“Watch and Wait:” What to do if you find litters of kittens

"Watch and Wait:" What to do if you find newly born litters of kittens

It is officially “kitten season” for our local animal shelters and many people have already started finding newborn litters out and about in the community. 

While many will want to step in and help those kittens, the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter (WCAS) says you may actually be causing more harm than good. 

They say the number one mistake people make is bringing the kittens into the shelter too early. 

When kittens are small, it is crucial they are with their mother to survive. 

If you happen to find a litter of young kittens and think they need help, the shelter advises not to act on impluse. 

“Typically if you come across a litter of kittens that are small, if they are clean, if they appear to be healthy, if they are not crying, that means their mother is somewhere nearby usually and is taking care of them. They’re not hungry, they’re not dirty. So what we tell people is to watch and wait,” says Tammy Davis, Director of the WCAS. 

Davis says it is important to “watch and wait” because the kittens’ mother could be out hunting for food or a new location to move her babies. Separating them from their mother too soon could actually cause those kittens to die. 

The kittens will be fine without their mother for about four to five hours. 

If the mother cat does not come back or the kittens seem distressed or in danger, you should go ahead and bring them to a local shelter. 

“The only time you want to remove kittens from the area is if they are in immediate danger, if there are dogs outside that could kill the kittens or its pouring down rain and they are somewhere exposed in the open then it would be necessary to rescue them. But if they are healthy and not crying you need to wait and see if the mother is gonna come back,” says Davis. 

If you notice the mother cat is taking care of her babies, you should leave them where they are until the kittens are no longer as dependent. After several weeks when they are no longer nursing, you should try and bring both the mother cat and the kittens to a local shelter so they can be fixed and find forever homes. 

The WCAS cites this source for more specific tips on how to respond to finding a newborn litter of kittens. 

Fosters are needed to help feed and take care of young kittens who wind up in the shelter. Visit the shelter’s website to volunteer or adopt. 

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