“If you come across a kitten outdoors, you may be tempted to bring her home with you, but that may not be the best thing for the kitten,” says Becky Robinson, President and Founder of Alley Cat Allies. “Deciding whether to take a kitten home with you or leave her where she is should be carefully considered based on the individual kitten’s situation and age.”
Here are our 5 tips to help kittens this season:
- Leave kittens with mom. Like all babies, kittens are best left with their mothers who instinctively know how to help their kittens grow up to be strong and healthy cats. Neonatal kittens, 4 weeks old or younger, need constant care and still depend on mom for 100% of their food. Kittens 5 to 8 weeks old can begin to eat wet food, but are still being weaned. If you know the mother is present, it is best to leave kittens with her. To determine whether the mother is caring for the kittens, wait and observe for two to four hours to see if the mother returns. The mother could just be out looking for food. If she doesn’t return, the kitten could be abandoned. A young kitten living outdoors who does not have a mother present should be taken in and fostered.“Ultimately you have to use your best judgment,” says Robinson. “Determine if the kitten is young enough to be socialized and fostered or adopted, or if she is old enough to be trapped, neutered and returned.” If the kitten is not weaned, she will require bottle-feeding and round-the-clock care. To determine the age of a kitten, use Alley Cat Allies’ Kitten Progression Chart.
- Do not bring a neonatal kitten to an animal shelter. Most shelter employees are not equipped or trained to provide round-the-clock care for neonatal kittens (up to 4 weeks of age). If a kitten cannot eat on her own, she will likely be killed at a shelter.Realistically, it is never a good idea to take a cat to a shelter. More than 70 percent of cats who enter shelters are killed there, and that number rises to virtually 100 percent for feral cats taken to shelters. Killing is never the answer—it is cruel and inhumane, and it fails to stabilize or reduce outdoor cat populations.
- Volunteer as a kitten foster parent for a local rescue group. There are kitten foster parent programs associated with rescue groups across the country. It is time consuming and requires some training, but volunteering to foster young kittens can save their lives. To learn the basics of kitten care, attend Alley Cat Allies’ free “Help! I found a kitten!” webinar on April 18, 2014 at 1 p.m. EST. Register here.
- Support and practice Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). TNR is the only effective and humane way of decreasing feral cat populations. In a TNR program, community cats are humanely trapped and brought to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped (the universal symbol that a cat has been neutered and vaccinated) before being returned to their outdoor homes. Learn more about TNR.
- Support policies and programs that protect cats. Let your shelter and local officials know that you support pro-cat ordinances including spay/neuter funding and spay/neuter before adoption. Write letters and call in support of community outreach and education programs that spread awareness about feral cats and TNR – you can make a big difference.
Check out Alley Cat Allies’ feral kitten care page for a comprehensive guide to caring for kittens.