Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What to do when your yard suddenly sprouts bouquet of kittens

SPRING traditionally marks the beginning of kitten season, and you may soon be surprised to find a litter of tiny felines in your yard. It could be your first hint that a stray or feral cat is living nearby.
What can you do to help the kittens survive? First, find out whether the mother cat is still around. It's always best to keep the mother and kittens together, so she can care for them during the crucial first weeks of life.

If possible, bring the mother cat and kittens indoors, where they'll be safe. Confine them in a small room or a large cage in your basement or garage. Provide food and water for the mom and let her take care of the kittens until they're weaned, or ready to start eating regular cat food.

Another alternative is to let the mother care for her kittens where you found them. The trouble is that mother cats tend to move their babies around. Encourage the little family to stay put by making the location as attractive and comfortable as possible. Supply some shelter and provide food and water every day.

If the kittens have been orphaned, they will need a lot more help from you. Bring them inside and check their condition. They should be alert and warm to the touch. If they're cold and listless, warm them up right away. Put the kittens in a box or pet carrier with a heating pad set on low. Put a towel over the heating pad and make sure the pad covers only half of the bottom of the box.

The kittens must be able to move off the pad if they get too warm. Don't try to feed them until they warm up. It's dangerous for kittens to eat when they're chilled.

Kittens typically start to eat regular canned or dry food when they're four to five weeks old. Younger kittens have to be bottle- fed. Don't use cows' milk -- it causes diarrhea, which can lead to severe dehydration.

Kitten milk replacement formula is available from a veterinarian or pet store (premixed liquid is easier to use than the powdered form). Depending on their age, kittens need to be fed every four to six hours around the clock.

To prepare the bottle, pierce the nipple with a pin or slit it with a razor. Test the formula on your wrist -- it should be lukewarm.

Kittens less than four weeks old also need help with elimination, a job that a paws-on mom cat would normally perform. You should encourage them to urinate and defecate after feedings by gently swabbing the anal region with moistened washcloth or tissue, and by rubbing their stomachs.

They should also be burped after each feeding; hold the kitten against your shoulder and gently massage its back.

Caring for orphaned kittens is no small job, but it can be a lifesaving labor of love. Many extremely young kittens that end up in animal shelters have to be euthanized.

The average shelter simply doesn't have the staff and resources to care for kittens that must be bottle-fed 24 hours a day. Your help may be the kittens' best hope for surviving until they are old enough to be altered and adopted.

For advice on caring for orphaned kittens call The SF/SPCA Feral Cat Assistance Program at (415) 554-3071.

And remember, spaying and neutering is the best way to reduce animal overpopulation.

Dr. Jeffrey Proulx is the director of veterinary services at the San Francisco SPCA. If you have any questions about dogs or cats, write to him at The San Francisco SPCA, 2500 16th St., San Francisco, CA 94103, or e-mail him at . To find out more about the SF/SPCA, check the Web site at

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1 comment:

Nani said...

Kaline's vet said she was about 5 weeks old when she found us. She was able to eat, but her kitten kibble still had to be moistened for a few days until she was really able to crunch her food.

I had no idea that kittens had to be taught how to defecate and urinate! Thankfully, when we introduced her to the litter box the night we brought her home, she had no trouble figuring out what to do!! :)

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