Kitten season is in full swing and we are seeing an unusually large number of abandoned neonatal newborns coming into our nursery, more than we’d like to see. Many of these extremely young kittens look healthy and well cared for, as if the mother cat may have only temporarily left the kittens. Well-meaning people who have their heart in the right place may not know the signs to look for when coming across “abandoned” kittens and automatically assume that these kittens are in dire need of human care so may take unnecessary action.
Mother cats don’t often abandon an entire litter of kittens but they will leave them to search for food or to find a more suitable location to move the family. With this in mind there are some signs to look for when you come across a litter of kittens to insure you are not doing more harm than good.
If you find a litter of kittens without a mother cat and the kittens are in a dangerous situation – next to a road or a neighbor’s dog – you can move the kittens to a safer area and mom will still return for them. It is a common misconception that if you touch the kittens then mom will not take them back because of the human smell. This is simply not true.
If the kittens are not in any obvious danger simply leave the area. Don’t hide nearby because the mother cat can still smell you and sense your presence. Check back in a few hours within the same day.
Signs the kittens are probably ok and their mother is away temporarily:
- There are multiple kittens — a singleton (a single kitten) is more likely to be in trouble.
- They look fat and well fed.
- They are clean and their fur looks like peach fuzz.
Signs the kittens have been abandoned and need you to take action:
- The kittens have not been moved and there is no evidence the mother cat has returned in the past few hours.
- There is only one kitten.
- The kittens don’t have fat and full bellies.
- The kittens have not been cleaned.
Only if you see these signs should you remove the kittens and take them immediately to Austin Animal Center.
In Austin, newborn kittens then are transferred to the Austin Pets Alive! Neonatal Kitten Nursery so they can receive around the clock care.
Keep in mind that kittens have the best chance of survival with their mother. If they look healthy and well cared for, leave them for the mother cat to raise. For proper social development, kittens should be kept with their litter and mother, if possible, until at least eight weeks of age.