Kitten season is like the feline version of Valentine’s Day but with dire consequences because uncontrolled mating of male and female cats results in an avalanche of kittens. Yes, kittens are adorable, but for animal shelters and rescue groups all over the country, kitten season is a major challenge. Of the millions of kittens born each spring, a vast majority of them come from free-roaming, homeless cats.
Here’s how you can help make kitten season easier on your local shelter:
Consider Fostering Newborn Kittens
Animal shelters and rescue groups count on volunteers to spot litters of kittens born outdoors and help care for them. It may surprise you to know that most shelters don’t have the staff or equipment to render 24-hour care for neonatal kittens. You can be a real hero and save kittens by working closely with shelter staff to create a makeshift feline nursery in your home. Keep in mind that this takes a lot of sleepless nights, since bottle feeding orphan newborn cats should occur every two hours.
If you have the space and availability to foster newborn kittens during kitten season, your local shelter will provide you with all of the food, equipment and medicine you need. In addition, if you’re able to foster a mother cat with her newborn kittens, much of the work of caring for the kittens themselves will be done for you by the mom. All you have to do is care for her!
If you don’t have time to foster a litter of kittens, you can volunteer once a week for an hour interacting with kittens at your local shelter and providing them with much-needed socialization.
Help with Trap-Neuter-Return Programs
During kitten season, work with your local shelter to learn the proper way to “capture” feral cats so that they can be spayed or neutered and returned back into the wild. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs exist in communities all over the country and are designed to bring community cats to animal hospitals and have them spayed, neutered, tagged and given vaccinations to prevent them from reproducing and to keep them healthy.
To get an idea of how often and how quickly unaltered cats can mate, consider this: female cats can come into heat about every two weeks during the breeding season. A female as young as 7 months can produce a litter and can give birth to up to 18 kittens every year. A male cat’s fertility period can start as young as 6 months.
If you don’t have time to actively participate in TNR programs, advocate for policies like these and others that will protect community cat colonies in your area.
What to Do if You Find a Litter of Kittens Outdoors
If you find a litter of kittens outdoors, there are some important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:
- Do stop and observe before approaching the litter. In the first weeks of their lives, kittens need their mother’s care and antibodies from her milk. In this instance, mother knows best and keeping the mother and kittens together ensures the kittens’ best chance for survival until they are weaned. To up the survival rate of these kittens, rescue groups recommend that you do not rush in and scoop up the newborn kittens. Instead, watch to see if the mother is simply out scouting for food and does reappear. If she doesn’t show up, contact your local animal rescue to learn how and when to correctly gather up the orphaned kittens to bring to their facility.
- Don’t immediately assume a young solo kitten is motherless. A mother cat will instinctively move her nest of kittens. If you see a single, young kitten, he may be the first in the group moved to the new location or the last of the litter to be moved from the old location.
- Do fortify the mother cat. Provide food and water to the mother. Be sure to place the food and water far enough away from the nest so you do not disturb the mother and kittens or draw predators.
- Do contact local humane shelters/animal control. Reach out to them for guidance on how to bring in the mother cat and her kittens (once they are weaned) safely to be spayed and neutered and, pending a behavioral assessment, placed into a foster or adoption situation.
- Do consider becoming a foster parent to kittens to help them become healthy and socialized. And, if you have the time and interest, consider learning how to bottle feed pre-weaned orphaned kittens.