By Ann Ensminger, Senior Director of Impact & Programs
It’s spring – my favorite time of the year – when the weather gets warmer, the sun shines brighter and the days become longer! And at Animal Friends, and many other organizations across the country, this is the time of year that we refer to as “kitten season.”
Are you thinking, “What in the world is kitten season?” Well, it’s not actually a season like spring, summer, winter or fall. Kitten season is the period of time from March through the end of the summer when kittens are born. During kitten season Animal Friends receives questions about how to help them and requests to admit them for adoption. Most of these kittens are born to mama cats who are feral. A feral cat is one who spends his or her entire life living outside. They were likely born outside and are more comfortable there than they are living in a home with people.
We need everyone in the community to help us during kitten season. This spring, summer and early fall, when you are outside playing, taking a walk or even just in your yard, you may come across newborn kittens. While your first thought may be that they are in danger and need to be taken in, they actually may just be waiting for their mother to come back from searching for food. As hard as it may be to leave them, they would prefer to stay where they are!
Here are some tips on what to do if you find stray kittens:
- In order for a mother cat to be able to care for her babies, she also needs to eat. That means that she needs to head out to search for food and will need to leave her babies in the nest while she is gone. So, if you see kittens without a mom, she may just be out looking for food and it may be several hours before she returns.
- If you find just one or two kittens by themselves, mom is probably in the process of moving the litter from one place to another.
- While you may want to stay with the kittens and wait for their mother to return, she is probably too scared to approach you. She may be watching you from a safe distance waiting for you to leave so that she may get back to her litter. An easy way to see if mom is still around is to sprinkle flour on the ground near the nest of kittens. You can check back in a few hours to see if there are footprints in the flour, which will let you know that mom has returned and is caring for her babies.
- While you may want to provide food for the mother cat, it is not safe to do so. The food will also attract bigger predators who may harm the kittens or the mother cat.
- The very best thing that you can do is to keep the kittens where they are. Kittens need their mother in order to have the best chance of survival. While kitten formula and heat sources can help to care for young kittens, they do not provide the same life-sustaining benefits as their mom.
If you find a kitten or group of kittens in one of these situations, they may need your help:
- How’s the weather – is it raining? Are the kittens at risk of being soaked or covered in water?
- Are there predators in their direct surroundings?
- Are they in the way of traffic?
If this is the case, you can place the kittens into a box in a safe location in the same area and then watch for mom to return. Remember that it may take up to 5-6 hours for a mother cat to return to her nest.
If the mother cat does not return to the kittens after 5-6 hours, you may need to step in to help. There are many resources available to help you with what to do next.
If you ever have questions or concerns about a litter of kittens you find, you can call our Admissions team at 412.847.7078 for resources and advice.
Thank you for helping the kittens in the community who may need it. We are also counting on you to help us spread the word. After you have read this article, please share what you learned with your friends, families, teachers and neighbors. Thank you for supporting Animal Friends and helping to make our community a more compassionate place!