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Help! I’ve found a litter of kittens! What next?

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  • October 29, 2021January 25, 2022

If you’ve come across a litter of kittens, you may be tempted to scoop the whole bundle up into your arms, give them a big cuddle and take them to the safety of your home. But not all litters need intervention, and ‘rescuing’ kittens can be worse in the long run than leaving nature to take its course. As strong as the urge to nurture these helpless little cats is, you must fight it, and take the time to learn how to help the litter for the best possible outcome instead.

A pile of kittens by a bin or in a ditch might seem abandoned. But once you learn that mother cats leave their offspring regularly, often for hours at a time, you may find the kittens are just waiting the return of their dinner. There are some simple ways to help you identify whether a kittens wellbeing might be an immediate concern or whether the little kittens can survive until parental supervision returns. Use our helpful tips below to decide if intervention is necessary before you act!

The first step is to estimate the age of the kittens. Try not to fall in love with their little wet noses and big eyes. Instead, remember that kittens are born blind and deaf and cannot regulate their own temperatures or even expel waste by themselves for the first few weeks. In the animal kingdom, this is called being born altricial, completely helpless, just like newly born humans. Kittens are born relatively immobile, unable to feed or care for themselves, entirely dependant on their mothers. Are the kittens you’ve found looking lively and moving around, or are they much too young for that? A kitten may be 3-4 weeks before they show strong independent and purposeful movement. If the litter are bright eyed, curious, and playful, they may be at least four weeks old, and capable of waiting for their mother to return. If they look younger, are not moving independently or seem incapable, they are likely neonatal. This is the term for kittens younger than 3 weeks old

Next, you should assess the scene. What time of year is it, and what type of weather? Are the kittens well protected from rain and wind? On a warm summer day, the little bundles of fur might be fine where they are. In winter, or any inclement weather, kittens, especially neo natal ones, are at increased risk of hypothermia and extra attention must be given to ensure they are safe. If the siblings really are abandoned, and have been alone for any amount of time, they will likely be dirty, may be screaming in hunger and their nest may appear heavily soiled. Conversely, if they look chirpy, with clean fur and bright eyes, they likely have a mother taking care of them.
Observe the scene for as long as you can. Watch from a safe distance of at least 30ft until the mother returns. If you can’t stay to surveil, appoint a friend or family member who can, or reach out to a community Facebook group and explain the situation. Kind-hearted neighbours may offer to observe until enough information is attained in order to react appropriately. Do not touch, intervene or move the litter until you are 100% sure it is the correct decision to make and will save their lives.

Still convinced you should intervene and rescue the kittens? Taking care of kittens of this age is not for the faint hearted. They may require bottle feeding every 2 hours, need help expelling their waste and raising them successfully can be very labour intensive. You might require a team of adults to take shifts of looking after the litter, do you have support like that around you? Do you have access to the equipment necessary, a cage, blankets, food and syringes for feeding, a warm dry place to keep the kittens safe? Do you have the time required to dedicate yourself to the wellbeing of the litter?

Taking a litter is the last resort for the SPCA. We are currently overwhelmed by the quantity of newborn and neonatal litters and we regularly rely on foster parents for help. Ideally, we could monitor the litter for their health and, when the time is right, capture the mother and spay her before release to prevent another litter. Please consider your options before you act, use your head and not your heart and make decisions that will benefit the mother and her babies. Allowing nature to take its own path without intervention may be the best course of action for everyone involved. In an emergency, or if you need more advice even after researching the situation thoroughly, call us at 086 8032592 or reach us by email at info@mayospca.ie. Our volunteers are available to discuss your options and guide you to the best decision possible.
Thank you for caring!