As springtime begins so does “kitten season” – when babies are born to cats who have not yet been spayed or neutered. People don’t always know the best way to help these kittens. Sometimes taking home a kitten found outdoors is the best way to help and sometimes it’s best to leave them outdoors with mom – it all depends on the situation.
“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,” said 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.”
Alley Cat Allies, the only national advocacy organization dedicated to the humane treatment of cats, offers five easy ways people can help cats and kittens this spring. Visit www.alleycat.org/Kittens for a comprehensive guide to caring for kittens.
Tip #1: Leave kittens with mom.
Like all babies, kittens are best left with their mothers who instinctively know how to help their offspring grow up to be strong and healthy cats. Neonatal kittens, four weeks old or younger, need around the clock attention and depend on mom for 100 percent of their care. Kittens five to eight weeks old can begin to eat wet food but are still being weaned. (To determine the age of a kitten, use Alley Cat Allies’ Kitten Progression Guide at www.alleycat.org/KittenProgression.)
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. She could just be out looking for food. If she doesn’t return, the kittens could be abandoned. A young kitten living outdoors who does not have a mother present should be taken in and fostered.
If you are unsure, Alley Cat Allies has a number of resources available to help. The Alley Cat Allies’ National Cat Help Desk can provide advice and direction for a number of situations. Another option is the Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network – local individuals and organizations that may be able to help with hands-on advice, information about borrowing equipment, and veterinarians or clinics that can spay and neuter feral cats. To request a list of Feral Friends in your area, visit www.alleycat.org/FeralFriends.
Tip #2: Don’t bring neonatal kittens to an animal shelter.
Most shelters are not equipped or trained to provide the necessary round-the-clock care for neonatal kittens. If a kitten can’t eat on her own, she will likely be killed at the shelter. Realistically, it’s never a good idea to take a cat to a shelter, no matter the age or level of socialization. There are some shelters who have lifesaving programs for cats, but across the nation, more than 70 percent of cats who enter shelters are killed. That number rises to virtually 100 percent for feral cats. Killing is never the answer—it is inhumane and it fails to stabilize or reduce outdoor cat populations.
Tip #3: Volunteer as a kitten foster parent for a local rescue group.
There are kitten foster parent programs across the country. Though it is an investment of time and requires training, volunteering to foster young kittens is lifesaving and rewarding. To learn the basics of kitten care, register for Alley Cat Allies’ free “Help! I found a kitten!” webinar at www.alleycat.org/KittenWebinar.
Tip #4: Support and practice Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).
TNR is the only effective and humane way of stabilizing and reducing community 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 at www.alleycat.org/TNR.
Spaying and neutering community cats prevents new litters, drastically reducing the impact of kitten season. Cats as young as four months can have litters, so it is important to spay and neuter kittens as soon as they are ready. A good rule of thumb is the 2 Pound Spay/Neuter Rule – kittens can be safely spayed or neutered at two months of age or as soon as they weigh two pounds. Learn more about pediatric spay and neuter at www.alleycat.org/SpayNeuter.
Tip #5: Advocate for policies and programs that protect cats.
Contact your shelter and local officials and tell them you support lifesaving policies for cats, including spay and neuter funding and spay and neuter before adoption. Write letters and call in support of community outreach and education programs that spread awareness about spay and neuter, community cats and TNR – you can make a big difference. Learn how you can help your local shelter save more cats’ lives at www.alleycat.org/HelpShelters.