Kitten season is the time of year when cats give birth; flooding AAW and other busy animal rescue shelters across the country with homeless litters.
When the warm weather coincides with female cats’ reproduction cycles, they go into heat, sending the male cat population into a mating frenzy; visiting the ladies from near and far. This usually begins in spring, peaks early summer and runs right through to October.
As you can imagine, the cats are not the only ones feeling the effects of the stress. The burden also presents enormous challenges for us here at AAW, with space and finances stretched to the limit and, on top of our usual compliment of rescued animals; we are inundated with hundreds of homeless cats.
Typically the adult cats suffer the immediate affects as they are overlooked by potential new families when kittens are available in abundance; increasing the risk of feline illness and death.
So, what can you, the public do to help?
Firstly, the most efficient way to reduce the overwhelming burden of unwanted cats is to spay or neuter your own cat. Unaltered cats are driven by hormones and will sneak outdoors in search of a mate. It’s important to know that mating just the once can start a cycle that will result in thousands of unwanted animals who are often left to fend for themselves and end up arriving en masse here at AAW.
Below are some guidelines to follow if you come across a mother cat and her litter:
Firstly, try to establish if the family is tame or feral.
If the cat miaows and responds to you giving her food and water then she’s most likely tame. Give them shelter but NEVER SEPARATE MOTHER AND KITTENS; keeping them together in a garden shed, downstairs loo, cloakroom or utility room and ring AAW.
In the event the sanctuary is full and we are unable to take the kittens in, we will assist you in helping to rehome them via our website and Facebook page.
If the mother and her kittens hiss and warn you off, then it’s likely they’re feral. If the kittens have opened their eyes fully, (this usually occurs at around 2 weeks when eyes begin to open slightly, getting wider as the weeks progress), it’s likely the kittens can see and may try to defend themselves by biting you.
In this case, leave them alone, again, NEVER SEPARATE MOTHER AND KITTENS.Its important to understand, even though the family is feral, there is every chance the kittens can be tamed, and can be re-homed when they are ready to leave their mother.
Either way, it is imperative that you do not ever remove or separate the kittens from their mother; to do so could mean their certain death.
Remember, feral cats deserve to be taken care of just as much as the tame ones who live with us. They are very often the victims of abandonment and failure by owners to spay/neuter their own pets.
It’s no secret that many rescue kittens, feral or tame, have been influenced negatively by early separation from the mother. Sometimes an unwitting member of the public brings a litter of unwanted kittens to our rescue and rehoming centre too early as it’s often assumed they’ve been abandoned by the mother when she is actually away finding food or is trying to keep humans and other unwelcome prey away from her nest area.
Here are the Facts: Kittens separated too early from their mother can suffer a variety of psychological and health problems because they miss out on critical physical and emotional milestones that occur during the early weeks of life.
For example, if they are deprived of their mother’s milk too soon their immune system is compromised making them susceptible to a wide variety of illnesses, in particular, respiratory conditions. Also, rushed weaning will mean they are inclined to suffer from severe diarrhea caused by a rapid shift to solid food. This condition is very often life threatening as the kittens become dehydrated and lose weight quickly.Kittens suffer poor socialisation skills because it’s during the early weeks when the mother teaches them which behaviours are appropriate. Separated too early, kittens are likely to be hostile and aggressive towards humans and other pets, even cats. This is because they have never learned to interpret feline body language, having missed out on the process with their mother. Overall a kitten separated too early from the mother is insecure, less tolerant and will experience health problems. Take a look at our Kitten Development table below:
3 weeks The mother and her kittens begin to interact. She grooms them and prevents them from becoming over-demanding and aggressive. Kittens will begin to explore just outside of the kitten box.
4 weeks Kittens begin to accept semi-solid food and can also be taught how to use a litter tray which should be placed close to the kitten box.
6 weeks Kittens learn through play. They begin to explore further away from the kitten box.
8 weeks Kittens are fully weaned onto solid food and first vaccinations can be given around 9 weeks.