By: Robin Desmet ~ May, 2017
The days are getting longer, the weather is getting nicer, and “kitten season” has begun. It is breeding season for cats, and from early spring to late fall, large amounts of kittens will be born to feral and free roaming cats that are not spayed. Because these cats live outdoors, it is very possible that you will one day come across a litter of kittens. So, you found some kittens outdoors. What do you do next?
The answer is: that depends. Did you find a litter of kittens in a crate by the side of the road or in a cardboard box in a parking lot? If so, this is a no brainer. These kittens have been dumped by someone and they clearly need to be rescued. If you are unable to care for them yourself, take them to the nearest animal shelter and ask for advice or assistance.
Most shelters have individuals who are experienced in caring for neonatal kittens and they will place the kittens in foster care until they are ready to be put up for adoption.
It is also possible to encounter a litter of kittens in your neighborhood in a shed or garage, an alleyway or a wooded area. In these instances, it is important to first determine if the kittens are being cared for by their Mother. Kittens that are taken from their Mothers too soon require a lot of care. They need to be bottle fed every 2-3 hours around the clock. They tend to do poorly and many do not survive. Whenever possible, it is best for kittens to remain with their Mother for the first 4-5 weeks of their lives.
In order to determine if there is a Mother in the picture, first observe the kittens. Watch the kittens from a distance and wait to see if the Mother returns. This could take several hours. If you determine that there is a Mother present, then it is best to let the kittens remain with their Mother. Provide food, water, and shelter, but avoid hovering. This will only distress the Mother and she will move the kittens. If she does move the kittens, continue to provide food and the Mother will most likely return to feed. You will see the kittens when they start to walk at about 3-4 weeks of age.
If the Mother is feral, then it is best to remove the kittens at about 5 weeks in order to start socializing them and getting them used to people. Kittens left outside indefinitely with a feral Mother will become feral themselves and will be unadoptable. They will be forced to live a difficult life outdoors dodging traffic, searching for food, and trying to stay warm in the winter. Any kittens that survive will reproduce prolifically, adding to the number of homeless animals already on the streets.
If you see kittens outdoors and you are unsure of what to do or if you need help, contact one of your local animal rescue organizations. (MSPCA at Nevins Farm in Methuen, Animal Rescue of Merrimack Valley, Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society in Salisbury, Billerica Cat Care Coalition, or The Odd Cat Sanctuary).
They can help you rescue the kittens and get them into foster homes until they are ready to be adopted. They can also help trap the Mothers and get them spayed to avoid future litters. Your actions can make a big difference in the lives of these cats.
If you have any questions, please e-mail me at: Robinjd@comcast.net