Twice in the last week we had Good Samaritans bring in very young kittens that they found on their property. Yay for people caring enough to help these little critters but we always ask for more. Where is the mom? In one case they only brought us one kitten. Where was the rest of the litter (very rare for a cat to only have a single kitten)? As wonderful as catching the kittens is, we explain to these people that their work is not done and implore them to do a bit more to complete the job.
If a mom-cat comes back to an empty nest – her hormones will just kick her back into heat. Cats are getting pregnant again at this time of the year – for the second or even third time of the season. So rescuing the kittens and leaving the mom behind just means that you will be doing it all again in about three months. We have to spay the mom and break the cycle! And using the kittens is the best bait when trying to trap a mom-cat. The instinct to come to her crying babies is strong. So we set these people up with everything they need along with instructions, and give them back the babies.
The instructions are to put the kittens in a crate and set the crate against something (so the mom can’t go behind it), preferably in a spot where there are things on both sides too. This creates a "tunnel" so the mom will have only one way to get to her babies and that’s through the live-catch trap that's set in front of the crate. Line the trap with newspapers to hide the trip-plate and so the cat’s feet don’t go through the bottom. And cover the whole trap (except the front door) with a large towel or sheet. You don’t have to bait it with food since we are using the kittens as a lure. Mom hears her babies crying and goes into the trap to get to them and bingo! You now have both the babies and mom.
Not only is this good because it gives you a chance to spay the mom, but it also gives the kittens the best chances of survival. Foster moms do the best they can with formulas, but the truth is that kittens taken away from their mom very young only have a 50-75 percent survival rate, depending on their age. The longer a kitten can be with mom, and get her protective antibodies through her milk, the better off he is. They nurse more naturally, get cleaned more thoroughly and are overall more robust and healthier than with even the most experienced human foster parent.
Forgotten Felines, our county’s TNR (trap, neuter, release) organization and other cat experts advocate for leaving a litter of kittens where you found them if they are under four weeks old (eyes open, able to walk around, usually about one lbs.). Of course we don’t want to lose the chance to get the kittens and have them just grow up feral so you have to weigh the odds, but know that most shelters and rescues are bursting full right now with kittens and adding another litter that needs round-the-clock attention and bottle-feeding would be difficult and you may get turned down. The ideal time to catch these little ones is when they are about five to six weeks old. At that age they are starting to eat solid food and although they may instinctively hiss, they are young enough to pretty much guarantee they will tame down nicely and become adoptable. After eight weeks old you have lost that window for success and might always have an ultra-shy, anti-social cat.
The first person we gave the set-up to came back within two hours with mom in the trap and her four kittens in the crate to be reunited with her. They were so proud of themselves and we appreciated their efforts to save everyone. The other person had just come in with a single kitten and came back a few hours later with just one more kitten found. They promised to keep trying and we put the two kittens into a foster home. Keep these tips in mind and call us, or Forgotten Felines (576-7999) if you need any help. Remember, if you feed a stray then neuter and spay!
“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed. 1-6:30; Thurs.-Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30; Sun. 1-4:30.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.