Battling disease, starvation, animal attacks or human cruelty, stray and feral cats can die young. If you've found stray kittens on your property, act fast to help them live healthy lives.
Karen Reicheld, an animal care manager at the Hamilton/Burlington SPCA offers great advice for helping stray kittens. Check out the following 10 dos and don'ts for guidance.
1. DO monitor the situation.
Watch the kittens, but don't move them. The mother cat is probably nearby but if she hasn't returned by end of day, there may be a problem.
If the kittens appear distressed or are very vocal, "this may indicate something's happened and the mother cat can't attend to her litter," says Reicheld.
2. DON'T bring the kittens indoors unless you have to.
Unless they're in danger, it's best to leave stray kittens outside so the mother cat can comfort them upon her return. Crate them in a carrier to keep the kittens safe and secure, and, if needed, to provide an easy way to move them to the nearest municipal animal control/animal services centre.
3. DO ensure that the kittens are in a safe, warm place.
If the weather's not cooperating, bring the kittens indoors and confine them to a clean and quiet room.
"A smaller room like a spare bedroom, bathroom, or the laundry room, is ideal," says Reicheld.
Provide a box or let them use the carrier (with the door open) to hide in. They'll also need food, fresh water, and cat litter.
4. DO feed yummy foods in moderation.
Canned food is irresistible. But high-quality dry kibble is best for a staple diet – too much canned food may give kittens diarrhea.
5. DON'T take too long to make your next move.
Within a few days' time, decide whether you want to keep the kittens (temporarily or permanently) or give them over to animal control/animal services for assessment.
If you hold on to them for more than a couple of days, you may be deemed their owner and be levied with a "surrender fee."
If you plan on temporarily fostering the kittens, keep in mind that socializing them would improve their chances of making it into the adoption pool later.
"If they're unhandled by 12 weeks, socializing them is next to impossible," says Reicheld.
6. DO be careful when handling strays.
"Cats may seem friendly at first, but then scratch or otherwise injure you if you try to pick them up," Reicheld warns.
If you've opted to foster-parent, wear gloves until the kittens are comfortable being handled – they may be small, but their little claws and teeth are sharp!
7. DO keep strays separated from your pets
To prevent fights and minimize the transmission of infections and parasites.
8. DON'T foster-parent all on your own.
Ask for advice on the matter from a rescue organization or shelter. Individuals at the shelter will be able to provide you with information on how to care for your new feline friends.
9. DO your due diligence.
A litter of kittens found outdoors is likely stray, but if you find an adult cat, you should first ensure that it's not a housecat that's gone missing. Check online at Petfinder.com and local Craigslist or Kijiji sites to make sure no one is looking for the found feline.
10. DO help to break the cat-overpopulation cycle.
Spay or neuter your cat. Many municipal animal services departments and animal welfare organizations run low-cost spay-neuter clinics. An unspayed female cat can produce two or three litters of five or six kittens per year!
If you turn the kittens over to animal control services
Animal control holds the cats for a few days in case someone claims them as lost. If not, the kittens will be put up for adoption through a local shelter or animal rescue organization.
There's also a chance they may be euthanized. There's a Cat Over population Crisis in Canada and about half of all cats brought to shelters are put to sleep. And although adult feral cats may be spayed/neutered, vaccinated and released where they were found through Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) programs, kittens may be put down.