However, when Heather was four months old she had feline enteritis. So did Iris, Irene, Ivy, Heather's brothers Inkblot and Mo, and Ivy's sister Shelly. (Shelly looked exactly like Heather except that the tip of Heather's tail is buff and the tip of Shelly's tail was black.) This painful flea-and-tick-borne bacterial infection causes ulcers all through a cat's digestive system. Adult cats can usually be cured with antibiotics, but kittens are about as likely to die from their reactions to the antibiotics as they are from various infectious diseases. Most kittens who get enteritis will die, usually screaming in pain.
Even mother cats will seem to "abandon" kittens with enteritis. When some kittens born indoors at the Cat Sanctuary had this disease, I had a chance to see that what the mother cat does is not as coldhearted as the word "abandon" suggests. The mother checked on her kittens daily while they were isolated and fasting, and brought them back to the nest with the others when they seemed healthier.
Heather and her siblings and foster siblings were all old enough to eat solid food, but too sick to want any. I had bought antibiotics for other kittens with enteritis and found it to be an expensive, inhumane way of killing them. This time I tried a home remedy.
The remedy is a teaspoonful of powdered charcoal stirred into a cup of water. You can buy activated charcoal at the better sort of pharmacies; it's good first aid for food poisoning in humans, too, although some pharmacies (such as Wal-Mart) don't handle it due to concern about people who use it as an everyday remedy for stomach gas. (Powdered charcoal works by "adsorbing" toxins in the digestive tract; when overused it also "adsorbs" nutrients from food and causes dietary imbalances.)
Although they couldn't handle solid food the kittens were apparently thirsty enough to take two milligrams of this charcoal solution twice a day. Humans who've used charcoal for ulcerative colitis note a soothing effect. For the kittens, whose mouths and throats were also ulcerated, the soothing effect must have been immediate because often, while waiting their turns to be given doses from measuring syringes, they would slurp up a little extra solution from the cup.
Within a week Candice resumed feeding the kittens but I continued giving them charcoal for a total of ten days, until the whole batch of the solution was gone. During this time Shelly died, but the others flourished. (There's a photo and story of Mo in his new home here. Unfortunately, although someone else thought his photo of Iris's face was cute enough to become computer wallpaper, I don't have a photo of Iris.)
I've tried the charcoal treatment on other kittens who had enteritis. Based on samples so small as to be statistically worthless, it seems so far to have raised the survival rate from 5 or 10% to 65 or 70%.
I took this photo of Heather last summer...there's a post at the Blogspot about how she's acting out that she's forgiving me for the grievous insult of having petted Ivy before I petted her, in this picture!