You found a litter of kittens – now what?
Your first instinct might be to swoop in and bring the kittens into your house. But that may not be the the best option for the kittens. Here are some things to consider.
The mother may be nearby – not all kittens that are alone are abandoned. The mother cat may be hunting or may have been scared away. If you find kittens, observe them from a distance in case the mother returns. Be patient during this process.
If the mother does not return for several hours, you will need to decide how to care for the kittens based on their age. Do they need bottle feeding (1-4 weeks)? Can they be fostered and socialized (6-16 weeks), or are they at the age where they will need to be trapped, neutered and returned (4 months or older)?
IMPORTANT: Cats can start mating at the age of 4 months. It is critical to fix kittens between the ages of 2-4 months. Not sure how old your kittens are? See a great guide at Alley Cat Allies’ website.
If the mother cat returns you have a different choice to make. If the kittens are too young to survive if separated, you may want to leave them outside for a few weeks until the kittens begin to eat on their own. If you believe the entire family is in danger, you may decide to trap the mother and bring all the cats indoors with you. You can confine the family in a large dog crate with food, water and litter until the kittens are weaned. Then spay the mother and return her to the area and socialize the kittens and have them sterilized when they are between 8-12 weeks old. Don’t forget to spay the mother cat. Many people take in litter after litter of kittens but don’t trap and spay the mother cat. This only guarantees that the cycle will continue.
If the kittens are old enough to be separated from the mother, you will have to decide if you want to trap and socialize the kittens or trap-neuter-return them. Kittens between two and fourth months old take more time and skill to socialize. If you want to socialize a kitten, be prepared to make a lifetime commitment if they don’t completely tame. They can’t just be put outside after losing months of learning critical survival skills from their mother. If a kitten’s temperament doesn’t improve and you’re unable to make a possible lifetime commitment, return the kitten to its territory within a few weeks of trapping it.
If you decide to socialize the kittens, NEVER place a kitten in a home without having it spayed or neutered first. Kittens can generally be spayed/neutered at 8 weeks old (2 pounds weight). Contact us if you need assistance with the surgery. Everyone has good intentions, but people get busy, forget or don’t realize that kittens can get pregnant at 4 months old and adult females can go into heat again while they are still nursing. This only puts more strain on the shelters and rescues.
You may decide to look for a rescue or shelter to help you with placing the kittens in a new home. Be prepared to be on a waiting list. It is unrealistic to ask a rescue or shelter to take the kittens immediately. Rescues and animal welfare groups are contacted daily with urgent situations, but the reality is there are too many cats being born and not enough places for them to go. That is why spaying and neutering is so critical. If you decide to look for a rescue, visit the Find Pet-Adoption Groups section at https://www.petfinder.com/animal-shelters-and-rescues. Always choose a rescue that neuters before adoption. We recommend using a rescue that has 501c3 status.
For more detailed information about caring for kittens and mother cats, please visit the Alley Cat Allies website.