Kitten season is fast approaching. “Spring is when most litters of kittens are born,” says Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies. “Should you come across kittens, you may be tempted to pick them up and bring them home with you, but that might not be in the best interest of the kittens.”
Deciding what to do when you find kittens depends on a number of variables, says Robinson. She suggests the following steps:
1. Determine the Kittens’ Age
If kittens are not exposed to or handled by people in their first weeks, they will not be socialized and cannot be adopted as pets. These feral cats will prefer to live their lives outdoors, in family groups called colonies. Check Alley Cat Allies’ online guide to kitten progression to help establish the age of the kitten.
2. Find out whether a Mother Cat is Caring for the Kittens
“If the kittens are alone when you find them, they could be abandoned, or the mother could simply be looking for food,” Robinson explains. “Wait and observe from a distance for an hour or two.”
3. If the Mother Cat Does Not Return
Determine if the kittens are young enough to be socialized, or if they should be trapped, neutered, and returned to the site. Note that if the kittens are not yet weaned, they will require bottle-feeding and round-the-clock care.
4. If the Mother Comes Back
Keep in mind that her care is best for the kittens, and they should remain with her until they are weaned. If she is friendly, trap her, pick up the kittens, and bring the whole family indoors to a confined area until the kittens are old enough to be adopted. If the mother is feral, leave the family outside and provide shelter, food, and water. Once the kittens are weaned, place them in foster care for adoption.
5. Neuter to Ensure No More Kittens
“The best way to help stray and feral cats is to end the breeding cycle through Trap-Neuter-Return,” says Robinson. All cats should be vaccinated and neutered. Socialized cats and young kittens are put up for adoption at shelters. Feral cats are eartipped and returned to their colony.
For more information on caring for and socializing kittens, as well as tips on starting a Trap-Neuter-Return program, visit Alley Cat Allies.