There are still seven kittens. Of course now I'm expecting them to survive and will be devastated if any of them don't, even though of course we're not going to keep them once they're fully weaned and old enough to be moved. Apparently it's very good for kittens to have siblings as they learn to socialise properly then. I can see too that it's good in our case because they all sleep huddled up together, which must keep them all warm, and they're also starting to wash each other. I noticed a few of them tentatively washing themselves a couple of days ago but couldn't understand why their faces stayed so dirty, until Tim pointed out that since their claws don't yet retract, it's probably very painful trying to wash their own faces! But today I spotted some of them licking each others' faces, so that's another advantage of having several.
I now think they're a little older than our friend suggested. He saw them when they were very hungry, and it was after dark too. But I found this site today which gives milestones for kitten development. Unfortunately the link that supposedly allows calculation of the date of birth doesn't work, but I've still got a much better idea than I had. I checked the details with other sites but I liked this one best as it had photos.
Here's what I reckon:
1) Ears - this site says that kittens' ears are fully erect at about three weeks old. All these kittens had their ears up rather than floppy when we first saw them last Saturday morning so they must have been at least three weeks old then. Moreover they could obviously hear - they responded to each other's mews, and got quite disturbed when one of their number was separated from them and mewing plaintively quite a distance away. So that puts them at over three weeks old, even then.
2) Eyes - these can open any time from about a week up to about two weeks. It did look as if their eyes had only just opened when we found them, but that could be because some of them were a bit gungy. I've gently cleaned them with a damp flannel and warm water, and can see that most of them have lost that deep blue look and look like regular cats' eyes. It was also clear that they could see quite well when we found them. They were trying to follow people down the street, after all.
2) Activity - they were still at the tumbling stage when we found them, a little shaky on their legs, but still able to climb out of the box we found for them temporarily and make their way back to their original 'nest'. The site says that walking starts at about 25 days, so I'm now going to assume that on the Friday (when friends saw them although we only heard them) they were 25 days old, which means they were probably four weeks old on Monday.
I'm relieved to learn this because yesterday they seemed so hungry that I gave them a bit of the 'baby kitten' food I bought on Monday, mixed with some warm water. Three of them (the three biggest ones) immediately started to tuck in. I gave the four smaller ones bits of the food on the end of a teaspoon and they seemed to like it but hadn't grasped the idea of eating from the little tray I put out.
Weaning isn't supposed to start until four weeks, and I'm no fan of early weaning - but evidently my instincts may have been correct. Besides which, I think cats usually know what's good for them and what isn't, and as they ate the food I don't suppose it did them any harm.
This morning they seemed hungrier than ever, and by lunchtime after two feeds my hands were covered with tiny scratches and bites. Not vicious - but as they all try to get at the bottle at the same time, and push each other out of the way, my hands bore some of the scars! Mid-afternoon I tried wearing some of my lighter gardening gloves but although that proteced my hands somewhat, the kittens' claws kept getting stuck in them so it made life more difficult rather than easier.
This evening I had just prepared some more rehydrated food when Dan got back from the theatre where he had been doing the sound and lighting for the younger children's rehearsal. He had to go out again at 8pm so we had to eat almost at once. I decided to experiment with putting the dried food out and then leaving the kittens to it for a while. I also put some evaporated milk in another tray to see if they would drink from that.
I watched briefly and saw that our largest hungry ginger kitten (still known as Darwin) went straight for the food, while at least four of the others started lapping the milk. That was encouraging. When Tim and I went out later with the bottles, they weren't nearly as hungry or demanding as usual, and the three biggest ones (Darwin, the coffee-and-cream coloured fluffy one, and the one that's equally orange and white) who are the three who have eaten food from the tray before, weren't very interested in the bottles at all. It gave the smaller ones a chance to get longer drinks, and then the kittens all wanted to play and be stroked, so that was much easier. I shall try that again. The hard bit is going to be spending less time with them as they become more independent!