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Kitten season is here! What you should do if you find some kittens outside

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Kitten season is upon us. This is the time of year when lots of stray kittens are born, and many end up in shelters where they're put down. Alley Cat Allies has been doing a series of webinars that teach you what to do if you find a neonatal kitten somewhere without its mother. They've also dedicated this week to kittens, and helping to save them from euthanasia, and they have a webpage up about what to do if you find kittens outside.

First of all, according to their kitten page, it's not always the best thing to take a feral kitten in, especially if there's a chance the mother is still around. Mother cats generally start weaning their kittens at about six weeks of age, but they should really stay with their mothers until they're at least eight weeks of age. Taking them away from their mothers too early can make them sick, and they can even die.

Obviously, the above doesn't apply if it appears the kittens' mother is gone; in that case, you're their best chance of survival, regardless of age. If they're part of a feral colony, you'll have to decide whether they can be socialized, and whether they're old enough to be taken away from the colony for that purpose.

You'll have to be patient to determine whether the kittens you find are truly alone (either abandoned or orphaned), or if the mother is possibly just off hunting somewhere. This means you'll have to hide and wait for her to come back, and that can take a few hours. Alley Cat Allies says that, if she does return, and the kittens are less than eight weeks old, then so long as they're in a safe location, it's best to leave them where they are. You can provide food, water, and shelter for them, because that will keep her closer to her kittens and reduce her chances of getting killed in some way.

You can also try to trap the whole family and bring them indoors if you believe that they aren't safe where they are. Put them in a small room, like a quiet bathroom, and provide food and water. This way, mama can raise her kittens in a safe place, and when they're old enough (eight weeks, or when they weigh two pounds), you can take the whole family to a vet to get fixed.

Afterward, you have a decision to make. If you have the network, the time, and the resources, you can try and socialize the kittens and adopt them out. Alley Cat Allies says that the best adoption window is between six and twelve weeks of age, so once they're fixed, you'll have to work quickly to socialize and find loving homes for them.

If you can't socialize and adopt them out yourself, and you know of no rescues experienced with socializing kittens that can take them in, it's probably best to have them fixed, and then return them to where you found them, along with the mother.

Alley Cat Allies has a good resource for how to determine a kitten's age, so you know how to handle it. If you'd like to see what kittens look like each week they grow, go here. It will help you determine whether kittens need to stay with their mother, and it can also help you figure out what you have to feed them if they have no mother and you're taking them in.

Remember, caring for, socializing, and adopting out a litter of kittens is hard work that takes a lot of time, patience, and effort. So whether you can socialize a litter of kittens and adopt them out depends on your time and resources. The same goes for adopting them into your home yourself. If you believe you can't properly care for them, and find them good, loving homes when they're old enough, it's best to trap them, have them fixed when they're old enough, and then return them to where you found them.

For more detailed information, visit Alley Cat Allies' kitten pages, here.

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