With the arrival of kitten season any day now, ACS is gearing up and making preparations for helping out as many of those fluffy critters as we can manage. We usually end up caring for almost 250 kittens every year, and let me tell you, while we love how adorable they are, raising and caring for 250 kittens is a LOT of work! (If you’re interested in helping us, check out our blogs Beat the Heat and Smitten Kittens!)
However, one of the biggest challenges for many shelters is trying to raise kittens that are really too young to be separated from mom. In 2017, ACS took in 232 kittens—and 102 of them were less than 2 months old.
Kittens in their first two months of life are not only growing and developing physically, they are also learning most of the skills they will need for the rest of their life—eating solid food, practicing good grooming habits, playing/hunting, and learning the social skills necessary to interact, whether it be with other cats, dogs, or even humans. They learn most of these things by mimicking their mother—so you can see how it’s challenging when she’s not around.
Additionally, kittens of any age are still developing their immune systems to protect them against viruses, bacteria, and other sources of infection. This means that the younger they are, the more vulnerable they are to illnesses that an older cat might be able to fight off.
Whenever possible, ACS recommends that kittens stay with their mothers until they are 8 weeks old. Then, if they need to enter the shelter, they can do so with all the tools they need to be a productive member of cat society (which we all know means avoiding as much work as possible, being beautiful, accepting tokens of worship from their human slaves, and judging everyone). However, the world does not always give us ideal circumstances, so let’s explore some situations where that’s not possible, and what you can do if you happen to find yourself in one of them.
My cat had kittens that I can’t keep.
If at all possible, we recommend that kittens stay with their mom until they are 8 weeks old. If absolutely necessary, we can take them at 6 weeks when they are eating solid food, but it does increase their risk of developing illness since their immune systems are underdeveloped and we can’t begin to vaccinate them until they are at least 7 weeks old. If you are going to be rehoming your kittens, either through a shelter or by yourself, we recommend handling them as much as possible—picking them up, playing with them, snuggling with them, etc. Remember how we said these first few weeks are crucial for development of social skills? That includes interacting with people! Your kittens will have a much better chance at a good life if they are properly socialized and become outgoing, friendly little fluffballs. Also, if you plan to surrender the kittens to a shelter, make sure to contact them ahead of time—ACS and many other shelters have limited space for kittens, and you may be put on a waiting list if we don’t know you’re coming and don’t have room available.
My cat had kittens and wants nothing to do with them.
If your cat has decided not to care for the kittens and they need supplemental feeding and care, we can provide you with some advice and resources on how to raise kittens. You will need to provide care to the kittens until they are at least 6 weeks old and can eat solid food; after that, they are more independent and, if necessary, could be rehomed or enter the shelter. In the meantime, we can also schedule you an appointment to get your cat spayed—we guarantee that if you raise a litter of kittens by hand, you’re going to want to make sure you don’t end up having to do it again!
I found a litter of kittens and their mom isn’t here.
This is a pretty common occurrence, actually—and surprisingly, doesn’t always mean the kittens have been abandoned! There’s a chance that mom is actually out hunting, taking a break from her annoying kids, or waiting until you leave to return to her little ones. The first step when finding kittens is to make sure that mom isn’t coming back.
If you know for certain that mom is deceased, that’s unfortunately a pretty easy confirmation. However, if that is not the case, but you aren’t seeing her, first look at the kittens—do they look clean? Are they quiet? Kittens that are being cared for by a mama cat will be groomed and fed regularly. If the kittens are dirty, have urinated/defecated on themselves, appear skinny and/or are crying loudly and for an extended period of time, mom may not be coming back. I would still suggest removing yourself from the area and watching from afar or checking back in a few hours to see if mom has visited the babies. It doesn’t matter if you have touched the babies; this will not cause the mom to abandon them.
If mom has not come back, you may need to intervene. We highly recommend contacting either ACS or your veterinarian for advice on kitten-rearing, as they may need veterinary attention, depending on their age and health status. ACS can provide you with some advice on how to care for them, but depending on their age and our current foster availability, we may not be able to accept them right away, so keep in mind that you may need to be the one to care for them. If they do need to enter the shelter, they need to be 6 weeks old to do so safely. There are some situations where we have a foster family that can raise them, but these individuals are hard to come by, and if ACS does not have a foster available, you will need to provide this care yourself. If the kittens are unable to eat solid food, they need to be bottle fed around the clock, kept warm, and taught how to do things like groom themselves. Whenever possible, we try to avoid doing this—humans are not cats, and while we do the best job that we can, we really aren’t a replacement for their mom. So please, don’t take the kittens unless you are sure that mom is not coming back for them.
Keep ACS and other local shelters in mind throughout kitten season. It starts at the end of February and usually doesn’t end until November, and caring for kittens takes a lot—a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of money, and a lot of dedication. Often our ACS caregivers are the first to step in when we desperately need an emergency bottle baby foster, and are willing to shoulder that responsibility in addition to their day-to-day duties caring for the animals in our shelter. We couldn’t do it without them, and we can’t do it without you, either—so if you can, volunteer, foster, donate, and spread the word about the needs of your local shelter during this busy season.
ACS Staff-Fostered Kittens
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