So, you’re cleaning out your garage and behind all the boxes you find a litter of kittens and the stray mum is nowhere to be seen. What should you do?
Hundreds of kittens are brought into shelters each year, many under eight weeks of age and some as young as one day old. The people who find these kittens are only doing what they think is the right thing, but you’ve made the right move by seeking our advice first. Good work!
Has Mum really abandoned her babies?
As a species, cats generally don’t abandon their litter. Just like human mothers, cats need to take an occasional break from the kids too. She may be out getting some much-needed rest or food, or she might be doing a perimeter predator check to make sure her babies are safe. That’s only natural.
Don’t break up your family!
Don’t move the kittens. Just watch from a safe distance over a 24-hour period, ensuring you don’t frighten Mum away. It’s really important to keep the family together because Mum is better equipped than anyone else to care for her new litter. Not only will she keep her kittens warm, fed and clean, she’ll also help them learn essential survival skills such as play, hunting and socialising with other cats.
More crucially, Mum strengthens their immune system through her milk. Kittens are born with extremely immature immune systems, and those under eight weeks of age have a very low chance of survival if they are separated from Mum and brought to a shelter.
So remember, kittens have a much stronger chance of survival if they’re kept with Mum.
Think responsibly and act compassionately
Unfortunately, there are very few councils who are willing and able to assist people who have found a stray cat. Pounds can only offer euthanasia and rescue groups tend to be extremely full over Christmas when the kitten season starts. The tragic truth is that tens of thousands of kittens are destroyed every year.
Taking care of a cat family yourself is a big job, but it can be enormously rewarding. What many ordinary people have proved is that they can provide a positive solution by assuming some responsibility and thinking compassionately.
What every Mum needs most is just a bowl of water and some food. If you don’t have cat food available, grab some meat or tinned fish. Take great care not frighten her. Move quietly and slowly and leave her alone while she eats. If the kittens are mobile, they are probably old enough to eat as well, so make sure you allow extra for them.
Standing at a distance while they eat, do a quick kitty check. How many are there? Do they look healthy? How big are they? Is Mum timid or friendly? This information is important to know, as once the kittens are big enough to be eating independently, at around six weeks, it’s the right time for them to be rehomed and Mum to be desexed.
Catching and keeping kitty safe
Only attempt to catch them yourself if you are able to touch and pick them up. If Mum is timid or wild, contact your local council or animal welfare group to assist you with trapping.
Once you have them safely caged, contact an animal welfare group to find a subsidised desexing program to get Mum sterilised. It’s important to act fast as an unsterilised female can have multiple litters during the warmer months.
Visit the National Desexing Network website for more information on desexing.
Move the kittens to a quiet spare room, laundry or bathroom and kit it out with two litter trays and a bed, which can be bought very cheaply from a $2 shop.
The kittens may be timid around humans too, but by simply feeding them every day and allowing them to get used to your presence you’ll be teaching them trust, which is extremely important preparation for rehoming.
Rehoming the litter
Call your local vet clinic for assistance with desexing and finding out how old the kittens are. Some vets operate rehoming centres and can take in kittens when they are not busy. Alternatively, call your local rescue groups to ask if they’re willing to help with desexing and rehoming the litter.
What about Mum?
Timid adult cats who have never lived indoors are generally not good rehoming candidates. Sometimes you can strike it lucky, but chances are her options will be limited.
That said, a healthy, desexed adult cat that’s used to living wild will do very well, if provided with a regular meal. Known affectionately as ‘community cats’, these free-roaming animals provide the useful service of keeping rats and mice away and are almost invisible to all but those who know and love them.
Across the country, thousands of people are caring for community cats. If you decide to join them, let your immediate neighbours know that you are caring for an unowned, desexed cat and tell them to contact you if they have any concerns.
Most people are understanding once they know someone is taking control of the situation. But if they’re keen to keep your community cat and all the others in the neighbourhood out of their yard, there is a host of humane deterrents you can suggest.
Lastly, remember your community cat needs your help to stay happy and healthy. Put a reminder in your diary for an annual vaccination and health check. Give her somewhere warm to sleep in the winter months and make sure she has plenty of water during summer.
Thanks for being part of the solution!
By acting compassionately and caring for these homeless animals, you are not only saving lives but teaching other people around you to show compassion too. You’re doing an amazing thing and it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
We are hugely grateful to the many wonderful people who sacrifice a little of their own lives to help stray animals.
Everyone is capable of making a difference.