It is far too often a well-meaning person stumbles upon a litter of young kittens, scoops them up, and takes them into their local shelter. Unfortunately, this is not the best option for the kittens and, in most cases, the mother cat was nearby. Most shelters and rescues don’t have the resources available to care for neonatal kittens. Their best chance of survival is with their mom! It’s also important to know that once kittens have been removed from their mother, she will go into heat again immediately resulting in more kittens!
Free-roaming female cats that have not been spayed often leave their kittens alone for a few hours each day. She may spend time away hunting or searching for a new place to move her kittens. Sometimes the mother cat has simply been scared away by a loud noise and is nearby waiting for a safe return. Although you may not be able to see her, she can see you and will wait until it is all clear to return to the nest. For this reason, it is best to leave the kittens where they are and monitor from a distance. If the kittens are in an unsafe location, it’s okay to move them to a safer area nearby where the mom can easily find them. It is a common misconception that a mother cat will not care for her kittens if they are touched, but don’t worry she doesn’t mind. However, don’t be surprised if they’re moved the next time you check on them!
If you find neonatal kittens the best thing to do is leave them alone! Mom will most likely come back. If the kittens are content and not constantly meowing, then mom has probably been there recently.
A few ways to know if mom has been caring for them are:
If the kittens are cold or don’t respond to your touch, they are not healthy and need your help.
If you’re still unsure whether the mother is returning, you can place a ring of flour around the nest and check it after a few hours for pawprints or for other signs of being disturbed.
If the mother returns, celebrate! Great job keeping them safe! You can continue to help them by keep tabs on mom and kittens until they are 8 weeks old and can be trapped, spayed or neutered, and returned to the area they came from. This is the most humane and most effective way of preventing cats from entering the shelter system.
If the mother cat hasn’t returned for 24 hours, the kittens are likely orphans. In this case, you are the next best thing! By fostering the kittens you are freeing space in the shelter as well as increasing their chances of survival by providing the one-on-one care and attention they need. If you need assistance with supplies or have questions regarding their care, you can contact Tulare County Animal Services at 559-636-4050. You can also visit resources.bestfriends.org for more information about caring for orphaned kittens.
Please click here to download the Don't Kit-Nap Kittens flier.