The kitten season is beginning. You may discover a litter of kittens in your garden, workplace or school. Many of us want to save kittens we discover in odd places. We should stop and make a plan first. If you truly want to save the kittens, then you must take responsibility for them and follow through. It is unlikely you will find a rescue group or an individual to take them and they are unlikely to survive being taken to the shelter.
Sadly, most of the kittens taken away from their mothers will die — if not euthanized outright, then from cold or starvation. If the kittens are younger than a month old and not yet able to eat on their own, then their chance of survival is slim — even if they are carefully tended by a foster experienced in bottlefeeding kittens.
What should you do if you come upon kittens outdoors?
Assess the situation. Investigate whether the kittens are abandoned. If you know the mother is dead, then you should act to save the kittens. However, their mother may be away temporarily to hunt for food, she may be hiding because you are there, or she may be moving the family. Get some distance away from the kittens, stay still, and watch. Give the mom some time — at least a few hours. If no mom appears, then you will want to act to save the kittens.
Keep in mind that kittens younger than eight weeks should stay with their mother if at all possible. If they are in a safe location, they are best off remaining there with her. Bring them food and water, and pet and cuddle the kittens for a few minutes (if the mother cat will let you touch them). If the kittens have their eyes closed or are just barely able to walk, they are younger than eight weeks. If they can scamper away from you, then they can survive without their mother.
Please do not call animal control to remove the kittens — even if the mother is present. They simply will take the kittens to the shelter to be euthanized. The Mesilla Valley Animal Services Center does not have the resources to maintain young kittens.
If you’re lucky, the mom and kittens will be friendly. If they let you pet them, you can pick them up and pop them into a cat carrier to take them home. For a mom and kittens you can’t touch you will need a humane or “no-kill” trap, which is a cage with a door that shuts when an animal is inside. To borrow a trap, contact Cat’s Meow or Big Kitty Fix. Sometimes these traps are available through the shelter.
When you collect the cat family to take them home, make them feel safe, secure, and welcome. Prepare a somewhat small, quiet space for the feline family. The bathroom usually works very well. It should have no hidey-holes that you can’t reach into — you will need to touch the kittens to socialize them, administer any medications, take them to the vet, etc. Create a cozy spot in their room or enclosure where they can retreat and feel sheltered (a roomy box placed on its side works well), but make sure you can get a hand in there.
Supply food bowls, water bowls, bedding, and litter. The litter box must be shallow enough for little legs to climb in. Fill it with a non-clumping litter — kittens can ingest litter, and you don’t want it clumping up in their tummies.
Keep the kittens warm, especially if they are orphaned. Wrap a towel around a heating pad (set it to the lowest temperature) or a hot water bottle. Kittens must also have space to get away from the warmth so they don’t get too hot.
If you plan to save the kittens and get them adopted, touching them and talking to them several times every day will make them tame and teach them to trust humans. When they are old enough to eat, bring them food, so they associate care with humans. Now you can get them veterinary treatment and begin the adoption process.
There are numerous rescue groups who can help you with the adoption process. They also will be rescuing kittens, so don’t expect them to take the kittens off your hands. However, they can help with other resources and advice to get you through the process. If you start when the kittens are six to eight weeks old, you will find adopters more quickly. Plan on it taking several months to get all the kittens placed in loving, forever homes.
Once the kittens are old enough to eat food, trap their mother and have her spayed. If she is a feral cat, return her to her territory after she has been spayed and given her rabies shot. If she is tame, now would be the time to work at finding her a permanent home.
To guarantee your kittens do not reproduce, get them spayed and neutered when they get to be a few months old — or be certain that whoever adopts them will get them spayed and neutered. Again, there are numerous resources to accomplish this task.
If kind people in each neighborhood would act together to share the time and expense of trapping, spaying or neutering, and replacing the cats in their own gardens, in a few years they would discover they do not have kittens that need to be rescued at great effort and expense. I hope that day comes soon.
Jackye S. Meinecke is a freelance writer and garden consultant and designer. To contact her, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 323-0903.