Summer in Sacramento is a time for picnics, swimming and kittens. Lots and lots and lots of kittens.
This time of year is called “kitten season” and it seems like every place you go there are homeless mother cats and kittens. And since they can start making their own babies as young as four months old, the supply of kittens just keeps on growing.
One day you hear some pitiful mewing and find a litter of tiny kittens, with or without their mother. You love animals – or maybe you are just a compassionate person – so you take them home with you.
What do you do now?
Before thinking long-term, there are some immediate care issues to be considered.
1. How old are the kittens?
Their eyes will be fully open by the time they are 9-10 days old, but may not change color for 6-7 weeks. At around 3-1/2 weeks their ears will be standing up rather than drooping. Kittens are pretty wobbly on their feet until about 4 weeks of age; by 5-6 weeks they can usually run around pretty well.
2. Can the kittens eat cat food or do they still need mother’s milk?
They may still nurse if the mom is around, but normally kittens can eat on their own by 5-6 weeks old (the same age they can walk and run without wobbling). Kittens under 5 weeks old may need to be bottle fed with milk replacer (never use cow’s milk).
The ASPCA website has step-by-step instructions about how to feed young kittens, click here for details. If the kittens are old enough to be weaned from the bottle and onto regular food, click here for instructions.
3. Where can you put the kittens?
Keep the kittens separate from any other pets; they may have been exposed to illnesses that could infect your animals. The kittens should be kept in an enclosed area inside that has some temperature controls – a small bathroom is perfect. Give them something to sleep in, even a small cardboard box or nest of towels will do, a bowl of water and some food if they are old enough for it.
Put a cat box in the room, any kind of low-sided waterproof container is fine along as they can walk around in it. Fill the box with either non-clumping cat litter or torn up newspapers. Cats naturally want to bury their “business” after going, so they are very easy to box train. Put the kitten or cat in the box and gently move a front paw back and forth through the litter. That is generally enough to box train a cat; their instincts kick in once they know they can bury things there.
Upcoming articles will discuss more tips on kitten care, fostering (or finding a foster home) and finding people to adopt the kittens.
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