It’s kitten season. So far this spring, Paws4ever has rescued 18 kittens. If you’ve been watching our kitten cam livestreams on our Facebook page, you know how sweet it can be to rescue kittens in need. Cheese-it, one of the kitten cam stars, was found all alone in a basement. Because so many cats are not spayed or neutered, many people find kittens in their yards, crawl-spaces, and neighborhoods. If you haven’t already, you may see or hear kittens around your home.
If you find kittens, what should you do? First, it is important to determine whether the kittens need to be rescued right away.
Do All Found Kittens Need Immediate Rescue?
Not all kittens need to be rescued. When you see a cute baby kitten, your instinct may be to scoop her up and take her inside or to a shelter. However, rescue is not always the right choice. In fact, rescuing a kitten can actually place the kitten in greater danger.
Why can rescuing a kitten put them in danger?
Young kittens have a much lower survival rate once they enter a shelter. Young kittens are still developing their immune systems, and bringing a kitten into a shelter exposes them to a variety of diseases that they may not yet be equipped to fight. The risk is especially high If the kitten doesn’t have the benefit of their mother’s milk, or if rescuing means taking them away from their mother, as they have weaker immune systems and higher stress levels.
Additionally, open-admission shelters that euthanize due to limited space and resources are overwhelmed with kittens during kitten season. Many kittens are euthanized every year because shelters are not able to accommodate the great need.
How to Tell If A Kitten Needs Rescuing
For many kittens, their best chance of survival is staying outside with their mothers. For others, their best chance is rescue. How will you know which is the most responsible choice? Here is a guide for knowing when to leave the kittens be, and when to intervene.
How much are the kittens meowing?
If they’re only meowing sporadically for short periods, then their mom is likely coming around to feed them. If they are meowing constantly throughout the day and night for a couple of days straight, then they are hungry and need rescue. Contact Paws4ever or your local animal shelter.
What if I don’t see the mom, but the kittens meow only sporadically?
If the mom is a domesticated cat, she may come and go while you’re watching. However, if she isn’t domesticated, she likely views humans as a threat and will only come around to tend to the babies when she feels safe. She could be feeding her babies in stealth-mode when you aren’t looking. Kittens may be left alone for hours at a time while the mom hunts or watches from a distance. Give her some space, and remember to listen for meowing frequency.
What does a healthy kitten look like?
If the kittens are being tended by their mother, the next thing to check is whether the kitten looks healthy. A healthy kitten is plump, has smooth, fluffy fur, and naps frequently. If the kitten has poor fur condition, looks emaciated, moves around a lot, and is constantly awake and meowing, they are likely sick or hungry and in need of rescue. Contact Paws4ever or your local animal shelter.
Are the kittens in danger of being injured?
If the kittens appear healthy, consider where they are located. If they are in a spot where they are vulnerable to being injured from predatory animals, vehicles, or an unstable structure, they may need to be moved or rescued. Contact Paws4ever or your local animal shelter for guidance.
What to do next for healthy, safe kittens
If you have determined that the kittens are tended to by their mother, in good physical health, and in a safe location, you should wait for them to get older before intervening. Revisit the kitty family once the kittens are 8 weeks old to get the mother and babies spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and dewormed. Contact your vet, local shelter, or rescue for guidance before moving them.
If they are truly feral cats, they can be returned to their outdoor area after being spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and dewormed. Many local county shelters have TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) programs.
If the cats are friendly, they can be fostered and adopted out. If you are able, foster the cats at your home for a while – you will be giving them the greatest gift! Many shelters won’t have space for all of the found cats and kittens in their shelter, but can still place them up for adoption while you foster them in your home.
How Can I Help Lower the Mortality Rate for Cats and Kittens?
Spay and neuter your cats, and remind your friends, family, and neighbors to do the same. If you have stray cats on your property, talk to your local county shelter about the safest way to TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return). Controlling pet population is the key to reducing the death and euthanasia rate for cats.