Turn off the faucets, and don’t throw the kitten out with the bathwater: What regular people can do to help during kitten season

“Lifeboats at the ready! Very little that’s jolly about kitten season,” published May 7, gave an overview of what kitten season entails—weak pun, if at all intended—and what people within the animal community are doing to mitigate it. Any metaphor that conjures up a storm is an accurate one for how community members, organizations and the shelter at Long Beach Animal Care Services deal with the flood of kittens born during kitten season, a time roughly between early spring and late autumn (a few weeks longer on either end in warmer climates like ours). Unfixed cats roaming the community and brought in to the shelter have a lot better chance of getting out of there thanks to the Return-to-Field program; cat people running around with traps and stinky sardines devote themselves to staying up for hours to capture the little furry guys and get them fixed, vetted and returned, never to drop another kitten; and now, there’s a brand-new kitten nursery that’ll take orphaned or supposedly orphaned newborns from the shelter—sometimes nursing mothers as well—and get as many of the fragile little creatures thriving and adoptable.

But the sad reality of kitten season is that at best, although euthanasia numbers for cats brought in to the shelter drop every year, they’re still larger than those of dogs. Most of the cats brought in to the shelter and face possible euthanasia are the newborns, even healthy ones; even with all the resources, there are more newborn kittens brought to shelters than there are trained or willing bottle feeders, trappers and free spay/neuter procedures.

There are a lot of people inside and outside Long Beach who don’t want any healthy kittens euthanized. There are a few things we all can do to lower the rate further, if not eliminate it altogether.

Learn to do TNR (trap, neuter, return)

Learn how to trap roaming cats on Stray Cat Alliance’s website. There’s an entire section called Trapping 101 that includes baiting, tools, carriers and everything you need to safely trap a kitty. The instructive video https://youtu.be/m7CD2O_YeVk?t=12 is invaluable. Long Beach Animal Care Services, located at 7700 E. Spring St., will rent you a trap with a $100 refundable deposit and if you find that trapping scratches an itch you didn’t know you had, you can buy your own. Harbour Freight has them for around $25; Stray Cat Alliance recommends Tru Catch. Their traps are more costly, but they’re geared to the needs of a dedicated trapper. And the cat. There’s even a fat-cat trap.

front view of feral cat trap with front and rear doors open

Stray Cat Alliance recommends the Tru Catch trap.

When the cat has been fixed, the vet will notch the tip of the left ear before returning him or her to the field or colony. If you come across a cat that has a small part of the ear tip missing and it looks like a deliberate cut and not a shred from a fight, you’ll know that the cat’s already been fixed and is tended to. No reason not to give the cat a treat, which you surely tote around with you.

white cat with calico head, one back ear, green eyes, pink nose, notched left ear

If a cat has a notched ear, he or she has already been trapped and fixed. Remember—notch in the ear, no notches on the belt. Stock photo

Anna Wong, field director for the shelter’s RTF program (Return to Field), adds some strong words of advice.

“Do not trap without a plan!” she exhorted. “It really is a science.”

Holy cats—I found (a) a bunch of kittens (b) a nursing mom. What do I do now?

This is the hard part. If you take them to a shelter right away, that’s the easiest thing to do but not the right one. If you try to find fosters or bottle feeders, that’s a little more difficult, but if it works out, it’s great for the cats. If you take it on yourself, that’s a huge responsibility and it’s not an easy job. It’s also unbelievably rewarding, according to everyone I know who’s gone the distance with their first litter.

If you should find newborn kittens, here are a few guidelines. Read them now, so you’ll have a plan of action.

