Every year like clockwork, the kitten population booms in the spring and summer. Stray cats are experts at finding out-of-the-way places to give birth and raise their young. That means many people will find an unexpected litter of kittens under the house, in the garage, or anywhere else that offers shelter from the elements. What should you do if you discover a litter of kittens and don’t have room for more pets in your home?
1. Ask, "Where’s Mom?"
Animal shelters are often overwhelmed with people bringing in litters of “abandoned” kittens. Don’t make the mistake of concluding that mom has gone AWOL just because you don’t see her right away. It’s possible she’s out hunting for her next meal. The trick is to watch discreetly for the missing mom’s return without scaring her away.
If you can’t do a four-hour kitten stakeout (mom cats feed their kittens at least every four hours), think of something more creative. One resourceful foster parent placed a newspaper across a mother cat’s only avenue of access to her kittens. When the newspaper hadn’t been disturbed overnight, she knew the kittens had been abandoned.
But don’t wait long—if mom hasn’t shown up in eight hours, consider her gone.
Even if mom does come back, you’ll eventually want to get all of these stray kittens spayed or neutered so they won’t contribute to our cat overpopulation problem. Call OHS or your local shelter for advice.
2. Start House Hunting
If mom has abandoned the kitties, your next step is finding them homes. If they will eat wet cat food, then start calling friends and family who may want a kitten (if the kittens won’t eat, seek advice from your veterinarian or a local shelter). By the way, you should insist that future owners spay or neuter their kittens. Cats can be altered when they reach two pounds in weight. It's a good idea to spay/neuter as soon as possible since cats can begin reproducing at just five months of age.
3. Consider the Shelter Option
If you can’t find a home for the kittens, call your local shelter. At OHS, your kitten must weigh at least two pounds before we can consider accepting it for adoption (because kittens can be altered when they reach that weight). Occasionally, we have volunteers able to foster kittens who weigh less than two pounds, but that’s not likely during the height of kitten season.
Why doesn’t OHS accept kittens under two pounds? Young kittens need lots of attention and feeding. A huge number of young kittens would soon stretch a shelter’s resources to the breaking point.
4. Be Prepared to Care
If a shelter can’t take your kittens because they are too young, don’t despair. Enjoy the opportunity to be a foster parent until the kittens reach their required weight. It should only take two to four weeks. Caring for kittens who are weaned from their mothers is fairly easy. Yes, they might hiss at us humans at first, but with patience, care, and a lot of encouragement to cuddle in a lap, kittens can become more friendly and social.
Give the kittens a warm, dry place to live indoors (a dog crate equipped with a small litter tray works well; kittens can’t escape but can see out). Keep your kittens well-fed with wet cat food. If they don’t eat at first, add warm water and make gravy—a kitty favorite. Be sure to play with and cuddle your kittens as much as possible. This will make their transition to living with people much easier. Don’t fret that your temporary guests will be a lot of work. Everyone will want to visit you and play with the kittens.
For more information, read the online OHS guide for foster parents raising cats and kittens.