When it comes to kittens, mom knows best

Very young kittens should not be removed from their mothers unless they are visibly ill or injured.

With spring turning to summer, outdoor kittens will be coming out to play, and well-meaning people may think the kittens need rescuing. Most of the time Momcat is around, and the best thing you can do is to leave the kittens to her tender care in their outdoor home.

Kittens have their best chance at survival in their mother’s care. Very young kittens are completely dependent on their mothers. They nurse very frequently and cannot even eliminate waste on their own for several weeks. Young kittens may not survive even in the care of an experienced kitten foster, and very few rescue organizations have enough experienced volunteers to foster very young kittens.

There is a real danger that un-weaned kittens will be euthanized if taken to a shelter – even a “no kill” shelter – because they cannot be properly cared for. Therefore, it is best to not interfere with young kittens unless they or their mother are visibly injured or ill, and there is no realistic alternative.

You can effectively help kittens, however, by helping the whole family. If you are worried about kittens you see outdoors, watch from a discrete distance for Momcat to return, but she may not come out until she thinks you are gone. You can feed Momcat, but don’t leave food out more than 30 minutes or it may attract predators and endanger your feline family. You may also provide the family a shelter (plans for inexpensive DIY community cat homes can be found online), but they may refuse your shelter in favor of other accommodations more to their liking under neighborhood decks and porches.

The kittens can safely be removed from Mom when they are between six and eight weeks old, but only do this if you have found a rescue or families that agree to take them. Often, rescues are overwhelmed with kittens and can’t take any more, and most people who want cats already have at least one.  

Kittens can be neutered when they are 8 weeks old, and Momcat also needs to be neutered. A happy ending to your story may be TNR – trap, neuter and return: Momcat and the kittens are neutered, vaccinated, and returned to their happy outdoor home.

For more information about TNR, visit clevelandapl.org, and click on "Programs, Services & Resources. If you have questions about community cats and kittens or want help with TNR, contact Friends of the Bay Village Kennel via their website at friendsofbayvillagekennel.com.

For more information on what to do if you find outdoor kittens, see www.alleycat.org/resources.

susan murnane

historian, legal historian, former tax lawyer, author of Bankruptcy in an Industrial Society: The History of the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio (Akron University Press, 2014)

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:37 AM, 06.02.2020