Kitten season is in full swing, and stray and feral cats are birthing litters frequently in our community. Do you know what you should do if you find a stray kitten while out and about? Sometimes, even when we have the best intentions at heart, we don’t always know the right thing to do.
To start, it’s important to remember that 9 times out of 10 if you see a baby kitten (a.k.a. bottle baby/nursing/6-8 weeks or younger) it hasn’t been left there alone, the mamma is likely in the middle of moving the kittens to safety or is off hunting and will be back shortly.
The Dallas Pets Alive! Trap, Neuter, Spay, Release (TNR) Team has compiled a list of what to do, not to do, and how you can help.
- STOP — do not touch or move kittens. The exceptions to this are extreme danger (kitten is in the middle of the road with cars going by, dangling off the edge of a roof and will likely fall to it’s death, visible trauma or injury, etc.) or they have physically seen mamma dead. These examples are extreme but one must understand that the instinctual and although good hearted idea that stray kittens were left by a mother for humans to love and take in, could be damaging.
- Observe / watch from afar — mamma can only carry one baby at a time! So when she moves the litter she has to leave the others for a few minutes. But mamma ALWAYS has eyes on her babies. In this case, you may not be able to see her but she can totally see you! If the human scent is transferred to her babies, she may end up feeling as though the kittens have been tainted and refuse to feed them. Unfortunately, bottle babies have just a 50% success rate as it is. Bottle feeding, although a good option, isn’t as good as mamma herself. Kittens receive many nutrients from mamma they cannot get from formula.
- How to save a life — We’ve learned that in order to prevent kittens from dying we need to keep them with mom. Monitor! Make notes, look with binoculars several different times throughout the day; cats are more active at night so be patient: are there multiple cats or a small colony coming around? Could there be more than one mamma cat? If the kittens and mamma disappear, well that’s okay. Continue to offer food and keep those eyes peeled. Chances are mamma will come back to her food source in a few weeks with kittens that will be walking on their own. Mamma is paranoid and will take extra precautions to ensure her safety. She will likely feed in the middle of the night when no one can see her. Even if you can’t see her with your own eyes, chances are she’s still there.
- Do not interfere — if you think you know what’s best, take precaution. Plucking kittens only makes things worse. When mamma loses a kitten she high-tails it to a safer location. This means that we won’t be able to get a handle on mamma to get her spayed and she will continue to produce litter after litter further exhausting already depleted city/rescue resources as more cats are born into the feral life. The damage is made worse if she leaves her other young resulting in the kittens falling to the fate of death by starvation.
- Offer food and a safe place to keep her kittens — A giant box turned on its side with a blanket, open your garage door and put a bed in there for her to keep warm, or prop open your shed door for easy access. A nursing mamma burns a lot of calories and needs to keep up her energy. Offer as much food and water as you can and reach out to a rescue group! Keeping her close by with food will earn her trust and ensure the safety of the litter. But this safe place should be away from traffic and in a quiet somewhat hidden place. Also, keep resident pets from getting in her way and frightening her. And most importantly!
- Call an expert — When in doubt, call a rescue group to come assess the situation and successfully trap mamma and her babies! We’re here: 214-444-9DPA (214-444-9372), or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to help us save more lives? Apply to be a Dallas Pets Alive! volunteer today.