Of course, your first instinct is to snuggle them, but that might not be the best idea. With kitten season approaching this spring, the San Diego Human Society wants local residents to be aware of the exact steps to take when you find a stray kitten.
According to the organization’s Kitten Nursery manager Jakie Noble, nearly 3,000 0- to 8-week-old kittens were turned into the humane society last year. And there are typically two “waves” of kittens; one when the weather starts to warm up in spring and another in the fall.
With so many kittens being born, there’s a greater chance for people to find them. So while leaving a kitten alone is probably one of the hardest things to do, it is the first step.
“The most common mistake people make when they find kittens is they panic and remove the kittens from their environment right away,” Noble said, adding that it’s important to first assess the situation. Ask yourself if the kitten is in danger of predators, if it’s injured or if it appears to be cold or hungry.
“If the kitten(s) are warm and quietly snuggled together, the likelihood is that the mother cat may be close by, waiting for the human to leave her nesting spot,” Noble said. “If you find a kitten alone, this could mean the mother cat is moving her litter to another nesting spot. Mom uses her mouth to pick up and move the kittens, so she can only move one kitten at a time. Be careful not to ‘steal’ a kitten she may be returning to move."
As much as most people would love to, not everyone has enough time to sit and wait to see if the mother cat comes back. That’s when you can use what Noble calls the “flour trick.”
“Take a small amount of flour and make a ring around the nest area. Watch from a safe distance to see if mom returns. Come back in a few hours. If you see paw prints in the flour, this is a sure sign that the mother cat is around and tending to her kittens.”
If the mother cat does not return for her kitten(s), then it’s time to take action. If you have the availability and knowledge to take on the kittens, do so, but if you don’t, bring them to your local shelter so they can be properly evaluated and taken care of. But don’t forget about the mother cat.
“Every effort should be made to catch/trap the mother cat too,” Noble said. “If an un-spayed cat no longer has kittens, she can immediately go back into heat and have another litter of kittens in just 60 days. The only way to break the cycle of kittens being born is to take responsibility for spaying and neutering outdoor community cats.”
And if you do decide to take the kitten(s) in — even temporarily — Noble warns that they shouldn't be fed right away. In fact, the priority should be to get the kitten(s) warm before they eat because a cold kitten can’t successfully digest foot.
When the kitten is warmed up, be sure you feed it the right diet, which is not cow’s milk, human food or cereal. Instead, go to your local pet supply store and buy kitten milk replacer. If you don’t have access to that, it’s important to seek assistance from our local rescue group, vet clinic or animal shelter.
For more information about kitten care and kitten adoptions, visit sdhumane.org.