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Tiny But Mighty / , (by Hannah Shaw, 2019) -

Tiny But Mighty / ,   (by Hannah Shaw, 2019) -

Tiny But Mighty / , (by Hannah Shaw, 2019) -

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Tiny But Mighty / , (by Hannah Shaw, 2019) -
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2019
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Hannah Shaw
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Hannah Shaw
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intermediate
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09:47:51
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Tiny But Mighty / , :

.doc (Word) hannah_shaw_-_tiny_but_mighty.doc [78.32 Mb] (c: 8) .
.pdf hannah_shaw_-_tiny_but_mighty.pdf [69.59 Mb] (c: 4) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: Tiny But Mighty

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INTRODUCTION TINY M y name is Hannah Shaw, but most people know me as Kitten Lady. Im a professional animal rescuer, a humane educator, and a fierce advocate for the protection of kittens. My life is dedicated to saving young kittens, and Ive spent my career teaching people all around the world to do the same. I am on a mission to change the world for the smallest and most vulnerable felines. Everything I do is structured around saving little lives. I live in a home with a built-in kitten nursery that is tailored to meet the needs of orphans, helping them to recover, blossom, and thrive. Once a motherless kitten enters my home, she is safe here; this is where the cold become warm, the sick become well, and the hungry get a bellyful of nutritious food. Over the years, Ive saved hundreds of babies. The transformations I witness here are profound, and it is absolutely lifechanging to watch as some of the tiniest and most hopeless kittens grow into robust, mighty cats. Im so immersed in rescue that I sometimes forget how unique it is to be a kitten mom. Once I was at a grocery store, purchasing human baby food for a sickly orphan, when a chatty employee started asking me about my child. Do you have a baby at home? asked the clerk. Yes, I do! I replied. Oh, how wonderful. Boy or girl? Shes a little girl. Lovely! How old? Shes five weeks old. Wow! Only five weeks old? You look great! . . . Why thank you! I laughed. And whats the little girls name? Earthworm. Her face went pale and she stopped talking to me. Hey, she didnt ask what species! Being a surrogate caregiver to baby cats is a unique and fulfilling experience. My work as a kitten advocate has taken me to some pretty wild places: whether I find myself on an international train with a secret kitten hidden in my hoodie, on an overnight road trip in a van with dozens of kittens, or crawling in the dirt on my hands and knees to find the source of a tiny meow, its always an adventure! Kitten rescue has taught me that true compassion is spontaneous and unconditional, and that even though Im just one tiny person, if I bear witness to suffering, I have the power to do something about it. A life of kitten rescue wasnt something I actively sought outin fact, quite the contrary! Kittens came into my life like a whirlwind and made their presence impossible to ignore. A lifelong animal advocate, I knew I had it in my heart to helpbut as one individual, how could I possibly make a difference? I quickly learned the hard way that there are very few resources available to young kittens. I discovered that if unweaned kittens entered an animal shelter, they were considered too young to be viable, and they were typically euthanized. Everywhere I turned for help, there seemed to be a gap in resources when it came to the littlest lives. I found that even if I wanted to help them myself, there was almost no reliable information available about what I could personally do to give them a chance. Ultimately, I determined that if these resources didnt exist, I could take small steps to be a part of the solution. And so the day I found my first kitten outside, my journey began. COCO, THE KITTEN WHO STARTED IT ALL It was a day like any other day. I was twenty-one years old, working for a summer camp that served children with special needs, and we had taken the campers to a public park for some fun afternoon activities. As I sat on a bench next to a coworker, I looked up into the tall trees above, which were speckled with bright sunshine. I noticed a small, curious silhouette that looked out of place . . . and I could swear I saw a tiny eye among the leaves. I rubbed my eyes, squinting to get a better look, and gasped. There she was: a little black kitten was looking back at me with one eye crusted shut. She was at least fifteen feet high, lying on a branch like the littlest leopard. My mind was racing: How did she get up there? Where is her family? What happens if I leave her there? What should I do? I looked down at my shoes: in flip-flops, I was in no shape to be climbing a tree. And suppose I did climb the tree . . . then what? It was only a matter of minutes before I found myself with my feet stuffed into a coworkers sneakers, testing my strength as I shimmied my way up the bark. My colleagues gathered the children, who watched for what I would do next. A crowd started forming, and soon total strangers were cheering me on. Suddenly the world around me disappeared and I was fixated on a singular goal: I had to get this dang kitten out of the tree. Clumsily, I climbed the tree to the branch where the kitten lay, scrawny and lethargic. I reached out, grasped my hand around her skinny body, plopped her into my shirt, and shimmied back down. The children squealed and the strangers clapped. For about one minute, I felt triumphant in my achievement, and shocked that I was now holding a small, furry individual. But the feeling of accomplishment was immediately overshadowed by the panicked question: . . . So what do I do now? That was