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Kitten season is off to a busy start

Becky Campbell • May 3, 2019 at 10:30 PM

If you drive by the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter on any given morning before noon, the parking lot looks like a ghost town.

But behind the locked doors, there’s a bustle of activity getting kennels cleaned, animals fed and other tasks to be ready for people looking for their forever pet.

Now that spring is here, so is kitten season, and many people who find what they believe to be an abandoned litter have a tendency — out of true concern for the furry babies — to scoop them up if there’s no mama cat to be seen and drop the kittens off at the shelter.

But shelter Operations Director Tammy Davis said she wants to caution people from removing a litter of kittens until the would-be rescuer are sure the mama cat isn’t going to return.

And if there is a mama cat with the kittens, she’s likely to run from her babies. It’s an animal instinct to draw attention away from the kittens for their protection, she said.

“I know people mean well when they remove a litter of kittens, but we encourage them to wait and watch,” Davis said as she was bottle feeding one of three week-old kittens who barely have their eyes open. The orange tabby sucked furiously on the bottle as its two siblings meowed for their turn.

“If you find a litter of kittens and they’re clean and appear well nourished, don’t move them unless they are in immediate danger of another predator,” she said. It’s common for a mama cat to leave her litter so she can hunt for herself in order to keep producing milk for the kittens.

“She might be gone for several hours, but she’s coming back unless something has happened to her,” Davis said. Mother cats living in the community will also move her litter often in order to keep them safe.

By The Numbers

• 68 kittens taken into the shelter in March

• 82 kittens taken into shelter in April

• 83 kittens are in foster homes

• 26 kittens in the shelter’s nursery

• 56 cats and 26 kittens adopted in April

“This is just the beginning,” Davis said. “May through August are the worst. We average 400 cats and kittens a month during that time.”

Some of the mothers with kittens that were brought into the shelter are “community cats,” Davis said. If the adult cat isn’t adoptable and was used to living on her own, she will be spayed and released as close as possible to the area where she had previously lived.

Are these kittens orphaned?

• A mother cat usually remains with newborn kittens continuously one to two days after giving birth, but then she may leave the nest for short periods. Feral mother cats, also known as community cats, need to hunt for food and could leave the nest soon after cleaning feeding her kittens for the first time.

• Mother cats often move their litter more than once for protection.

• When you find a nest of kittens that are alone, don’t immediately assume they are orphans. If they appear clean, plump, and are sleeping, it’s likely the mother is simply away looking for food.

• Abandoned kittens will often be dirty, the nest will be soiled and they will cry continuously because they’re hungry. If you know it’s been several hours since the mother cat was around, then start considering taking action. Kittens can weaken quickly due to getting cold and dehydrated.

Davis also said if people have outdoor cats, the shelter can help with the costs. For more information about that, call 423-926-8769. For more information about finding a home for your own kittens, contact the Itty Bitty Kitty Pre-Wean Kitten Project at [email protected] .

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