Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
A few days ago, my daughter found a cat with three kittens in a nest under a pine tree in our back yard. They appear to be 6 or 7 weeks old. We started picking up the kittens and holding them and petting them and they would let us. The mother cat did run away but always came back. For the past two days we visited with them a couple of times a day. I also started to feed mom so she could nurse.
Today I decided to take the babies because it’s going to rain tonight and be pretty cold the next few days. I got all three kittens shots and de-wormed today and also have forever homes for them lined up. I’m planning on getting a trap for the mom, getting her spayed, and releasing her back here. But two or three hours after I took the kittens, I heard a cat screaming in my back yard. I’m sure it was the mom, and it’s breaking my heart. I’ve been told taking them was the right thing to do so I can help socialize them, but I’m feeling so bad about the mama. Will she leave? Is she going to keep trying to find her babies? Should I let the kittens go back outside to visit the mom tomorrow, or will she take them away if I do? I don’t want to lose them.
Siouxsie: You’re doing a wonderful thing by socializing these kittens and helping them find forever homes so they won’t have to scratch out a living as feral cats.
Thomas: But you’ve taken on quite a challenge, too. As you know by now, it’s a very labor-intensive process to socialize feral kittens and to feed kittens that aren’t quite old enough to leave their mother.
Siouxsie: Ideally, kittens should be at least eight weeks old before they’re weaned off their mother’s milk. But in this case, we think you did the right thing: rescuing feral kittens sometimes requires a little deviation from the “rules.”
Thomas: We do hope that you’re including kitten milk replacer in their diets so that they get the right amount of protein and nutrients.
Siouxsie: Now, on to your question. Mother cats have been known to move their kittens if they feel that their den is threatened. However, this happens more often when kittens are still so young that they can’t move on their own.
Thomas: If you do take the kittens outside to see their mother, we suggest that you make it a supervised visit, in the event that she does try to take them away.
Siouxsie: If it’s been a few days since you took the kittens, her milk has almost certainly dried up and she won’t be able to nurse the kittens any more. At 6 or 7 weeks, kittens can eat soft food, but they really can’t manage kibble yet unless it’s softened into a gruel.
Siouxsie: This might help you to catch the mom-cat so you can get her spayed and vaccinated.
Thomas: The mother cat will stop looking for her kittens eventually, but as you saw, cats have just as much maternal instinct as humans do.
Siouxsie: Nonetheless, we’ll echo what others have told you: You did the right thing by getting these kittens into a safe place, vaccinating them, and working to socialize them.
Thomas: If you haven’t already done so, we suggest that you find a group in your area that does trap-neuter-return (TNR) with feral cat colonies. They can help you set up the traps and they almost always have vets that volunteer to do the spay/neuters or do them at a greatly reduced price.
Siouxsie: Thank you so much for your work on behalf of these kittens!
Thomas: They are awfully cute! Even Old Miss Cranky-Pants isn’t growling at their pictures.
Siouxsie: Who you calling cranky? If I weren’t so comfortable, I’d come over there and kick your tail!
Thomas: See what I mean?