Alley Cat Allies, the nation’s largest advocacy organization dedicated to cats, offers five easy ways people can help cats and kittens this season.
“If you come across a kitten outdoors, you may be tempted to bring her home with you, but that may not be the best thing for the kitten,” said Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies.
“Deciding whether to take a kitten home with you or leave her where she is should be carefully considered based on the individual kitten’s situation and age.”
Alley Cat Allies offers the following tips to help kittens this season:
1. Leave kittens with mom. Like all babies, kittens are best left with their mothers who instinctively know how to help their offspring grow up to be strong and healthy cats. Neonatal kittens, four weeks old or younger, need constant care and still depend on mom for 100 percent of their food. Kittens five to eight weeks old can begin to eat wet food but are still being weaned.
If you know the mother is present, it's best to leave the kittens with her. To determine whether the mother is caring for the kittens, wait and observe for two to four hours to see if the mother returns. She could just be out looking for food. If she doesn’t return, the kittens could be abandoned. A young kitten living outdoors that doesn't have a mother present should be taken in and fostered.
“Ultimately you have to use your best judgment,” said Robinson. “Determine if the kitten is young enough to be socialized and fostered or adopted, or if she is old enough to be trapped, neutered and returned.”
If the kitten isn't weaned, she will require bottle-feeding and round-the-clock care. To determine the age of a kitten, use Alley Cat Allies’ Kitten Progression Chart.
2. Don’t bring neonatal kittens to an animal shelter. Most shelters aren't equipped or trained to provide the necessary round-the-clock care for neonatal kittens. If a kitten can’t eat on her own, she will likely be killed at the shelter.
Realistically, it’s never a good idea to take a cat to a shelter, no matter the age or level of socialization. More than 70 percent of cats who enter shelters are killed. That number rises to virtually 100 percent for feral cats. Killing is never the answer - it's inhumane and it fails to stabilize or reduce outdoor cat populations.
3. Volunteer as a kitten foster parent for a local rescue group. There are kitten foster parent programs associated with rescue groups across the country. It's time consuming and requires some training, but volunteering to foster young kittens can save their lives.
To learn the basics of kitten care, attend Alley Cat Allies’ free “Help! I found a kitten!” webinar on April 18 at 1 p.m. EST – register at www.alleycat.org/Webinar
4. Support and practice Trap-Neuter-Return. TNR is the only effective and humane way of decreasing feral cat populations. In a TNR program, community cats are humanely trapped and brought to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated and ear tipped before being returned to their outdoor homes. Learn more about TNR at www.alleycat.org/TNR.
Spaying and neutering community cats prevents new litters, drastically reducing the impact of kitten season. Cats can have litters as early as four months of age, so it’s important to spay and neuter kittens as soon as they are ready.
A good rule of thumb is the Two Pound Spay/Neuter Rule - kittens can be safely spayed or neutered at two months of age or as soon as they weigh two pounds. Learn more about pediatric spay and neuter at www.alleycat.org/spayneuter.
5. Advocate for policies and programs that protect cats. Contact your shelter and local officials and tell them you support lifesaving policies for cats, including spay/neuter funding and spay/neuter before adoption. Write letters and call in support of community outreach and education programs that spread awareness about community cats and TNR - you can make a big difference.
Alley Cat Allies’ website is packed with vital information on kittens, TNR and how individuals and communities can work together to improve the lives of cats. Check out Alley Cat Allies’ feral kitten care page for a comprehensive guide to caring for kittens.