the day I unexpectedly became the mother to a tiny, meowing carnivore. The moment I first wrapped my hand around her five-week-old body, I felt an immediate responsibility to ensure that she had what she needed, though admittedly I had no idea what that was. Its embarrassing, but I distinctly remember carrying her back to the office at the summer camp, opening the fridge, and thinking, She can probably eat a hot dog, right? I emptied a box of childrens building blocks, and that became her first temporary home. As scared and clueless as I was, I felt determined to give her a good life. I named her Coconut Coco for shortbecause Id shimmied up a tree to pluck her like the sweet fruit. It didnt take long for me to fall in love. Coco became my lil sidekick, and I became her family. Since I rescued her, hundreds of other kittens have passed through my home, but only she (and my cat Eloise!) have stayed. She sleeps beside me at night, greets me every morning, and sits in my lap while I work, her purrs deep and therapeutic against my legs. Coco is my ride-or-die, my right-hand cat, my inspiration, and my very best friend. SAVING KITTENS LIVES After I rescued Coco, a veil was lifted, and I started finding kittens absolutely everywhere. By dumpsters. Beneath backyard grills. Under parked cars. Admittedly, the more kittens started finding me, the more I started looking for them. Every time I took in a new kitten, I gained a little more knowledge and experience with their care, and a little more of a reputation, too. Soon, I became known among friends and colleagues as the person to call if you found a kitten, and boy, did the calls start coming: I heard youre a kitten lady. Coco was the gateway kitten who opened my eyes to the plight of kittens, setting into motion a journey that led me to discover that kittens are one of the most at-risk and misunderstood populations in the United States. For as loved as kittens are by our culture, they are also killed by the hundreds of thousands due to a complex and interrelated set of factors, including resource scarcity and lack of public awareness. This means that without the intervention of animal rescuers and an active community of foster homes, kittens too young for adoption particularly newborns, known as neonatal kittensface a ticking clock, and often an untimely death. These forgotten felines need an advocate more than anyone. My journey wasnt always easyI had a big learning curve. For years I was totally overwhelmed by the act of saving kittens lives, whether due to the confusing illnesses and mystery poops, the challenges of knowing what supplies to use and how to use them, or the perplexing process of finding a kitten a forever home. Ive experienced the challenges of fostering orphans while working full-time or living in a studio apartment, the emotional hurdles of saying good-bye to kittens Ive loved, and even the heavy burden of taking on too much and having to learn how to balance being compassionate to others with being kind to myself. Ive learned, one tiny step at a time, how to provide a caring, supportive, enriching experience that sets kittens up for a lifetime of health and happiness. What I know now came through many late nights of research, through collaboration with other rescuers, and through the trial and error that comes with the heartbreak of lossand the triumph of success. All along, my goal has been to do the greatest good that I possibly can, and to do it in a way that is sustainable, impactful, and fun. Having been through it all, I became passionate about sharing what I know regarding the protection and care of kittens so that other people can save lives, too. I began to create the resources I wish Id had when I was getting started, and something incredible began to happen: people started listening! I made it my mission to be a source of support to those who want to help kittens, by providing them with helpful information, empowerment, and the inspiration to know that they can make a big difference, too. Since beginning my project, Kitten Lady, Ive taught millions of people how to get active for kittens. Ive created dozens of free educational videos, hosted over a hundred live workshops, and given out tens of thousands of instructional booklets to foster parents. Ive partnered as a consultant with shelters all across the country and abroad to help improve their programs for kittens, collaborated with animal control to increase their impact with cats and kittens in the field, and worked hard to influence policies that impact kittens at the local, state, and federal levels. Ive even created a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Orphan Kitten Club, which saves kittens lives by providing lifesaving care and resources to sick, injured, and orphaned kittens in need. Im passionate about sharing my life as a kitten advocate because ultimately my goal is to self-replicate. To that end, I openly document the fun, ridiculous, and adorable adventures that I have as a kitten rescuer, oversharing in hopes of helping others discover that rescue is for everyone. Im grateful to do this work alongside my partner, Andrew Marttila, who is a professional cat photographer and whose beautiful photos (many of which are on the pages to come!) capture the essence of these precious little lives in crisp perfection. Together, weve amassed the most fantastic following of compassionate cat-lovers and budding activists, and built a community that I love with all my heart. Helping others realize the impact they can make and welcoming them into the wonderful world of rescue fills me with enthusiasm and hope. As one person, I can do only so much, but as a community, I truly believe we can change the world for kittens. This book is an invitation for readers to join me on this journey and to add their own piece to the puzzle. In the pages to come, you will learn all about why kittens need your help, and Ill give you all the