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Save the Kittens!

By The Cats' Cradle Director, Lynda Garibaldi, Printed in The News Herald, Morganton

Warmer weather brings kittens, lots of them. According to Hannah Shaw, kitten rescuer and author of the book Tiny but Mighty, most of these kittens come from un-owned, outdoor cats, sometimes called community cats. Without human intervention, these mothers and kittens often do not survive, and those that do suffer from hunger, thirst, poor health and injuries. They are also the ones most at risk to die in animal shelters. Infant, orphaned kittens are the most vulnerable. According to the National Kitten Coalition, kittens too young to eat on their own or too young for adoption are one of the largest groups of animals euthanized every year in animal shelters.

If a pregnant cat or mother with kittens shows up at your house, the mama cat will take care of the kittens if you will take care of mama. If a mother cat is friendly, bring her inside. If she’s not friendly or too scared to come inside, provide a safe, warm place away from other animals where mother and babies will not be disturbed. This is important because mother cats are extremely protective of their kittens.

If you find a nest of kittens without a mother, do not immediately move them unless they are in danger. Wait and watch for the mother who may be off hunting for food or may be hiding if she is scared. If the location is unsafe due to weather or predators, move the kittens to a safe, warm place while continuing to watch for mother.

Kittens less than 6 weeks of age cannot regulate their body temperature, so keeping them warm is crucial to their survival. Kittens who are cold will not eat, so warm them up slowly before trying to feed them. Place a towel over a heating pad set on low inside a small container such as a cardboard box. Leave a small area of bedding off the heating pad so they can crawl off if they get too warm.

Once they are warm, feed them a high quality kitten milk replacement formula such as KMR, which can be found at a veterinary clinic or your local pet supply store. You can also feed them goat’s milk. In an emergency, make up a kitten formula of one can evaporated milk, one egg yolk, and one tablespoon of karo syrup. Do not give them cow’s milk which will give them diarrhea.

When bottle feeding, be sure the formula is warm and that the nipple opening is neither too large nor too small. You can also use a syringe to dropper feed. The amount depends on the weight, age and physical condition of the kittens. The general guideline is that younger kittens need smaller amounts more often.

Remember that mother cats nurse their kittens continually for the first two weeks, so orphaned kittens need to be fed every two to three hours for the first three to four weeks. Younger kittens and physically debilitated kittens need to be fed smaller amounts and more often than older, healthier kittens. Kittens start weaning at 4 weeks but should continue to be given formula three times daily, along with kitten food, until they are 6 weeks old.

Kittens do not open their eyes until a week to 10 days old. Around 3 weeks old, their eyes are fully open, their ears are erect, and they will start walking around. At 4 to 5 weeks they will pounce and play with littermates and start trying to eat canned cat food. Continue to keep kittens warm, because becoming chilled is life-threatening and many kittens die from hypothermia.

Find more details on websites like ASPCA, HSUS, Alley Cat Allies, and The National Kitten Coalition. The National Kitten Coalition, in particular, is dedicated to increasing the survival rates of kittens by educating and training. Their website,, provides a slew of information, from determining a kitten’s age and sex to bottle feeding hints, feeding chart and much more.

If saving kittens sounds like a lot of hard work that’s because it is. Yet it may be some of the most rewarding work you ever do.

Lynda Garibaldi is director of The Cat’s Cradle.

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