What to do — and not to do — if you find newborn kittens
Spring is here and so are kittens! Right beside blooming flowers and new wildlife, you may come across a nest of newborn kittens. Whether it’s a whole litter under your deck or a single kitten that seems abandoned in your shed, there are a few things to think about before you jump into action. Many times, it’s best to leave the kittens right where they are — with mom. Here’s the do’s and don’ts of kitten rescue.
• Don’t intervene immediately, unless the kittens are in clear danger. It may take several hours for mom to come back from hunting for food, but kittens can survive for that long without food.
• Don’t intervene if mom returns. She has chosen a place that she believes is safe. Let her raise the kittens for the first five to six weeks. Or, if mom is not feral and you have a quiet house with a spare room or an empty garage, call your local humane society to learn about fostering a mom and newborns. Toddling kittens are easy prey for wildlife, so if you have a place that mom can raise her litter in safety, they would appreciate it.
• Do evaluate the site for potential dangers to the kittens, such as hypo/hyperthermia, predators, traffic, construction, flooding, rodenticides (dangerous for a hunting mom), etc. Also, quickly assess the kittens’ health from a distance. Do they look emaciated, sickly or have crusty eyes? Are they soaking wet or injured? If the answer is yes, then call for help or take the kittens if they are in immediate danger.
• Do keep your distance and watch carefully. Stand back at least 30 to 40 feet or leave and check back later. Mom may be off in search of food with every intention of returning. However, her return may be delayed if you’re too close to her nesting spot. If you’ve found a single kitten, follow the same procedure. Mom may be moving her kittens to a safer spot, but she can only move one at a time. If she can, she’ll come back for her last kitten.
• Do offer daily food and water for mom, but keep it at a distance away from the nest (she will not want the food to attract animals to her nest). You can also offer shelter at a different location away from the food and water and away from the nest. If the cat decides that your shelter is a better option than her shelter, she will move the kittens to the new shelter herself.
• Do trap everybody if the kittens are 5 to 6 weeks or older. By now, the kittens should be almost weaned and following mom around. Tru Catch traps can be purchased online (kitten traps, too!). A friendly mom can be trapped, spayed and made available for adoption. Feral moms can be returned spayed and returned to where they were trapped.
• Do rescue the kittens if:
• They are under 4 weeks old and mom has not returned for a few hours (under your constant watch). For help aging kittens, go to kittenlady.org/age.
• They are over 4 weeks old and have been left unattended overnight (in good weather).
• If you have found kittens truly in need of rescue, do consider being a foster parent. If you’ve never taken care of young kittens before, this is your opportunity to learn. Foster families do the behind-the-scenes work of socialization before adoption.
If you have just rescued a young kitten and need help, UC Davis’ guidebook on kitten care at sheltermedicine.com/library is helpful. We warn you, though, once you’ve fed a bottle baby, you may just want to keep that kitten forever.
Janian Skelton is the feline behavior associate at Marin Humane, which contributes Tails of Marin articles and welcomes animal-related questions about the people and animals in our community. Go to marinhumane.org, find us on social media @marinhumane, or email email@example.com.