tools you need to help them. Youll learn about the physical and behavioral development of kittens, how to feed and care for them, and how to help them find a loving home. Ill show you how to save lives in ways complementary to who you are. Youll see hundreds of beautiful photos of kittens Ive rescued, and read uplifting tales of their triumph and transformation. Ill give you ideas for helping kittens no matter who you arewhether your contribution is through fostering, adopting, volunteering, educating, or simply becoming a more informed voice for cats. My hope is that you will see yourself in these pages, and feel supported in your own rescue journey. Tiny but mighty is a phrase I use to describe the kittens I save, because even when theyre as tiny as a packing peanut, they have such a mighty spirit and so much capacity to flourish if we just give them a hand. All the constituent parts of a pocket panther are jam-packed into each furry seedling, and with proper care, they can bloom into a glorious, independent cat. Tiny but mighty, to me, encapsulates the essence of the fragile felines potential. But that isnt the only reason I love the phrase. Its also a reminder that we, as rescuers, create major changes through small acts of kindness. After years of trying to untangle the impossibly gnarled knot of animal suffering, Ive come to find that change actually doesnt typically happen through massive, sweeping action. On the contrary, most change comes from an accumulation of tiny actions: a bowl of food, a warm bed, a temporary refuge for the homeless, a momentary extension of a compassionate hand. Movements are made up of individuals, and our small individual actions have the power to change everything. CHAPTER ONE STATE OF THE KITTEN EVERYONE LOVES KITTENS I spend a lot of time in transit. Working in so many different communities, Ive become accustomed to the monotony of travel: the long hours, the rigorous TSA inspection of my supplies (seriously, who travels with this much cat food?), and the small talk that occurs between strangers in airports and hotel lobbies. The question people always want to ask is, of course, What do you do? When I tell people Im an animal advocate who specializes in kittens, the response is almost always the same. First, a facial expression falling somewhere on the spectrum between utter confusion and absolute delight. Second, a comment about how I have the most adorable job ever. Third, some variation of the following inquiry: Do kittens really need advocates? I thought everyone loved kittens already. I do my best to summarize with a smile, but the truth is that to fully explain the magnitude of suffering that kittens face and the importance of our efforts to save them would take an entire book. And so here we are. In many ways, working with kittens is absolutely adorable. Im surrounded by fluffy little bobbleheaded dinguses every day of my life. I get to watch innocent beings grow and flourish. From the serene satisfaction of a babys first gentle purr to the bellyaching hilarity of a room full of pouncing micropredators, working with kittens is truly an enjoyable calling. But it isnt their charming nature that inspires me to do what I do. To me, kitten advocacy has very little to do with cuteness, and everything to do with a great need for tangible change in the way we view, understand, and treat the tiniest and most vulnerable felines. The truth is that kittens are universally loved in our culture, yet we kill them in epidemic numbers. Unweaned kittens make up a large proportion of feline euthanasias nationally; for many shelters, their deaths account for the majority of euthanasias. The general public is completely unaware that kittens under eight weeks old are one of the most at-risk populations in the US shelter system. Without public knowledge of these issues, we cannot empower people to get active and save kittens lives. We must start with a basic understanding of not just what is happening, but also why it is happening, and how each of us can take tiny steps to help solve this problem. We must unravel and examine this complex issue, rally the troops, and forge ahead toward a day when no kitten must die due to lack of resources or of community awareness. THE UNADOPTABLES For decades, millions of cats were being euthanized each year. Ill never forget when the 2016 national data was published and, for the first time in my rescue career, the number of cats dying in US shelters annually was fewer than one million. I wept with happiness to learn that we presently have national euthanasia rates of roughly 860,000 cats per year.1 Maybe it seems odd to celebrate that hundreds of thousands of cats are still dying in shelters, but seeing the number drop so dramatically over the course of my career has certainly given me reason to feel optimistic about a brighter future for cats, and to push ahead. Its an exciting time to be an advocate, as things are truly getting better for cats all the time. Having rightfully won the adoration of the general public, cats are now being adopted in higher numbers than ever before. Roughly 37 percent of US households are now home to a cat, and while I obviously think that number should be higher (seriously, have you met cats? theyre pretty great), this is a huge achievement. More people than ever are discovering the joy of sharing life with a feline, resulting in a steady rise of cat companionship. As adoption rates rise, there is, in turn, a marked decrease in euthanasia. Its easy to see why increased adoption would mean decreased euthanasia. Adoption is a solution to euthanasia, and the two variables are thus inversely correlated; as adoption goes up, euthanasia goes down. But this is not a one-toone correlation, as adoption is only one of several variables necessary to get euthanasia to zeroit is not a full solution. Adoption, of course, only helps cats who are adoptable. If you examine the data, youll