It is kitten season again, but with California’s constant warm weather it’s a time that seems to never end. As of last week, Los Angeles Animal Services reported 122 unweaned kittens in need of fostering or rescue.
If you find a litter of kittens in your yard, what should you do?
First, make sure they really are abandoned before you decide to “help” them. The mother may be hunting food so she can produce milk. If she is near and you disturb the kittens, she may either move or abandon them. If they are piled together and look well fed, keep your distance. If they are crying a lot, look dirty or are separating from each other, the mother may be gone.
If the mom does return, the kindest thing you can do is provide a close source of food and water for the next five to six weeks.
If the mother is friendly and you can handle it, provide a safe place indoors for her and her babies. If she’s not friendly, once the babies are at least 4 weeks old they can be removed from the mother. At that point they have received the necessary antibodies from her milk and can be weaned.
When you disturb the litter and remove the kittens from the mother too soon, shelters have to bottle-feed them round the clock or the kittens will not survive. Most shelters euthanize if feeders cannot be found, so keeping the babies with their mother is best.
If you don’t observe the kittens’ mother within a few hours, then you may need to intervene. First and foremost, do not feed them milk. I know you’ve seen it on TV but it is not the same as cat milk. It will give them diarrhea and gastric distress, and the result can be dehydration and death. They need a product called KMR, or kitten milk replacement. When in doubt, call a shelter or rescue service for advice.
The mortality rate for kittens separated from their mothers is much higher than for those that are kept together. Rescues become overwhelmed with requests so if you can foster, that helps everyone.
When the kittens reach 2.5 pounds they can be fixed. Once the babies are weaned, the mother can be spayed, too.
If you don’t have the time or the place for fostering, then consider helping in another way, through donations to your favorite rescue groups. The money will be put to good use, helping to pay for the animals’ care and for services such as neutering and vaccinations. This will go a long way in preventing future litters.
Berke is an animal advocate with over 30 years’ experience in rescue, care and adoption.