Warm(ish) weather is upon us… which means that KITTEN SEASON is here (and puppy season)! Feral and community cats come out of hiding around this time to start looking for mates, and produce adorable litters of mini cats. While we actively promote TNR to reduce the number of orphaned neonatal cats in our community, there is of course no way to get every kitty altered and returned. Thus, neonatal kittens! So, what do you do when you find a neonatal kitten (or kittens) all alone, without a mama? I’m going to tell you!
There are a lot of factors that go into the decision of what to do when you find orphaned kittens, but keep in mind that if you are not trained in neonatal care, you should first and foremost call your local animal control. They will be able to advise you on next steps, provide appropriate care for the kittens if need be, and set up materials to safely trap mama cat, who is likely still in the area.
With that in mind, there are generally two ways you will find kittens: 1) in a box and 2) not in a box. An unfortunate fact is that many people don’t know what to do when their resident cat gives birth, and make the choice to abandon the kittens in a box. If this is the case, bring the kittens to the closest shelter immediately! Neonatal kittens cannot survive without their mother or human intervention, and will need appropriate care to survive and thrive. If you are unsure of how old the kittens are, take them to the shelter anyways! There are absolutely ways for you to care for kittens yourself, but keep in mind that bottle feeding requires experience and knowledge uncommon to the layperson. So, before you decide whether or not to hold onto stray kittens, make sure you research exactly how to care for them by consulting a veterinarian with neonatal experience (I suggest the NOVA Cat Clinic). It may seem like a simple process, but there are a lot of intricacies that go into caring for neonatal kittens. For example, many people think that cats drink milk, so they try to feed them cow’s milk. This is actually incredibly dangerous because believe it or not, cats are lactose intolerant! Additionally, caring for neonatal kittens is kind of like bringing tiny gremlins into your home… They have to eat every 2 hours, they like to yell, and they can’t control their own elimination system. It’s a lot of work!
The second way you may find orphaned kittens is actually a trick scenario. Mama cats often leave their babies in a safe place to go find food. They also often move their babies from one safe zone to another. So, if you see “orphaned” kittens, there is a high likelihood that mama is around somewhere, and will be back soon. The best thing to do in these cases is to weigh the situation. Determine whether or not the area is safe for the kitten to wait in. If so, leave them be for a few hours to see if mama will come back. If not, get that kitty out of there, and call animal control. Animal control officers are specially trained to humanely trap mama cats and their litters. They will be transported to a safe location (likely a local foster home) to hang out in until the babies are weaned, and mama can be spayed and returned to her community. If you notice that mama is not returning for an orphaned kitten, she may have, for one reason or another, determined that the baby is not healthy, and thus chose to leave it behind. That is when you should scoop the little peanut up and take it to the closest shelter. There are professionals all over the DMV that specialize in caring for orphaned neonatal kittens. They will ensure that the baby is given his or her best chance, and is treated appropriately.
Finding neonatal kittens can be one of the most adorable, and also one of the scariest things! They are incredibly fragile, but at the same time, can be resilient and fierce. Fortunately, we live in an area that is filled with impressively equipped shelters and clinics to care for neonatal kittens. Just remember, if you choose to care for a neonatal kitten, the resources around you are vast. Your community is here to support you, you just have to know where to look. Additionally, if you don’t find kittens in your neighborhood, but still want to care for bottle babies, fostering is a great option! Shelters are overflowing with itty-bitty kittens this time of year, and they would LOVE to have your help. Contact your local shelter about fostering kittens (and other animals)- it saves lives! Click the link below to learn more about the basics of caring for bottle baby kittens!