You hear rustling in the bushes, and silent meows from a distance. You peer over and you find a litter of kittens. Is their mother coming back for them? Are they abandoned? What do you do and how can you help? It’s that time again. It’s kitten season!
The idea of kitten season might sound exciting with so many newborn kitties, but the idea of having shelters flooded with new kittens and not enough homes does not. Kitten season occurs twice a year, once in the spring, and early fall. Cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means that they typically give birth only at certain times in the year. Their gestation period is around 60 days, which means that the kittens will be born in early spring. Each litter has an average of 4 to 6 kittens, but it is not unusual if there are more or less.
Unwanted pregnancies can cause more unwanted future pregnancies in the long run. The best way to prevent this is by altering the cat. Because cats are able to give birth as early as 5 months of age, the best time to neuter them is before they get their first heat cycle at 5 months. When they reach 2 months of age and is over 2 pounds, they are able to be spayed and neutered.
One way to control the cat population in the community is through a program called TNR (Trap Neuter Release). The TNR program collects feral cats, brings them to a veterinarian to get him/her fixed, and then gets released back into their original homes. The cats are then ear tipped to identify which cats have already been fixed. This practice alone can help solve the issues of the overpopulation of cats by preventing female feral cats from being impregnated. This creates a balance for outdoor cats in the community.
There are a countless of kittens born each spring, so what happens when you find a litter of kittens in your backyard?
First, determine whether the mother is around or not before disturbing them. Monitor the litter of kittens for a few hours to see if the mother returns.
- If you notice that the mother has returned, you can place a bowl of fresh water and food for her nearby. The kittens will survive better with the care of their mothers.
- If you notice that the kittens have been abandoned, you can rescue them by placing them in a safer, warm place. The kittens can be placed together in a box and provide clean, soft towels for them to nest in. They will need to be bottle fed with kitten formula every 2-3 hours, depending on how old they are. The kitten formula will act as a milk replacer for the kittens; please do not feed them other types of milk. There are several ways you can determine how old the kittens are. By the end of the third week, they can start transitioning to moistened dry food or wet food. A litter box can be provided as well, and they should be ready to urinate and defecate on their own.
It is determined whether they become feral or domesticated cats during their time of nesting. If they are socialized well enough, they can be adopted into families. If you would rather keep them outdoors, they will become feral cats. Either way, when the kittens are 8-10 weeks of age, they should be spayed or neutered before they get released. This is an important step because you can help prevent the cycle of having unwanted litters of kittens in the future.
Once they are ready to be on their own, put them up for adoption! Take them to your local shelter and advertise them through social media and help them find their new homes. These kittens will thank you for saving their lives.
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