Kitten season begins each year around March as the weather warms and ends around October when it starts to cool down again. During this time, cats are more likely to produce litters of kittens. Shelters and rescues can quickly become overwhelmed with the number of kittens in their care. It’s not uncommon to find kittens this time of year but, taking them to a shelter may not be necessary.
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about helping kittens this kitten season.
What to do if you find kittens
Kitten nests appear in sheltered places and away from busy areas usually but occasionally are closer to humans and homes. Listen for soft meows and if you have a dog, keep an eye on them during their time outside since they are more likely to notice a cat’s nest than you are.
If you come across a nest of kittens, take a few seconds to think before you act. Not all kittens need immediate intervention. Disturbing the nest may result in the mother cat abandoning her kittens. Don’t touch or move the kittens until you’ve considered the following:
- Without touching them, can you tell if any of the kittens are visibly injured or in distress? Are the kittens bloody/bleeding? Is their breathing labored? Do you see any visible wounds?
- Are the kittens in immediate danger? Are they in a poorly sheltered area? Is there inclement weather predicted that would make them unsafe? Are there known predators in the area?
- Is the mother cat missing? Take a few minutes to look around and then move away from the nest to observe without spooking the mother. If she is not back to check on her babies in a few hours, your answer is likely yes.
- Is the nest in disarray? Soiled bedding, constant crying, and thin kittens are all signs of abandonment.
If you have answered no to all of these questions, you can help support this kitten family, but you do not need to take them to a shelter. Their mother is best equipped to care for them, especially when neonatal kittens depend on her milk.
Offering shelter and regular food helps support the cat family. Maintain a healthy distance between what you provide and the kitten’s nest to prevent luring other animals to the nest. Once the kittens are over six weeks old, they naturally start to wean off their mother’s milk, and by 12 weeks old, their social skills develop. At this point, you can intervene by humanely trapping the family of cats for spay and neuter procedures or rehoming. These actions will reduce the number of homeless cats and help prevent future litters. For help with this process, reach out to local humane societies and animal shelters, and don’t forget about the mother cat!
If you answered yes to any of the questions listed previously, then it is time to take action and become a kitten season hero.
How to help abandoned, sick, or injured kittens
If you have determined that the kittens you have found are in danger, there are a few things you should know before intervening.
- Gathering the kittens and dropping them off at a local shelter will not guarantee their survival. Shelters don’t always have the staff or materials needed to support neonatal kittens. Do your research to see if any places near you can care for such young kittens.
- Depending on their age, abandoned kittens will need extensive care to survive and thrive. If you can not commit to a feeding and monitoring schedule every two to four hours, it is best to find a group or individual able to do so.
- Raising kittens in need is a rewarding experience, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Even if local shelters and rescues cannot care for young kittens, they may be able to help you with the cost of supplies or veterinary bills. It never hurts to ask!
If you are committed to caring for these kittens yourself, keep reading to find a comprehensive care guide.
Take the kittens home
First, put on protective gloves. Then, gently pick up the kittens and place them in a safe carrier or container with warm blankets. If you notice any injured kittens, they should be checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible. If all of the kittens seem moderately healthy, you can move them into your home.
To create their new nest, you will want to keep the kittens in a quiet, secure, and warm place separate from any other pets. Soft blankets and constant warmth are essential. Warming pads, hot water bottles, and warming lights are effective methods to keep the nest heated. Be careful not to overheat the kittens. The temperature of the nest should be similar to their mother’s body heat.
Kittens born in the wild can have many diseases and parasites that are not immediately apparent, so schedule a checkup with a veterinarian. Most likely, the kittens will be too young to receive any vaccines, but their health can be evaluated and you may receive some helpful tips for care and adoption.
Build a routine
If the kittens you rescued were still with their mother, they would be fed every two to four hours and receive regular grooming. Establishing a normal feeding routine helps the kittens grow properly and receive all of the nutrients they need to thrive. Grooming helps stimulate their digestive systems and eliminate waste.
Since you are their new caretaker, these responsibilities will fall on you. Luckily, there are simple alternatives to feed and bathe your kittens. Kitten formula is a good supplement for a mother cat’s milk. The milk of other animals will not meet a kitten’s needs, leading to ailments or stunted growth. Kitten formula can be found in most pet stores or ordered from a reputable online source.
Depending on how young your kittens are, you may have to put their bottle of formula right in front of their face. Be sure that the nipple fits comfortably in their mouth and clean it between feedings. Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle to prevent the kitten from swallowing air and never feed them in a cradled position like you would with a human baby. This could cause them to aspirate the formula.
After each meal, you will want to stimulate the kitten’s digestive system with a clean, warm, damp washcloth or cotton swab. Gently stroke their rear end with the washcloth to simulate how their mother would clean them. This should help your kittens defecate and urinate, which they may otherwise be unable to do on their own if they are too young.
Now you can place them back into their warm nest alongside their siblings for a comfy nap. Check on them regularly and repeat the feeding and cleaning schedule every few hours. As they grow, they will require less frequent feeding, and at around six weeks old, you should be able to wean them from the bottle to solid kitten food slowly.
If any of the kittens refuse to suckle, feel cold, or do not have regular bowel movements, it is best to consult a veterinary professional as soon as possible. The younger a kitten is, the faster its health can decline, so it is always best to be proactive!
Although they cannot say it, any kittens you help this spring will be appreciative of your heroic behavior. Stay aware this kitten season, and it never hurts to be prepared just in case you need to rescue a kitten.