My first cat was a beautiful black and white cat named Murphy. Murphy was born at the home of the “cat lady” who lived down the block and fed dozens of cats, with no sterilization plan in place to reduce their population growth. Murphy was first taken in as a kitten by our neighbors, but their established cat would not tolerate another cat in the house. So Murphy came to live with us, and I had him for the rest of his life. My favorite memory of him was how he would sleep in bed with me with his cheek against mine and his arms wrapped around my neck, purring contentedly as we both drifted off to sleep.
Murphy was born into a common situation, where unsterilized free-roaming cats reproduce and create homeless kittens. Murphy had a mother that raised him and his littermates until they were weaned, at which time he found a new home. Being raised by his mother was the best option for him – he had the benefits of obtaining his nutrients and immunity from her milk and was better positioned for transition into his new home.
DACC is regularly contacted by well-meaning people who have found a litter of young kittens that cannot yet eat on their own and wish to bring them to the animal care center for care. However, this is not always the best option for the kittens. There may be a mother caring for them, and it is better for them to remain with her until they are weaned. Bringing unweaned kittens to an animal care center may expose them to viruses carried by asymptomatic adult cats that the kittens’ underdeveloped immune systems cannot fight. Care centers do not have the staff to feed unweaned kittens every few hours, around the clock. Therefore, these kittens may be euthanized if a foster home cannot be found for them. If the kittens appear clean, healthy, and have full bellies then their mother is caring for them and intervention is not necessary until they are weaned, at which time they should be spayed or neutered and placed into new homes.
If the kittens appear to be thin, ill, and unclean then the mother may have become injured or otherwise unable to care for them. In these cases, the kittens need help but there is still a better option than bringing them to an animal shelter. DACC has a foster care program for residents who wish to save a litter of kittens. We provide all the supplies and training necessary, along with advice along the way. Many kind people have taken in litters of kittens for the few weeks necessary until they are old enough for adoption, and even participate in finding homes for the kittens.
A supplemental kitten foster care program has been made possible by the generous support of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The ASPCA began working with us on our Pee Wee kitten program in the autumn of 2016. The ASPCA has an intervention program at our Downey and Baldwin Park animal care centers where they provide registered veterinary technicians to evaluate each litter of kittens and refer them to foster homes that day. The RVTs works out of DACC’s Ani-Safe trailers, which are fully operational animal care mobile trailers that can house staff and animals during emergencies or other off-site needs.
This public-private partnership has saved more than 8,000 kittens since its inception and now supports all seven of our care centers. In addition to this Pee Wee program, the ASPCA has been a strong partner in funding programs to reduce euthanasia, assist people redeeming their stray pets, increase adoptions, transport animals to other jurisdictions that have a need for adoptable animals, provide resources to people assisting community cats, and more.
Murphy’s Law states that whatever can go wrong, will. However, we don’t need to fall victim to Murphy’s Law when we encounter unweaned kittens. Here’s what you should do:
1. If their mom is with them, leave them alone. Monitor the litter and socialize them, so they will be adoptable when they are weaned.
2. If the mom is not with them, assess their condition. Are they clean, healthy, warm and have full bellies? Mom is likely taking good care of them. Continue to monitor the family and follow step one.
3. If the kittens are thin, ill, or dirty, they may need your help. Consider fostering the litter. DACC will provide you with all the resources (milk replacer, etc.) that you will need and be available to provide advice along the way, including how to find them homes when the time is ready. This is a fantastic way to teach kids about caring and responsibility, without a long term commitment.
4. If you cannot foster the kittens and live in DACC’s service area, contact our communications center to make an appointment to bring them in. If they are healthy enough for fostering, we will access the ASPCA’s network of foster volunteers or our own to get them into a foster home.
By following these steps we can help vulnerable kittens progress through their fragile early weeks with as much support as they need, beginning with their own mother’s care. The recommendations above save lives and engage the community in our animal welfare mission. Please spread the word and consider becoming a foster parent with DACC (check out https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/become-a-foster-caretaker/) or with the ASPCA at wwww.aspca.org/FosterLA. More than 8,000 kittens thank you!
Marcia Mayeda is the director of Animal Care and Control for the County of Los Angeles.