Every year spring marks the start of “Kitten Season” when thousands of homeless kittens are born. Our first instinct when we see kittens outside is to bundle them up and bring them into a local shelter, but is that what’s best for the kittens? During “Kitten Season” shelters become overwhelmed with young kittens that are often removed prematurely from their mothers. While the intention is to protect the kittens, often this does more harm than good.
What do I do if I see kittens outside?
For the first 6 weeks of a kitten’s life, they rely entirely on protection and nutrients from their mother, and even if mom is not directly in your sight, she is probably close by. Just because you don’t see mom nearby doesn’t mean that she is not caring for her litter. After 6 weeks, kittens will be able to eat on their own, walk, play and they’ll weigh around 2 pounds, but until then, it is best to leave them in the care of their mother.
So, what do you do if you see baby kittens outside?
Just observe. It may take several hours for mom to come back to the kittens if she is out hunting or watching close by. Give her plenty of time to return to her litter.
If they appear to be sick or hurt, call your local shelter. They can give you guidance on what is best for the kittens, whether that means bringing them in or giving them time and space.
If you see mom, remember that the best thing for the kittens is to let their mother care for them. You can assist in providing food, water, and shelter, but try not to disturb them too much. Monitor the family daily and make the environment as safe for them as you can.
If mom doesn’t come back after 8 hours, and you think the kittens are in danger, then you can either raise them yourself or call your local animal shelter and bring them in during open hours. For tips on raising kittens, check out Maddie’s Fund’s guide to caring for orphaned kittens.
If the kittens appear to be older than 2 months, this is the optimal age to bring them out of the field and to a shelter for socialization, a health checkup and spay-neuter.
In general, the best thing to do when you encounter baby kittens is to “leave ‘em be!” Their mother will protect them, provide nutrients and teach them how to survive.