So you found a litter of kittens…now what?

Did you hear about the cat who swallowed a ball of yarn? She had a litter of mittens. 

There are few things that squeeze the heart more than the sight of a bundle of wee kittens.  And often, the impulse that immediately follows is to attempt to rescue those adorable, tiny felines.

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But many people may not know that kittens without a mother cat in sight does not mean that they have been abandoned.  A mama cat must spend a significant portion of her time acquiring enough nourishment to feed herself and her offspring (and as a bonus, her hunting is likely reducing the rodent population in your area).

Before taking in the kittens and attempting to care for them, first assess their condition.  If they look plump and well-groomed, and are sleeping peacefully in cute cuddle pile, it’s likely that their mama will soon return for feeding time.  In these cases, the ideal strategy is to leave them where they are, and come back in a few hours to see if their mother is now present.  Kittens have a much better chance of survival if they’re able to stay with their mama cat until the weaning process is complete, at which time they will be eating solid food.

However, if the kittens look ill or malnourished, are crying loudly, or the mother cat hasn’t been seen for 12 hours, they probably are in need of rescue.  If you are able to safely handle them, it would be best to take them inside and contact an animal welfare organization for assistance.

To provide interim emergency kitten care, there are three important things you need to know:

  1. Kittens can’t regulate their body temperature, and must be kept sufficiently warm (that’s why they snuggle with their siblings
  2. The milk we humans drink makes them sick, so kittens need to be fed special cat-specific formula that can be purchased at a pet store; and
  3. They initially can’t eliminate waste by themselves, so you’ll need to help them pee and poop (admittedly, this sounds a little gross, but it’s really not that bad – if you have used a PortaPottie at Mardi Gras, you can handle this).

The Louisiana SPCA can provide you all the specific details on how to meet the above kitten needs, as well as additional guidance for raising orphaned kittens.

Once they weigh 2 pounds, they’re big enough to be spayed or neutered, so you can either surrender them to a rescue group to go up for adoption, or find placements for them yourself (after they’ve had sterilization surgery, of course – everything we can do to prevent the birth of additional homeless kittens is important).  If you enjoy raising these little fluff balls, we invite you to inquire about volunteering for our Kitten Krewe foster program.  We’re always in need of new families that delight in getting these tiny feline comics grown up enough to find their forever families.  If you’re unable to care for the kittens yourself, and wish to surrender them to us, we will utilize that foster network to do our best to find those babies to happy outcomes.

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The kind-hearted kitten savior may not also realize that without making sure that the mama cat is spayed, they will be facing the same situation all over again in a matter of months.  And this time, it won’t just be the mama cat; kittens can get pregnant as young as 4 months of age so any of her daughters that haven’t been spayed may also begin producing litters of their own.  The Louisiana SPCA can help with that, too. We have a Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) program aimed specifically at sterilizing feral cats.  We’re able to loan humane traps, give trapping advice, and provide spay/neuter surgery, rabies vaccination, and ear-tipping (a universal sign that a community cat has been fixed) for free in Orleans parish.  The result is that the former mama cat (and any of her remaining outdoor offspring) is returned to live out her life in the place she knows as home.  Moreover, she will no longer be producing kittens or any of the nuisance behaviors that accompany the mating process (spraying, yowling, and fighting).  It’s a win-win situation for everyone!


Sara Dawdy, Feral Cat Intervention Coordinator … AKA the cat whisper