Arizona will have a busy and early kitten season this year. With the exceptionally warm winter feral kittens are already appearing in neighborhoods. Some feral mom-cats already have a litter of kittens old enough to be independent and are once again pregnant with their second litter. What should you do if you find one, or a group, of these kittens abandoned in your yard? Initially nothing; leave well alone unless they are injured or obviously sick. They are probably not abandoned. If they are injured or look sick, call a veterinarian for advice before interfering.
However tempting it may be or urgent the apparent need, please leave the kittens where they are. Unless they are obviously sick or injured, or a significant amount of time has passed since mom was last seen, don’t be tempted to intervene. They are most likely fine and it is unlikely a feral mom-cat will come for her kittens while she detects there are people watching. She will not be too happy if they are touched either. There are complications for both mother and kittens if they are taken from her. Mother no longer has suckling babies but is still producing milk consequently this can cause her significant pain or she may develop mastitis.
Mother cats like to move their kittens to new nests from time to time. Sometimes she will leave one or more kitten part way to the new nest while she gathers another litter-mate from the old nest. She then returns and takes them the rest of the way. She may be out hunting for food or chasing away a predator.
Something, or someone, may have spooked her as she was carrying a kitten. She simply dropped it and ran for cover. Now she is waiting for the coast to be clear so she can retrieve her baby.
Once they are able to move, kittens will wander off. Mother will find them though and take them back to the nest.
Sometimes a mother cat will abandon her kittens. Sadly it is usually because the kittens are not viable and she knows they are going to die. They may be very sick or there is something congenitally wrong with them.
Mother cats can themselves become sick, injured or killed and the kittens are left alone. This is one time when they need help from humans. Be warned. The survival rate of feral kittens removed from their mother or orphaned is very poor. Although hand rearing kittens can be an extremely rewarding it is difficult, time consuming and there is no guarantee of success. Even when cared for by animal care professionals the mortality rate among hand-reared kittens is high. So, before you scoop up that precious little bundle of fluff, think very seriously.
Animal rescues will soon be overflowing with kittens brought in by well-meaning individuals. Shelter resources and volunteers will very quickly be exhausted and be unable to take in anymore of these so-called abandoned kittens. The kittens have a better chance left with mom-cat and when they are old enough you can do something much more caring and have them and mom spayed or neutered and released.