  1. Wait and watch: Momcats have to feed themselves, and they go off to search for food. At intervals, they move their kittens one by one in some instinctive manner to protect them from predators who may find them. They don’t take into consideration a well-meaning human who thinks that they’re orphaned and brings them to a shelter or trys to care for them themselves. Please, don’t do this. Last year, when I was at the shelter, a couple brought in two newborns they’d taken while the mother was away and refused to return them. One of the shelter staff cleaned them off, and we whisked them to Seal Beach Animal Care Center where volunteer bottle feeders tried to save them. They didn’t make it. The best thing for baby kittens is mother’s milk, and if it’s denied, the kittens may not live. That’s the most heartbreaking thing about neonatal rescue. Wait from a distance of about 35 feet for several hours until it’s clear that mom isn’t coming back.
  2. If Momcat returns: If the kittens are nursing, leave mom completely alone. Provide food and shelter, but not in the same place—we’ve been warned about leaving food outside because predators may sniff it out, and they’ll eat it and have the cats for dessert. Leave the food in a sheltered area, if possible. If you follow instructions, the cats will be nourished and you may be able to tell if Momcat is social.
  3. If Momcat is friendly: She’s probably been dumped or abandoned by people who didn’t bother to have her spayed. (Unaltered male cats add to the problem, so thank a trapper if you see one with a notched ear. Remember: notched ears prevent notches in the belt.) She may be glad to see you and is likely adoptable, maybe even by you. Don’t touch the kittens yet, though. Wait six to eight weeks for the kittens to be weaned and then contact some of the rescues listed in the Ongoing section of the Pet Projects weekly adoption column, in particular The Little Lion Foundation. Please don’t give the kittens to just anyone. You want to be sure that the kittens will be fixed and that the home will be a forever one. Make every effort to find fosters or bottle feeders before you resort to the shelter—The Little Lion Foundation is an excellent resource. Remember that rescues may be full up to the top and unable to take on the kittens. If you have exhausted every option, take the family to Long Beach Animal Care Services, ask for the intake number for the kittens, and send a message with your story and intake number to the Facebook page Saving Long Beach Shelter Cats. Be sure that you share it all on your own social-media feed. If you do decide to keep Momcat, get her to a vet to get fixed, and do it right after the kittens are weaned, 6 to 8 weeks old. The shelter offers vouchers worth $40 off a procedure, and Fix Long Beach will set you up with inexpensive shots and free spay.
  4. If Momcat isn’t social: Continue with the food and shelter and wait the six to eight weeks. Meanwhile, get ready to trap. Remember—have a plan. Seek out a landing place for the kittens, be it rescue (preferable) or shelter; trap the mom; and get her fixed and vaxxed. You can gently place the kittens in the trap, bait it, and place it in the mother cat’s vicinity. She’ll likely walk right in. For the next step—return-to-field and adoption—contact the shelter’s Return to Field Program at [email protected] for further assistance and follow the directions in the previous section of the article for adoption of the kittens. You may wind up with the mother cat living in your backyard, but when she’s fixed—when, not if—she won’t be peppering the property with any more peewees.
  5. If Mom doesn’t return: Remove the kittens immediately. They’ll need to be fed. If you opt to bottle-feed the kittens, be aware that this will require you to give them their meals every three hours; if you do, see the next section. If you feel it’s too much for you—it’s hugely rewarding, but it is a job and not for everyone—keep the babies warm and go to the shelter with them as soon as possible and get the intake numbers for posting on your pages. As stated before, the shelter is a last resort, but the staff will contact the right people to see if the kittens can be taken in, Meanwhile, social the kittens on Saving Long Beach Shelter Cats.
  6. If you decide to care for the newborns: You’re a hero. This is no easy job, but once you get on the bicycle, you’ll enjoy the ride and might want to take another. First, you’ll need to make the kittens warm, using blankets and a heating disk, which is crucial to a newborn’s survival. They’ll need food—cow’s milk is a no-no. Get the milk-replacement fluid—thanks to a growing kitten-consciousness culture, it’s available at most of the major pet-supply stores (call first), or you can order it online. Powder is preferable to the liquid among bottle feeders because of shelf life. Goat’s milk is a good substitute for the milk replacement if you can’t find any, but unless you own goats, finding their milk may be more of a challenge. You’ll need bottles and nipples—you have to precut the nipples. All the kittens’ meals must be served warm, and the kitten must be warm as well even while feeding. You’ll need to bottle-feed the kittens every two hours, including at night, for the first week of their lives, gradually spacing the times out afterward, so expect to not get a full night’s sleep for a few weeks unless you have a nurse’s aide who’ll alternate feeding. The kitten also will need help going to the bathroom, which involves massaging the anus and genitals with a warm tissue. (You’ll get used to it.)
Chart for determining weight, feeding amount, feeding interval of newborn kittens.

This handy chart is a guide to feeding intervals for newborn kittens.. Check the last column of the chart to determine each kitten’s age. Yes, you’ll need a little scale, too! Photo courtesy of The Kitten Lady.

Almost-final word

The best way to prevent a kitten storm is by spaying and neutering your own cat and not letting him or her roam. If you’re reading this, no doubt you’ve done it long ago, but if you know anyone who needs help, please have them contact Fix Long Beach. You’ll stem the storm at the source. Bottle-feed if you can, recruit a little help, volunteer, donate, and share those photos you see on social media. Dealing with the flood of newborn kittens is like bailing out the Long Beach Arena—there’s a steady drip, it’ll take a long time, but eventually, you’ll be able to walk on the bottom and just get your feet damp. The more buckets in place, the better.

Contact those who sail this ship every year

For help with trapping, bottle-feeding, volunteering or donating, click on any of these links. If you know of any other resources, please add them in Facebook comments.

This article is dedicated to Nightingale and Noddy, two innocents who could have made it.

tiny newborn black kitten with white paws, nose and chest held in a towel

Nightingale.

Newborn kitten with black head, hwite muzzle, pink nose held in someone's hands. gold ring on ring finger

Noddy

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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”
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