quickly find that the cats who are dying in shelters tend not to be cats for whom adoption would have been a solution. The populations that are most at risk in modern-day animal shelters are the unadoptables. Unadoptable animals are those who are not candidates for an adoption program. For felines, this comprises two main populations: cats who are feral and cats who are under eight weeks old. Many people dont realize that while a two-month-old kitten is the likeliest to find a home in a shelter, a two-week-old kitten is the likeliest to be killed. You simply cant go to an animal shelter and adopt a neonatal kitten or a fractious cat who doesnt tolerate touch. But that doesnt mean those animals arent there, or that they dont deserve our help. Feral cats and unweaned kittens are the two biggest populations comprising the 860,000 feline deaths in shelters each year, which is why these are the two populations Ive dedicated my life to understanding and saving. Just because an animal isnt a candidate for adoption doesnt mean her life is without value; it simply means she needs a different solution than an adoption program. For feral cats, this means providing them with a solution that allows them to live their full lives outdoors, where they are most at home, without bringing more kittens into the world (read more about feral cats in Chapter Two). For kittens, it means providing a solution that keeps them alive until they are old enough to be adopted into a home. There are a number of programs that aim to protect unadoptable populations, including trap-neuter-return, on-site nurseries, and foster care. The result of these strategies is that we are able to reduce the number of kittens being born, while shepherding those kittens who are born through the vulnerable period of unadoptability. We are able to create hope where there otherwise would be none. STAY STUBBORN, HAVE HOPE What is hope? To me, hope is more than a cheesy motivational poster or a platitude embossed on a charm bracelet. It is the defiant resistance against suffering, and the relentless insistence that a positive outcome is possible. It is the shifting tide that occurs when we refuse to accept needless death as an inevitability. From this stubborn love, miraculous things can occur! When it comes to the euthanasia epidemic, Ive always been stubborn . . . and Ive always had hope. Euthanasia is, by definition, the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals.2 But is a kitten hopeless just because she is three weeks old? Heck no! Having raised hundreds of thriving babies, I hardly consider them beyond hope. The fact is that they are only hopeless if we fail to provide them with opportunities to stay alive. When we intervene with love and hands-on support, we find that they are, in fact, bursting with the capacity to grow, to heal, and to become wonderful companions. We must simply give them the chance. The process of raising kittens is as close to actual magic as Ill ever get. The moment I bring home a new batch of filthy, hungry wiggle worms, its like I suddenly grow five extra hearts. Over the next several weeks I pour pure love into each individual, and it makes them transform from hopelessly scrawny into pudgy, strong-boned, affectionate little creatures who return the love tenfold. When its time for adoption, I get to give this tremendous gift of companionship to total strangers, brightening their world and giving a lifetime of happiness to the cats. It feels totally silly to say, but the love we give has ripple effects that we may never even know. As heavy as it can feel to examine the state of the kitten, the beautiful thing is that each of us is capable of creating tangible hope that actively shifts the future for both the individual animal and sheltering as we know it. Every tiny moment of kindness, every small act of compassion adds up to create a safer world. At the end of the day, my time with each kitten is just a blipa small moment of stubborn hope. But to a being whose entire future is dependent on surviving for a few short weeks, these tiny moments make all the difference. GIMME SHELTER So if euthanasia is meant for hopeless animals, and kittens arent hopeless, why are so many kittens killed in shelters? Before examining these heartbreaking issues, its important to note that most shelters are doing the very best they can with the resources available to them, and that their success and the success of the animals in their care is dependent on our ability to approach them with compassion and support. Sadly, though, for a myriad of reasons, most US shelters are not set up to save the little guys, who are therefore being killed in epidemic numbers. Neonatal kitten care is a niche skill that requires specialized training and suppliesneither of which are a given in your average animal shelter. When I train shelter staff, I always ask how many people have ever bottle-fed a kitten, and I typically find that few or no employees have been trained in providing this care. In addition to the lack of training, essential items such as kitten formula or bottles often arent kept in stock; there simply arent sufficient supplies or staffing to provide the care. With hundreds of other animals to feed and support, resources tend to be focused around saving the adoptable populations; kitten care is thus not a main priority for most shelter management. It makes sense that neonatal care is traditionally not a top concern, as many shelters will not be able to keep a neonate alive on-site for even twenty-four hours. Most organizations have limited operating hours and are unable to provide overnight care; it would therefore be quite unethical to leave an unweaned baby with no assistance while the facility is closed for the night. For this reason, young kittens generally meet their fate within hours of entering the shelter doors: either they make it out the door to a foster home before the shelter closes, or