To protect young kittens who are born outdoors, there is one critical rule: do not take them from their mother. Alley Cat Allies’ president and founder Becky Robinson got a call about kittens found outside in her neighborhood one day, which is very similar to stories we have heard from others.

Becky was directed to a tree in a side yard when she arrived at her neighbor’s home. Six tiny baby kittens were found tucked into a large hollow space at ground level, snug and healthy in a pristine nest. However, their mother was nowhere in sight.

Becky wasn’t surprised; people had been coming over to peer into that trunk for hours, and the foot traffic was no doubt scaring the mother cat away.

Leave the kittens be, Becky told her neighbors, and just wait. Their mother will return. For good measure, Becky sprinkled flour on the ground outside of the trunk. If the mother cat came back, she’d leave paw prints as proof.

Sure enough—once the coast was clear—the kittens’ mother reappeared. She resumed caring for her kittens, and all the neighbor had to do was provide extra food and water and let the mother cat do her job.

A few weeks later, the kittens were lively 8-week-olds ready to be vaccinated, and spayed or neutered. Now, they’re all in adoptive homes while their mother cat continues to thrive in her outdoor home—spayed, of course, so she doesn’t give birth again.

If those kittens had been scooped out of that trunk and taken to an animal shelter, they may have been killed instead.

Leave Them Be™ to Save Kittens’ Lives

Alley Cat Allies’ newest campaign, Leave Them Be, is spreading awareness that Becky’s experience is the norm. Most kittens outdoors do not need to be “rescued” when they have their mother, who is their best possible caregiver.

And during this unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, educating our communities on how to best help kittens found outdoors is especially important.

Many spay and neuter services have been halted for weeks—and may still be for weeks to come—because of COVID-19. Even under normal circumstances, we’d be seeing an influx of kittens during this time of year, known as kitten season.
But these are not normal circumstances, and we need to be prepared for more kittens born to feral and stray cats than usual.

Plus, as a result of the stay at home orders in much of the country, many animal shelters and humane organizations suspended services. Caring for unweaned kittens is a demanding round-the-clock job, and now it is less feasible than ever for shelters and rescue groups.

With the best practices we’re sharing through our Leave Them Be campaign, we can save kittens’ lives—at this critical time and always.

Kittens need their mother. You can’t replace a mother cat’s instinctual care, and bottle-feeding will always be substandard compared to nursing. You will do harm if you take healthy kittens younger than 8 weeks old from their mother, so please Leave Them Be.

Just because you don’t see the mother cat doesn’t mean she isn’t nearby. A mother cat will leave her kittens for good reasons, such as finding food. She may even be hiding from YOU.

From a distance, wait and watch the kittens for several hours, or even a full day, to see if their mother returns. You can try the flour trick, too. Simply sprinkle a wide area into the nest and check for mother’s pawprints.

Confining a mother community cat and her kittens indoors is stressful. Doing so can even affect a mother cat’s ability to care for her kittens. It’s best to allow mother cats and kittens to remain outdoors while she raises them.

When the kittens are 8 weeks old, the entire family can be spayed and neutered through a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. We have a guide to determining a kittens’ age at alleycat.org/KittenProgression.

Do not bring kittens to animal shelters. Many shelters don’t have programs to provide the round-the-clock care that teeny neonatal kittens (kittens 4 weeks old and younger) need to survive. And in this time of COVID-19, those shelters that do have neonatal kitten programs or nurseries may have suspended them or have their hands full already.

Even in the best-case scenario, a shelter is a stressful for environment for young kittens, who have fragile immune systems and easily become sick.

You CAN help. Though you can’t do a mother cat’s job, you can help her by providing essentials like regular food and water and an outdoor shelter. You can also help by observing from a distance so as not to cause her stress.

If you believe young kittens no longer have their mother, or the mother cat or her kittens are ill or injured, step in to provide hands-on help.

Signs that a kitten does need to be taken to a veterinarian immediately include crusted shut eyes, panting or wheezing, diarrhea, lack of movement, and any visible wounds.

Find more information at alleycat.org/Neonatal.

Keep Kittens’ Best Interest at Heart

We know it’s tempting to jump in to help kittens outdoors. Compassion is a good impulse, but we have to wield it with the best interest of cats and kittens in mind. Through Leave Them Be, we can protect healthy kittens by acting in a way that will ensure their healthiest outcome.

For more information, a share graphic to post on social media, and a printable flyer to share in your neighborhood, visit alleycat.org/LeaveThemBe.