Don’t Touch the Kittens…
During high kitten season (spring/summer), it’s not unusual to discover a nest of unattended kittens or a single kitten seemingly abandoned by the mother. But usually Momma Cat is either off searching for food or hiding because a human (ahem…) or predator is nearby. If you are one of those innately compassionate people driven to help small cute innocent beings you should read this Second Chance Pet Column before jumping in to the rescue.
Momma has to keep herself well fed to nourish her babies so it is not unusual for her to be gone several hours. She may also be in the process of moving the babies from one location to another (an indicator of this is if you’ve found one alone) due to some disruption that makes her feel they are no longer safe (like too much human activity, ahem…).
Getting too close to the kittens can keep Momma from returning so do your best to asses from afar (at least 35 feet) that the kittens appear healthy and are not in immediate danger from weather, wild animals, dogs or traffic. If they are sleeping quietly they most likely are just fine.
Removing young kittens from Momma Cat greatly reduces their chances of survival, even if you try to provide round-the-clock care. It is best to come back, 4-6 hours later, to check whether the kittens are still OK (dry, sleeping/quiet, appear fed, etc.).
Do not place food near the kittens to lure Mama Cat, who purposely hides her litter away from food sources, knowing food will attract other cats and predators. Healthy kittens can survive several hours without food as long as they are warm (neonatal kittens are much more at risk of hypothermia than they are of starvation).
You can call my staff here at the Second Chance Shelter for guidance on assessing what is the best course of action. They can help you decide if the kittens are in immediate, grave danger or ill, or old enough to be safely weaned from the Momma.
If Mama Cat returns and the area is relatively safe, leave the kittens with Mama Cat until they are weaned. You can monitor the environment and provide (in a separate area) regular food to Momma who offers her kittens the absolute best chance for survival through her properly balanced nutrition and much-needed antibodies and immune system support.
Ultimately you will want to remove the kittens, to socialize them and find them loving homes, when they are ready to be weaned but not before they are at least 5-6 weeks old, 8 weeks is preferred. Female cats can become pregnant with a new litter even while they are still nursing, so you want to make sure we get Momma spayed as soon as the kittens are weaned.
I have the unfortunate honor of being one of the longest residents here at Second Chance, arriving back in October of 2020. Adopters overlook me because I am quite shy, a result of a life of rough life filled with instability. But if you provide me with a quiet home of my own and have lots of patience I will relax and make you my family. And then, well, let the magic begin…
Second Chance Humane Society’s Animal Resource Center and Thrift Shops have been servicing San Miguel, Ouray & Montrose Counties for 27 years. Call 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about our Emergency Response, Community Medical, Spay/Neuter, Volunteer, or other services. View our shelter pets and services online: www.adoptmountainpets.org.