Hey kitty friends – so, you found some kittens what do you do?
New Zealanders are a kind hearted lot and generally will feel the need to help these kittens – weather they like cats or not! What do you do though??
Do I remove them?
No! If the kittens you find are newborns it can be incredibly tempting to swoop in and come to the rescue – but stop and take a breath. Bundling them up and taking them inside is not recommended unless they are in danger (dogs, rising water, snow, fire, vehicles etc).
If there are kittens in your garden or under your deck and they look warm and sleepy, there will be a mother cat somewhere too. These babies can look abandoned when in actual fact the mother is just off hunting or has been scared away by your presence. Mother cats leave their tamariki alone for hours and kittens are completely fine during this time. Taking the kittens away deprives them of their mothers milk which is so essential to their good health.
To make sure there is a mother cat, you can leave food and water out for her and monitor if its being eaten. You can also sprinkle flour around the location the kittens are in to see if the mother leaves paw prints – or if you have a friend who is really into their hunting, they may have a “trail camera” they can lend you.
The mother will need a ridiculous amount of food in order to produce enough milk for her kittens and if you provide food nearby she will hopefully feel like she has a great nesting spot and stay nearby.
Do they have a Friendly Mother?
There is a huge difference between “Feral” and “Terrified” but they often look pretty much exactly the same – which is not helpful.
A terrified cat will warm up to humans eventually if you can prove you are not a threat and help them feel safe and secure. A scared cat will let a human touch it if it trusts them. A fully feral cat however will not and unfortunately is a wild animal. If the mother isn’t actively hostile towards you, you can work to befriend her and gain her trust. Food is an excellent tool here. Mother cats can be very protective over their kittens and are not beyond attacking you if they think you are a threat, so be careful. The slow blink may help you.
You have a couple of options now. Do you want to adopt the mother cat? Do you want to rehome the kittens? Do you want to rehome the mother and kittens? The easiest thing to do is to contact a local rescue centre that specialise in rehoming cats and kittens. One example of such is the Cats Protection League, Canterbury. Most rescue organisations will desex, microchip, vaccinate, flea and worm the mother and kittens before rehoming them. Quite often rescue organisations will have a “waiting list” for cats to come into their care, so contact them as soon as you find the kittens and mother. Not all rescue organisations in New Zealand are “kill shelters”, so do your research and find one that does not put a “time limit” on cats.
What if the the mother isn’t friendly?
If the mother cat is feral the best thing to do is to contact one of New Zealand’s many rescue groups that specialise in TNR.
TNR stands for Trap, Neuter, Return and is the widely accepted best practice for feral cats. By returning them desexed, to the area they came from actually helps decrease the total number of feral cats in that area. The way I understand it (and I could be very wrong) is that the desexed cat still protects its own territory from invading cats, keeping them out. The less feral cats grouped together in one area – the less kittens produced.
The mother cat can continue her life living as a feral and it might be a very kind hearted kiwi idea to provide her food everyday or occasionally to help make her life easier. The rescue group you contact will probably suggest that once the kittens are eating solid food, that they be removed from the mother so that they can begin their human socialization.
The rescue group you deal with may not specialize in rehoming cats and kittens as there are different niches among New Zealand rescue organizations. Some specialize in preventing and prosecuting animal abuse, some specialize in TNR or colony cats and there are the groups that are dedicated solely to rehoming cats. Don’t be shy to use different rescue organizations for different parts of the process. One group could TNR the mother cat, another could desex, microchip and rehome her kittens.
What if there is no mother?
If there has been no sign of the mother cat for a very long time and you are beginning to become concerned – or if you know for a fact that the mother is deceased, then you should step in and take the kittens. If they are very young ie not able to walk, contact your vet or local rescue centre for instructions. Kittens that are too young to eat solid food will need to be bottle fed with a special kitten formula and need to be toileted manually. Rescue centres and vet clinics are good places to ask advice on this or to surrender the kittens to so that their experts can care for them.
The short version
If you find some kittens: contact your local rescue centre, look out for a mother and keep an eye on the area.
Decide if you want to surrender them to a rescue to be desexed, microchipped, vaccinated, flea’d, wormed and rehomed OR adopt them and arrange all of that with your vet yourself.