they dont make it out at all. Even for facilities that do have overnight care, space is an issue. When you consider that shelters have limited housing, its easy to see why it is more responsible to give kennel space to an animal who can be quickly adopted than to an animal who will require that space for eight weeks. There simply isnt adequate space to house every kitten in every community for the duration of her upbringing until she is old enough to be adopted. Moreover, kennels arent optimal for socializing kittens during these critical early weeks. In addition to the challenges of providing feeding, care, and space to young kittens, most shelters also struggle to meet the medical needs of neonates. Kittens are immunocompromised (read more about immune systems on this page) and are extremely susceptible to illness in a high-volume setting such as an animal rescue facility; even an hour in a shelter can expose a neonate to viruses or parasites that can be life-threatening. To safely accommodate kittens requires strict quarantine protocol and specially designated nursery units, which is not possible for many shelters operating with limited space. Shelters can find the treatment of sick neonates to be a challenge. Young kittens are likely to become ill, but treatment can be difficult when veterinarians dont have experience with the specific needs of neonates. For instance, many prescription drugs are only officially labeled for use in kittens over eight weeks, and even if they are demonstrably safe for use in neonates, some veterinarians are not comfortable prescribing off-label for these little younguns. Many veterinary professionals are hesitant to provide effective treatment options such as antibiotics or other necessary medications to help save a kittens life due to the limited knowledge base around feline pediatrics. And when we fail to act swiftly and aggressively against illness, many kittens fall progressively more ill, and either die in care or are euthanized. Its plain to see that due to their special care requirements, kittens often will not find a suitable environment in their local animal shelter. Brick-and-mortar shelters are well suited to finding homes for adoptable animals, but these unadoptable babies can only thrive in an environment that can provide more individualized and special care. We must find creative solutions that meet the needs of these tiny lives. PAINT BY NUMBERS It isnt exactly a secret that kittens under eight weeks old are dying in large numbers, but its obscured in a way that prevents public awareness and programmatic change. In order for the public to care and to take action, we need to be aware that there is a problem to begin with; we cant do better until we know better. But from the language we use in the sheltering industry to the way we track intakes and outcomes, we often fail to represent what is happening to kittens in shelters. How can we even begin to unpack the issue for the public when we have no figures with which to quantify it? We simply cannot paint an accurate picture of the state of the kitten when we fail to represent how deeply at risk they are. One of the major problems is our data reporting in animal shelters. There is no national requirement for tracking and reporting animal data, which makes it a challenge to share how dire the situation is. While several states do require shelters to report their numbers, its uncommon for them to specifically track kittens under eight weeks old. The industry standard is to track the status of cats at five months or younger and five months or older, noting whether they are adopted, are euthanized, or have another outcome. This skews the data dramatically, as kittens two to five months old are highly adoptable, while those less than two months old are not adoptable at all. Shelters also often fail to count each kitten as an individual, as database software allows the input of kittens as a litter as opposed to counting them as separate animals. This means six neonatal kittens can be counted as one litter. When this happens, they arent considered individual lives; they are a unit unless they are candidates for adoption, in which case they become individuals, each with his own profile. The result is that we dont have precise numbers for this unadoptable population, either in terms of how their age impacts the likelihood of euthanasia, or in terms of how many are being killed versus how many are saved. We count their successes individually, but not their suffering. This makes it a challenge to demonstrate to policy makers, administrators, and members of the public the great need for programs that specifically target neonates. The truth is that the early death of the neonatal kitten is a foregone conclusion written into the very DNA of the US shelter system, even through the language we use. While no governing body oversees animal sheltering as a whole, an industry standard called the Asilomar Accords provides recommended protocol for definitions and reporting shelter statistics. Taken directly from these standards: The mission of those involved in creating the Asilomar Accords is to work together to save the lives of all healthy and treatable companion animals. The document continues: The term healthy means and includes all dogs and cats eight weeks of age or older that . . . have manifested no sign of a behavioral or temperamental characteristic that could . . . make the animal unsuitable for placement as a pet . . . (emphasis my own). This text, while created in the spirit of lifesaving, has the unintended consequence of obscuring public perception around who lives and who dies in shelters. Using this industry definition, shelters can report that theyve saved all healthy and treatable animals, even if they have, in fact, euthanized thousands of neonates and feral cats. While most shelters dont track unweaned kittens, there are some that do, such as Los Angeles Animal