducting examinations, injecting medications, and administering fluids.

“Everything about re-opening the KICU makes perfect sense,” Meg added. “Before, there were so many kittens for the staff to medicate. We needed to rely heavily on our remarkable foster volunteers to provide home care, and with about one in five kittens that arrived at Dakin needing intensive care, the workload was tremendous, considering the many other animals in our shelter that needed attention.”

She continued, “Our staff is in place, and the volunteers working in the KICU have been fully trained to help these tiny fighters regain their health and enjoy their lives as someone’s cherished pet. We’re ready to help them heal.”

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