This season is what most know as spring/ early summer but it is known to us at the Swift Current SPCA as “kitten season”. It’s the time of the year we get calls upon calls of people wanting us to take in pregnant or nursing Moms and their litters of kittens. The more common call, however, is for “abandoned kittens.” I put quotes around it because more often than not the kittens aren’t really abandoned.
Unlike human children, who are rarely without a parent in sight, kittens can be left alone for hours at a time and Mom usually isn’t far off. In fact, Mom may even be watching you. People often don’t realize this and tend to automatically assume that Mom has left the litter to starve. They then decide to take things into their own hands and “help” which isn’t always in the best interest of the kittens.
So how do we tell if the kittens are in fact truly abandoned or orphaned?
- Unless the kittens are in immediate danger, don’t move them. Mom may just be out getting a bite to eat, or taking a break. If you have to move them, make sure it is nearby where Mom can see or hear them calling for her.
- Keep an eye on the nest from a distance for about 12 hours to determine if they’re truly abandoned. Depending on how old the kittens are, Moms can stay away for hours at a time. It can be hard to tell if Mom slips in and out when you aren’t looking. A way to help tell if the Mom has returned is to sprinkle flour around the area. If Mom comes back she will leave paw prints in the powder.
- Don’t be alarmed if some of the kittens go missing. This is probably a good sign. Active Moms will move their kittens from place to place if they feel they are in danger.
- If hours pass and the babies are dirty, fussy and loud, it is safe to consider them abandoned. It’s important to remember to wait an appropriate amount of time and to stay calm. A lot of people panic and want to scoop the kittens up and care for them right away. However, caring for kittens, especially young ones that don’t eat solid food, is a lot of work that most people aren’t prepared to take on. It is more dangerous for kittens growing up without a Mom. Fading Kitten Syndrome is a common occurrence in bottle babies and is a life threatening emergency in which a kitten, sometimes one that was previous healthy, crashes and begins to fade away. If not dealt with immediately, it can quickly result in death. Most often, this is caused by two things: Hypothermia (being too cold) and/or Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) These two things can happen quickly in small kittens and often go unnoticed until too late. Whenever possible, keep Mom in the picture.
If you truly do have abandoned or orphaned kittens,
- Please keep in mind that kitten season is a very busy time of year. Rescues exhaust their resources very quickly and you may be declined. Fosters for bottle babies are always in short supply because they are a lot of work.
- If you are able to foster the litter, The Swift Current SPCA has a waiting list that you can be put on to get help for your kittens when someone becomes available.
If we in fact aren’t able to help you by taking in your litter we do have lots of helpful tricks and tips that we would be more than willing to share with you on caring for the kittens.
So this kitten season, please be patient and do what you can to help appropriately. While it’s hard to resist a pile of adorable, cuddly kittens, letting Mom handle their care is sometimes the best option.
Melissa Topham, RVT
Swift Current SPCA