Services. Between July 2012 and June 2013, the City of Los Angeles saw more than nine thousand unweaned kittens enter the doors of its shelters, and 65 percent of those were euthanized. Through public reporting of these numbers, the demand for help increased. Kitten nurseries were opened; transfers to rescue organizations increased; foster homes increased. The citys open reporting, though upsetting, allows us to paint a picture of what is happening to kittens, what factors are helping them get out alive, and what further help is needed. We can then measure our successes and continue on the correct path. Euthanasia has now dropped substantially; between July 2017 and June 2018, just 20 percent of LAs unweaned kittensroughly 1,500 kittens were killed. While there is still a great need, things are getting better. By acknowledging and talking about the issue, the community has been more capable of working together to solve it. Its a challenge to raise awareness about the plight of kittens, or to create strategic programs to save them, when we cant track their status through data or understand whats happening to them with precision. My belief is that if we want to be able to change something, we have to be willing to analyze it and discuss it publicly. We cannot keep ourselves and our communities in the dark; we have to bring this information into the light, no matter how painful it is to know the truth. We must paint an accurate picture and give the public the tools to change it. TO KILL OR NOT TO KILL Ive been fortunate to work with countless shelters throughout the country, from large city shelters to small rural facilities, from no-kill shelters to shelters with high euthanasia rates. Ive found that the organizations that need the greatest help also tend to receive the most vitriol from the publica sort of backlash against killing that is understandable enough, but very much misplaced. Many people simply hear kittens are killed and get out their pitchforks before they can even attempt to understand the complexities of the situation. The truth is that its complicated: no animal shelter desires to kill cats, yet they collectively kill more than 2,300 every single day in the United States. Ill admit that when I first got involved in rescue, I had no idea why some shelters killed while others did not, and I felt furious at those that did. Its often human nature to turn to anger before turning to empathy, and shelters are thus routinely targeted by angry but well-meaning animal-lovers. Knowing what I do now, I recognize how naive and unproductive those feelings were. My position is that we must approach shelters in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration. A shelter that kills is quite simply a shelter that needs more support from the community, and this support is hard to recruit when judgment stands in the way. Shelters that kill are often referred to by the general public as kill shelters, a term that I comprehend but simultaneously find deeply problematic. While accurate in nature, this term scares away would-be adopters, volunteers, and donors, who proudly proclaim that theyd never support a kill shelter. Simultaneously, many members of the public claim to only support no-kill shelters without fully understanding what these shelters policies are. I believe one of the very first steps to being an effective advocate is to understand the structure of the movement; from this starting point, we can begin to see where we fit in as part of the solution. We must understand what kinds of shelters exist, how each one operates, and what support they need. In general, there are two kinds of shelters: municipal shelters, which are typically open admission, and private shelters, which are typically limited admission. Most communities have at least one municipal shelter and perhaps one or even several private shelters. A municipal shelter is run by the local government, usually a city or a county. These facilities are part of the government just like the police department or the fire department. As part of a governmental body, these organizations receive funding from their municipality, and they are contractually obligated to serve the public as a whole using their allotted budget. That means that they have to accept every single animal that is brought to them from within their contracted regionno matter what. That includes every owner-surrendered cat, dog, guinea pig, or snake; animals from hoarding situations or cruelty cases; stray and freeroaming animals from outside; sick and dying animals; and, yes, tons and tons of neonatal kittens who are way too young to be adopted. When a shelter is contractually obligated to take in every animal, thats called being an open-admission animal shelterthey have an open door to everyone within the municipality. These are the shelters we tend to be talking about when we refer to kill shelters, as they must continue to take in animals even if their resources are exhausted. When there arent enough resources to save every animal in their care, those resources must be focused where they can do the most good, leaving more vulnerable populations such as neonatal kittens susceptible to euthanasia. A private shelter, on the other hand, is a nonprofit organization; it is not run by the government. Private shelters can be open admission if contracted with the local government in a public-private partnership, but more commonly these organizations are limited admission, meaning they are under no obligation to take in every animal. A private organization is just that: its private. They take on what they are able to take on, and no more. This means that if theyre full, or if someone brings them an animal like a neonatal kitten whom they do not have the resources to care for, they can turn the animal away. Because of this, limited-admission shelters are almost always going to be no-kill. Makes sense, right? Rather than take in animals they dont