It’s the sound that makes every cat lover stop in their tracks: tiny mews from kittens heard but not seen. It triggers something instinctively protective in us, a need to save those precious babies from the dangers that await in this vast, cruel world. But what if YOU are the biggest threat those kittens will face? Before you strap on your super hero cape and rush in to save the day, follow these important steps to ensure you’re doing more good than harm.
Once you’ve located the kitten(s), pay attention to their surroundings. Rescue kittens immediately if they are:
- in a box or bag. This is usually an indication that they have been dumped there by humans, and there is a good chance they have been separated from their momma.
- all alone, with momma and siblings nowhere to be found. This is usually a sign that the momma abandoned the baby or the rest of the family met an ill fate.
If you find a nest of kittens but see no momma, do NOT rescue them right away unless you believe them to be in immediate danger. She may be off finding food (mommas keeps their nest and their food far apart so as not to attract predators). She also might be hiding nearby, waiting for you to leave. Momma kittens need to feed their babies every 3 hours, so leave the nest and watch for momma to return during the next three hours.
ASSISTING (IF MOMMA COMES BACK)
If the area is safe, it’s best to leave the family together until the babies are weaned. This doesn’t mean you can’t help though. You can offer the family more comfortable and safe shelter and food, as long as the two are a safe distance from each other. Don’t worry…momma will find the food. When the kittens are about 6 weeks old, it’s time to get momma spayed and begin socializing the kittens.
If momma is friendly and the area is not safe, you can take the whole family in. Just make sure they have a quiet area to themselves (with no other animals or children) so momma does not become stressed. Again, keep the family together until the babies are weaned.
If momma is feral and the area is not safe, reach out to one of the local no-kill shelters or sanctuaries. In may be possible to trap them and bring them into a facility to work on socialization.
ASSISTING (IF MOMMA DOES NOT COMES BACK)
Momma is the babies’ best chance for survival, so try to wait as long as possible before intervening. But if intervention is necessary:
- Keeping the babies warm is the first priority. More kittens die from hypothermia than starvation.
- Contact one of the local no-kill shelters or sanctuaries for help or advice. Use a multi-media approach — call, email, use Facebook messenger — to get the quickest possible response.
- Do NOT feed the kittens cow’s milk. Kitten milk replacement is the next best thing to momma’s milk.
- For the first 2-3 weeks of their life, kittens depend on their caregiver for food and waste elimination. Just like human babies they need around the clock care. There are many resources online to help you learn how to do this.
- Record the kittens weight daily to ensure they are gaining weight.
- If a kitten is sick or not gaining weight, it’s time to see a vet.
ALTERING AND ADOPTING
Mommas can get pregnant while still nursing, and kittens can get pregnant as young as 4 months old, so there is no time to waste. Spay momma as soon as the kittens are weaned but no later than when the kittens are about 6 weeks old. Spay and neuter the babies when they weigh at least three pounds (generally between 12 and 16 weeks old). If you have taken on the responsibility of placing everyone in loving homes, try not to send them to their new homes before they are altered.
Even superheroes can leave behind collateral damage if they aren’t careful. As many as a quarter of hand-reared kittens don’t survive, so it’s important to be mindful and committed if you step in to help a litter. Just know that you don’t have to protect your secret identity. You can always reach out to FUR, your local no-kill shelter or other sanctuaries for advice and help. Together, we can protect the cats and kittens of Western North Carolina!