Every spring, animal shelters around the country prepare their kennels for kitten season, the time of year when litters of kittens arrive in overwhelming numbers. The warm weather triggers stray cats to go in heat, and eventually many of these strays will give birth to a litter (or sometimes two or three litters) of unwanted kittens. Here in Florida, where the weather is warm year-round, we experience kitten season for a longer period of time than other parts of the country.
During kitten season, animal shelters receive many neonatal kittens, tiny newborn kittens who are just four weeks old or younger. Neonatal kittens need round-the-clock care. If a mother cat is no longer around to care for her litter, we here at Miami-Dade Animal Services Pet Adoption and Protection Center must bottle-feed and provide shelter and love to these helpless kittens. That’s why every kitten season, we ask for the help and support of our local community.
What do I do if I find a litter of kittens?
- Leave The Litter. Remember, mother knows best. Do not interfere with the kittens as this may cause stress to the mother and cause her to abandon her family. It is also best not to check on the kittens more than once a day and to stay at least 45 feet away so as not to disturb the nest. These kittens have a better chance of survival with their mother. If you really want to help, you can provide food and water for the mother. Place these dishes far away enough from the nest so as to not draw the attention of predators such as hawks, raccoons, owls, or coyotes.
- Watch From a Distance. After giving birth, for the first two days the mother cat stays with her litter. She will leave them for short periods of time to take a break and find food. She may even hide from perceived predators, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t see the mother cat for about an hour or so.
- Now You See Them Now You Don’t. It is common for the mother to move her litter to new locations. This natural instinct keeps predators from pursuing these defenseless kittens.
- No One to Be Found. If you have observed the kittens for 12-24 hours and have determined that the mother will not be returning, or if the kittens are in poor health or injured, then you may pick them up and care for them. Some things to look for when assessing a kitten’s health: the quality of the kitten’s fur (it should look healthy, full or fluffy), whether their eyes are crusty, or whether you see any blood on them.
- Warning! Danger! If the kittens are in immediate danger, like under a car, in an area that is flooding, or exposed to cold temperatures, find a safe place nearby to move them that is still close enough for the mother to find them.
- After 5-6 Weeks: If the mother is friendly, the best approach is to take her and the kittens indoors until the kittens are old enough to be weaned, sterilized, and adopted.
What else can I do to help?
- Foster: The Kitten Cuddler foster program provides training on bottle feeding and the general care of newborn kittens. Kitten Cuddlers also receive newborn kitten care kits that include heating pads, feeding bottles and kitten milk replacer. For information on becoming a Kitten Cuddler, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Adopt: Consider creating space in your home and welcoming a new member of the family by adopting a cat during kitten season. This allows the shelter to open more space to care for other homeless and unwanted kittens and cats. If you aren’t allowed to have one at home, consider speaking to family members or friends to see who might want a new friend.
- Prevent Pregnancy: The best way to reduce the overwhelming number of unwanted strays is to spay or neuter your cats as soon as they turn four months old. Miami-Dade Animal Services offers low cost spay/neuter surgeries as well as a free Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program for community cats.
For more information on low-cost spay/neuter surgeries or free TNR call 3-1-1 or visit animals.miamidade.gov.