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3 ways to help feral kittens
Spring is stray kitten season. Before you act on your instinct to help, go through these steps.
Spring has sprung, and with it comes kitten litters springing up all over town. You and your clients may be seeing kittens that appear alone and ready for adoption. But not so fast, says Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies, a national advocate group for stray and feral cats. "Should you come across kittens, you may be tempted to pick them up and bring them home with you, but that might not be in the best interest of the kittens," Robinson says.
If you find a litter, the organization suggests you stop and think first: Determine the kittens' age, wait to see whether the mother is coming back, and only then get advice on catching and neutering the animals as appropriate.
1. Figure out the kittens' age.
You're thinking of future adoption, but it may already be too late to socialize some kittens. If people don't handle kittens in their first few weeks, oftentimes these young feral cats may not be suitable for life as pets. Check out Alley Cat Allies' online guide for keys to determining kittens' age.
2. Find out whether a mother cat is caring for the kittens.
An unattended litter may be abandoned—or the mother may be out hunting food for them. For those with time, Alley Cat Allies recommends waiting and observing for an hour or two.
If the mother doesn't return, decide if the kittens are young enough to be socialized (see above) or whether they should be trapped, neutered, and released. Kittens that aren't weaned will require bottle-feeding and round-the-clock care.
If the mother comes back, it's best for the kittens to remain with her until they're weaned. If mom is friendly, consider trapping her, picking up the kittens, and bringing the whole family indoors to a confined area until the kittens are old enough to be adopted—typically at 8 weeks of age. If the mother is feral, leave the family outside and provide shelter, food, and water. When the kittens are weaned, place them in foster care for adoption.
3. Neuter to ensure no more kittens.
Alley Cat Allies supports trap-neuter-return programs as the best way to lower feral and stray cat populations. "The cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinary hospital or spay/neuter clinic to be vaccinated and neutered," Robinson says. "Socialized cats and young kittens are put up for adoption. Feral cats are 'eartipped' and returned to their colony."