have the ability to help, they simply dont accept them into the program. These organizations can determine exactly what they have the budget, space, and manpower to do, and then set out to do it, without taking on more than they can handle. Understanding this core difference between open-admission and limitedadmission shelter models is critical to understanding the killing of cats and kittens in shelters. One model is not better or worse than the other; they are simply differentand equally important. Open-admission municipal shelters are critical because without them, many animals are left without anywhere to go. Limited-admission shelters are essential, too, as they can take in overflow animals from the municipal shelters and have the flexibility to choose which populations they want to focus on. For instance, some private shelters have neonatal kitten nurseries, and others focus on special-needs animals. These groups are both completely essential for saving animals lives. The challenge is when we dichotomize kill shelters and no-kill shelters, because this juxtaposition creates a judgment zone. Kill and no-kill are not perfect opposites; our success as a national movement is, in fact, interdependent. We must all work together and develop a more nuanced understanding of where we are and where we need to gotogether. In order to not kill, a shelter must have either fewer animals coming through its doors or sufficient support to save every animal who does. This means that while limited-admission shelters can achieve no-kill by focusing only on the lives they can save, open-admission shelters can only save every animal if they have enough support from the community. Its important to note that no-kill does not even necessarily mean that kittens will be saved. The goal of the movement is to reach a day where every healthy or treatable animal is savedbut we have to keep in mind that even many leading organizations do not consider kittens under eight weeks old healthy and treatable. While I am a massive supporter of the movement, I also think its important to be honest with the public about what we mean when we say no-kill. My hope is that as we develop a greater awareness of the numbers of kittens dying in shelters, the public will respond with support, and the movement will be inspired to expand its definition to include neonatal kittens as well. FOR THE KITTENS, FOR THE HUMANS Ill never forget one of the most devastating and beautiful conversations Ive ever had at an event. A woman approached me with tears in her eyes, sharing that shed been employed by her local open-admission shelter for years and had been made to euthanize hundreds of kittens in that time due to lack of resources. As she hugged me, we both cried. My heart broke for hera brave, compassionate, and hurting person. She told me that the increase in community awareness is having a real impact on the number of kittens being saved in her shelter through foster care. She asked me to keep advocating, and told me that she will be pushing ahead, too, as hard as it might be. With a lump in my throat, it hit me that kitten advocacy doesnt just save animals . . . it saves people, too. I will never forget her words. When we buy into the rhetoric that people who work in open-admission shelters enjoy killing animals, we are spitting in the faces of some of the bravest people in our movement. It takes a bold, loving, selfless person to stand at the center of the storm, doing triage. Those of us on the sidelines must bring compassion and awareness to the animal-loving community, and learn to extend a helpful and gentle hand to our courageous friends working in shelters. We must all find it in ourselves to do our tiny part toward a day when shelters are sufficiently supported so that they are safer spaces for animals and humans alike. KEEP TURNING A truly no-kill nation is not far away, and we can each do our part to make it happen. In order to achieve a safer future for felines, there are three essential components: policies, programs, and participants. First, the shelter administration and local government have a duty to develop ordinances and organizational policies that create opportunities to save lives. Then, the shelter has to take the next step by creating programs that serve each vulnerable population, such as a TNR program for community cats and a foster program for kittens. Finally, and most important, the community must supply participants. Even a shelter with progressive policies and programs still cannot succeed without usthe community. A foster program is nothing without foster parents; a TNR program does not exist without trappers. With this understanding, we can start to see that killing is not a shelter problem; its a community problem with a community solution. Its the responsibility of the shelter to create these policies and programs, but its ultimately the responsibility of the public to participate in them. When kittens are coming through the doors in boxes and buckets, their fate is not in the hands of the shelter employee; its in our hands. By participating in community-based programs like fostering, we enable a shelters lifesaving capacity to expand exponentiallystretching out beyond the limited square footage of four concrete walls and into the safe haven of our homes. While it can be distressing to peel back the curtain and begin to understand how many cards are stacked against kittens, doing so is our first step to being part of the solution. Knowing where we stand today enables us to be aspirational in the actions that lead to tomorrow, and to keep the wheel in motion. My belief is that animal welfare is at an exciting turning point, and that we have a tremendous opportunity to do good by extending our awareness and efforts to the unadoptable populations. In the next chapters, well take a deep dive into the lifesaving actions we can take for these vulnerable kittens through prevention