If you have spent any time perusing our fb page, you’ll probably notice a proliferation of kitten posts. It seems like kittens are coming out of the woodwork and you would be correct. According to the ASPCA website, Kitten season is from March to October. Depending on the climate , it could be sooner or later. This year we had a warmer than average winter with less snowfall. In fact, Cleveland saw a deficit of two feet of snow. Another major change impacting kitten season this year would be the COVID-19 closures affecting us in Cleveland the second week of March. This year the warm winter and changes due to coronavirus have made this kitten season very challenging. Here we will provide information as to how you can help during kitten season and why it takes a village to help these little fur babies out.
Why won’t a rescue take my kittens that I found?:
This is a common question we get from fellow Weirdos. Veterinarian offices and rescues are often the first line of defense when it comes to homeless, sick and injured kittens. Usually someone will notice kittens whose mom has not been spotted in a while (more on this later), or they will have a feral or stray mom bring their kittens to a feeding station or to a house with friendly humans once the kittens are mobile. That is usually when kittens are first noticed. Humans will then call their veterinarian’s office, post on a local social media sites, or call a rescue for help. While this system works in the beginning of the season, by the middle of the season, it seems as though foster based rescues and shelters become full. Kitten season is usually a game of time. It takes 8 weeks for a kitten to become of age in order to be adopted out by law. This doesn’t mean they have to be adopted out at 8 weeks, but it is the min. age for a kitten to be adopted out. If the kittens are still with their mother, this is the age that they are weaned and can properly eat food, use the kitty litter, and clean themselves. If they are being fed by a foster mom, this is the age they stop eating formulas completely, and can safely be transferred to eating only wet and dry food. It is also the age that they can safely receive the first round of vaccines.
Kittens who do not interact with humans by 9 weeks, generally become feral and very difficult to socialize. Anyone who has been around a 5 week old kitten, can see that they are not always the friendly, furry little newborns that we assume them to be. Most have been taught by a very early age by their moms to hiss and spit at anything that comes in their way. This is an important survival mechanism but it is also difficult to foster as they need time to socialize themselves. It can take three weeks for a kitten to finally accept a human’s love. If kittens do not have enough human interaction, then they too, like their parents, refuse to be domesticated. They will not be friendly enough to handle, or interested enough to stay indoors. Therefore there is a small window of time rescuers have to socialize kittens. Please give these kittens time. It’s amazing how they turn around.
Kittens need social distancing too!
One important reason rescues become full is because they need to be careful when intaking a lot of kittens from different places. Disease can run through a rescue like wildfire. It is important to separate kittens into their own family units and away from other fosters and permanent pets. Kittens are still gaining immunity and just like their human counterparts, they are most vulnerable to viruses. There must be adequate space between fosters kittens. There needs to be separate kitty litters, bowls, living spaces as well as caretakers who wash their hands before and after each foster group or in a shelter, each living space. A case of Parvovirus, Calicivirus, or even FIV can decimate an entire foster population. Not to mention Ringworm, or other illnesses that are very contagious-even their human handlers can get them!
Kittens are a lot of work!
If you think your kids don’t put things away and make a mess, just watch a litter of kittens. Contrary to stereotypes, a box will not contain kittens. But they need to be contained and so there are special tents and cages that will hold them. Kittens make a mess when they try to eat. They often spill their food, walk into their food and then walk right into the litter! They haven’t yet mastered the cleanliness older cats have because they have no mama to teach them! It is not unusual to have to clean a kitten’s space two to three times a day, including the litter and the bowls. It takes lots and lots of wiping, sweeping, mopping and throwing out. Furthermore because they are prone to viruses and diseases, they will have diarrhea more than the average adult cat, which necessitates lots of kitten baths. Taking care of young kittens can seem like a full time job.
COVID-19 Complicates Kitten Season
Why would this make a difference? Because Veterinarians and rescues could not use their partner stores or adoption spaces or events since they were closed, this slowed the adoption process. Another factor was the surgery bottleneck. PPW usually worn by Veterinarian offices and their staff were reallocated to hospitals and first responders. Kittens generally are neutered and spayed before they are adopted out and if there is a holding pattern on these operations, then rescues will find themselves in a holding pattern.
What can be done and what can I do:
First things first: When you see very young kittens, do not assume Mom is absent. Moms will go and hunt and leave kittens for hours as a time. They will usually hide them in corners of sheds, under boats and cars, in wooden piles, and other hiding spaces. Please do not disturb the kittens! Observe and observe. See if Mom comes back. She will often come back to nurse and clean and go out again. If she does not come back, or you know for certain she is not around, then you can intervene:
1). Just like human kids, there are resources. The kittenlady.org is an excellent reference that has instructional videos, information, on line and off line (she even has a book).
2. DO NOT ASSUME A RESCUE WILL HAVE ROOM. This is important. Always have a plan! If you know for sure, there is no Mom, and no rescue will be found, most likely you will have to intervene.
3. Know the ages and stages! Alley Cat.org has some great information. You will need to know the age in order to feed properly, toilet young kittens properly, and make sure they have a heat source. This graphic will help you know approximately what age your found kitten is: https://www.alleycat.org/resources/kitten-progression/
4) Be prepared. The Scouts were right! Preparedness in this case can save lives. Because COVID-19 has reduced hours in most stores, especially the after hour stores such as Walmart, Target and others, it’s important to have supplies on hand BEFORE YOU FIND THE KITTENS. Most kittens will need a heat source if they are 4 weeks and younger. Make sure you have a heating pillow and towels and a cage or tent to put the kitten in. For 2-3 week old kittens and neonates, a cat carrier can work. Make sure the spot is indoors so the kittens are not subjected to the weather. You are not covered in fur like their mother so they will need to be protected. Make sure you have kitten formula. You CAN NOT feed young kittens cows milk. They must have a formula ready that they can digest. Pet stores and even Walmart and Tractor Supply will have these formula brands. Please buy some in advance because distressed kittens are exceptionally fragile. Lastly there are nursing kits you can find in the same places as the formula. However there is something called the Miracle Nipple and syringe which will help you out if you have small kittens. They are very inexpensive but they are mainly on Amazon.com. I would purchase them to have a few on hand.
5) Work with rescues. If you have a homeless kitten and the rescues you call are full, ask to become a foster so that your kittens have a place to be adopted out and also somewhere you can go in case you have questions and need assistance. If rescues could, they would love to take all intakes. But they can’t. They have limited resources including people and time. If you can help by fostering your kitten, foster organizations may try to work with you.
6) Create awareness. Post about your new foster kittens and your discovery on your social media, and talk to your friends and family about your new kittens. You never know where an adopter will come from who is qualified. Also when you post videos and information that is accurate, you help other people learn about the overpopulation of kittens. If just one person fixes one cat, that can prevent 100's of kittens from being born homeless and unwanted.
7) We recommend that you work with a foster organization as a foster or you surrender to an organization once the kittens are old enough to be adopted out. However, if you do adopt out yourself ALWAYS ask for a vet reference, ask about their living situation (do not adopt out to people who can not have pets per their rental agreement), ask about previous history of pets, kids and how much they travel. Most importantly for your piece of mind, write up a contract and have them agree to return to you if they can not care for their new family member. It is recommended you adopt out spayed and neutered kittens. If you have a Veterinarian, you can ask them to do this or you can look under resources in our resource section. You can always ask for the price of the operation when you adopt out as an adoption fee. This is why foster organizations have fees. Ask yourself, if the adopter is unable to pay for a fee, how are they going to properly feed and take care of a cat? It’s always recommended that there be a fee involved.