Kitten Season

Posted by Pia

There is not much in this world cuter than a kitten. These magical little fluff balls are beyond adorable, but many myths abound regarding what to do if you find a litter of nursing felines. We are well into "kitten season," that time of year when already-overfilled shelters see a huge influx of these little creatures. So I wanted to share some valuable tips on what to do if you find a little nursing kitten or litter that appears to be without a mama nearby.

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Here are three healthy siblings at 10 weeks after Jane bottle-fed them. They are eagerly awaiting their adopters in this photo!

1 Here are three healthy siblings at 10 weeks after Jane bottle-fed them. They are eagerly awaiting their adopters in this photo!

And here's one of those same kittens at just a few days of age. Note the umbilical cord and closed eyes.

2 And here's one of those same kittens at just a few days of age. Note the umbilical cord and closed eyes.

Jane taught her niece Amanda how to bottle feed kittens when Amanda was just 10.  Thankfully Amanda was patient and committed as it requires constant feedings and care.

3 Jane taught her niece Amanda how to bottle feed kittens when Amanda was just 10. Thankfully Amanda was patient and committed as it requires constant feedings and care.

Initially feedings are every 3 to 4 hours!

4 Initially feedings are every 3 to 4 hours!

It is critical to only feed the formula recommended by a professional and to never feed a kitten cow's milk.

5 It is critical to only feed the formula recommended by a professional and to never feed a kitten cow's milk.

Meow!

6 Meow!

My dear friend Jane Garrison knows a great deal about newborn kittens, and I have had the pleasure of cuddling many she has fostered. She and I, along with Adopt-a-Pet.com-founder David Meyer, co-led a large animal-search-and-rescue effort following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"Mama cats never abandon their kittens on purpose," Jane says, so when someone frantically rings her doorbell with a nursing-age kitten they believe has been abandoned, she almost always instructs them to put the kitten back where they found him or her. Then, she says, watch from afar and wait. Unless the mama is sick, has been killed or is stuck somewhere, she will always return for her nursing babies. If not reunited with her kitten, the mama will frantically look for her.

Intervening prematurely can be problematic. Without a nursing mama, the kitten will need to be bottle fed, which is quite labor intensive and not ideal compared to nursing naturally.  Once bottle-fed and spayed/neutered, the kittens will need to be placed in homes as they will have been tamed by all the human handling.  Alternatively, kittens who nurse their mothers and then wean naturally, can be humanely trapped, neutered/spayed and re-released (TNR) to be maintained in a feral colony provided certain conditions are met.  According to Jane, "With so many adorable kittens being killed in shelters, I find no reason to bring more kittens into the system," Jane adds,  "As long as the kittens are spayed/neutered, given food and water on a daily basis, and sufficient shelter from the elements, they will be perfectly happy living the life of a feral cat." I will discuss TNR and the maintenance of feral cat colonies in next week's post.

Here are some useful guidelines for caring for kittens and determining their age:

  • The umbilical cord is still attached for the first 7 days or so following birth.
  • Eyes open at 10 days
  • Kittens are typically eating on their own at 5-6 weeks.
  • At 5 weeks kittens will start to become feral (wild).
  • Females can become pregnant at 5-6 months and males can begin impregnating others at around that same age. It's important to spay/neuter all kittens prior to this time.
  • Spay/neuter can safely be done when kittens reach 2-3 pounds which is typically at about 3 months of age. Be sure to have the mama spayed as well.

Public shelters have limited time and resources for bottle feeding, so if bottle feeding is necessary, it's often best for an individual to do it with ongoing guidance from a shelter, cat rescue group or veterinarian. One caveat: Cow's milk is not appropriate for these nursing kitties. They require special formula.

If the idea of bottle feeding kittens sounds appealing, contact your local shelter or kitten rescue to volunteer for this much-needed assistance.

In kinship,

Dr. Pia Salk


Have a photo of your own adorable kitten? Enter our Kitten Photo Contest for a chance to win a year's supply of Purina ONE pet food!

Comments (7)

  • Dr. Pia

    Thank you for this article the timing is perfect. We've had a feral cat that has been coming around the house since February so we started to leave food and water out by the garage. We named the cat WhitePaws - of course because she has little white paws. We notice that she was putting on some weight and just thought it was due to us feeding her on a regular basis. Then we didn't see her for a few weeks and the next thing you know here comes WhitePaws with 3 kittens. They looked like they were at least 4 weeks old but were not eating the food they were still nursing.

    Well a week has gone by and no sign of the kittens, mama still comes by regularly and waits to be fed. I'm hoping one of the neighbors was able to catch the kittens and see that they got good homes. I'd love to try and catch WhitePaws and have her spayed. I'll need to contact the local shelter to see if they have a trap.

    My question to you is how long do the kittens stay with their mother before leaving. We live on a wooded cul-de-sac so there isn't much traffic so I'm hoping they are safe.

    Thank you

    Ann (Zoe's mom)

  • Hello ladies, Kirby here.
    And hello to you too Dr. Pia. Cats is one subject that I love to talk about. They are so much fun to chase. Every time one comes into my yard, I make it run for the fence. Now I; what’s that daddy? Oh, this if not about chasing cats but how to raise kittens. Oh, kittens are baby cats. Well would you believe that? I guess that every animal deserves someone who will love and care for them. Mama said that the other Chow’s they had each had it’s own cat. Now that I would like to have seen. I guess I’m too rowdy for a cat.
    Catch you later, Kirby.

  • Cute or not fellows cats and I DO NOT GET ALONG!
    Tallulah

  • I have raised & owned felines my entire life. In the wild kittens usually stay with their mother for at leasst 6-8 weeks to learn how to hunt & defend themselves....It's possible the kittens got sick & passed away or were killed by a predator, otherwise the mother would have her kittens follow her to the food & water so that they will know where it is to fend for theirselves in the future.

  • Hi Dr. Pia, This blog about baby kittens is really special and informative. I had an aunt who loved cats and whenever she found abandoned babies she would get special formula from a vet and learned how the mother cat took complete care of the babies, including helping them eliminate while being fed. Her cats live a long life. Thanks for sharing. Jan

  • what sweet little kittens, they did not ask to be born and we as human-beings have to care for animals because of the results from stupid humans not taking responsiblities...spay/neuter! My feral cat named Kitty was spayed and it only cost $25 at the Humane Soc.

  • Just discovered your blog!

    A wonderful post!

    I recently learned Martha was a Cat Lady, and if this blog has more stuff worth a cats attention I just may add you to my blog roll even if the place IS run by her Dogs. ;-D

    Nikita Cat
    Offishul Repurrter for The Cat Blogosphere

    Professor of the Nikita Institute of Pussydom Studies (NIPS): The Most Opinionated Cat in America, With Talent on Loan from THE CEILING CAT!

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