What to Do if You Find Kittens?
It’s Spring time, which means kitten season is coming. While that may sound cute as can be, the reality is hundreds of thousands of kittens are born outside, especially in places with warm weather like here in southern California. Animal shelters quickly become inundated with neonatal kittens and they don’t have the capacity to care for them. So what should you do if you find little kittens outside?
If you find kittens outside, it can be tempting to bring them indoors immediately. However, this is almost never in a kitten’s best interest. Usually their mother is around, likely taking a break or looking for food. She may even be watching you interact with her kittens. A kitten’s best chance for survival is with their mother. If the kittens are cuddled together and sleeping, look clean, and have full, round bellies, their mother is nearby.
Leave the kittens where you found them and periodically check back to see if their mom returns within a few hours. If the kittens are in a dangerous location, like wandering close to the road, move them to a safe location nearby where mom can easily find them. However, if you move the kittens, their mom will likely move them again.
Do not take healthy kittens younger than eight weeks old away from their mom. It is harmful to their development and wellbeing. Even if they are outside, they have a better chance of survival when they are with their mom. Kittens do best when they get to drink their mother’s milk, receiving necessary antibodies that will help them grow up healthy and strong. Additionally, kittens younger than four weeks old need round-the-clock care, which is challenging for humans to provide.
In the meantime, you can help the kittens by helping the mama. Provide them with food and water and a clean shelter with cozy blankets to keep warm. Mama cats like to create little nests for their kittens. And keep monitoring their well-being from afar until the kittens are older. Especially if the kittens are newborn, mama will not appreciate you handling them.
When kittens are eight weeks old, they will eat on their own, have good coordination, and be able to run and play with ease. They will weigh around two pounds and be big enough for spay or neuter and then hopefully adoption. Once her kittens are weaned, their mama cat can be spayed as well. If mama is friendly, she can be adopted - if not she can remain outdoors and never worry about getting pregnant again.
Sometimes, however, there are circumstances where you may need to intervene to help young kittens survive.
If you’ve waited for hours or even a day and mom hasn’t returned for her kittens, they will need your help. * You can sprinkle some flour around the kittens’ nest and if mama comes by to check on them she will leave paw prints * If the kittens are dirty, skinny, cold, or crying excessively, they might be orphaned and will need your help. Similarly, if a kitten is injured, they definitely need intervention. Contact a vet or rescue group for assistance.
Do not take kittens or mama to an animal shelter. Community cats don’t fare well in shelters and mom cats can be protective of their kittens, especially if they are very tiny. Mama cats can easily become stressed in a new environment, especially in a cage, and they can get sick. If mama gets sick, her kittens get sick too and their immune systems aren’t yet strong enough to ward off diseases. Neonatal kittens who need to be bottle fed every 2-3 hours don’t fare well in shelters. If nobody is able to foster the kittens, they are typically euthanized since staff doesn’t have the time to properly care for them.
Instead, foster the kittens - and mama if she is friendly - in your home. A bathroom is plenty of space to foster them and keep them warm and cozy. If you’re unable to foster them yourself, see if a friend or family member can care for them, or contact local rescue groups who may be able to take them in. Once they are eight weeks old, spayed or neutered, and socialized they will be ready for adoption. All because you knew how to help them! Good job!