programs and fostering. CHAPTER TWO ITS RAINING KITTENS: HOW TO STOP THE FLOOD RIDDLE ME THIS H eres a riddle for you. What can you love with your whole heart, but simultaneously not want more of? Pizza and kittens. Turns out it is possible to have too much of a good thing! Just like an overstuffed belly cant accommodate another slice, an overpopulated community cant save more kittens than it has the capacity to help. Whether were talking full stomachs or full sheltersfull is full. I love kittens, but we certainly dont need more of them! Thats why one of the primary ways to save kittens is to actively prevent more of them from being born. When we decrease the number of kittens being born each year, we get closer to a day when every kitten has a safe place to thrive. THE REASON FOR THE SEASON You know what they say: April showers bring May kittens! Okay, maybe thats not what everyone says, but its certainly true. Kitten season is a phenomenon wherein breeding occurs rampantly during the warm seasons, flooding animal shelters with an often unmanageable number of litters. Kitten season hits at different times depending on the locations weather and sunlight; for instance, many mid-Atlantic caregivers see very few kittens between October and March, but in the sunny South, kitten season can be nearly year-round. As it turns out, humans arent the only species that get spring fever. So why does kitten season occur? It has a lot to do with cats heat cycles, which occur most frequently in a warm and sunny climate. Female cats heat cycles are dependent on the presence of abundant daylight due to the impact of the sun on the bodys hormones. During the darker, shorter days of winter, cats melatonin levels increase and they are less likely to breed, but as the days become longer and melatonin decreases, cats are more likely to be on the prowl for a mate. This means kitten caregivers are typically swamped with babies during the summer, but get a nice winter break. Heat cycles and cold weather dont mix! Kitten season is a handful for animal shelters. Kitten season is a perfect storm. Cats reach sexual maturity very young, and are able to become pregnant as young as four months of age. They have short gestation periods, with an average of roughly sixty-three days, and large litter sizes, with an average of five kittens. This means that cats breed young, often, and in high numbers. Oy vey. Cats are amazingly adaptive creatures, and it makes sense that they have evolved to reproduce seasonally so that their offspring are more likely to survive the outdoor conditions. Tragically, while they may be more likely to survive outdoors in the sunshine than in a snowstorm, the rapid increase in reproduction means that theyre also entering shelters at a dangerous rate during the warm months. The major spike in the population can severely wear on shelters resources, making it a challenge to find placement for every animal. Thats why fostering is truly a perfect spring/summer activity. I CAME TO SPAY With hundreds of thousands of cats and kittens being killed annually, prevention programs are paramount. Spay/neuter efforts have long been a top priority for the animal welfare community, and for good reason: sterilization programs are proven to play a significant role in decreasing the intake and euthanasia of cats and dogs in animal shelters.1 But while we may have come a long way in spay/neuter awareness, when it comes to decreasing the kitten population, weve still got a long, long way to go. Over the past decade, there has been tremendous effort put into decreasing the number of feline pregnancies through sterilization. Advances in veterinary medicine have resulted in the rise of pediatric spay/neuter, allowing veterinarians to perform surgery on kittens at two pounds and two months of age, eliminating the risk of accidental pregnancy (read more about pediatric sterilization on this page). Low-cost spay/neuter clinics are popping up across the country, making services more accessible than ever to rescue groups and members of the public. As spay/neuter surgeries have become more affordable and expanded toward pediatric patients, sterilization has become an essential component of adoption programs. While it used to be fairly common for organizations to adopt out cats who were intact, it is now a standard policy for all animals in a shelter to be sterilized prior to adoption. Millions of dollars in funds are granted to sterilization programs every year in hopes of reducing the number of animals who need homes. In spite of this fantastic progress, many people still fail to have cats and kittens sterilized due to lack of funds, transportation, or awareness, or even due to delayed surgery that results in an accidental pregnancy. Every day I receive messages about pregnant pet cats, or read comments from people who are thrilled to share that their companion cat has just given birth to kittens. While cat-lovers may be excited to experience the miracle of life, the truth is that increasing the number of kittens in need is anything but miraculous. We must continue to respectfully educate the community about the urgent need to reduce the number of cats born each year. But as important as it is to help pet cats get sterilized, by far the largest obstacle we have to overcome is the lack of awareness about the importance of sterilizing outdoor community cats. While many people do understand the responsibility of spaying and neutering the cats in their home, the average catlover does not grasp the importance of actively extending that support to the unowned cats living outside in their neighborhood. But whether the cat is a cuddly companion or a feral feline, spaying and neutering is critical, because sterilizing pet cats actually addresses only a small sliver of the feline population. Spend just a season rescuing kittens, and youll have no question that our efforts need to extend beyond our doorstep and into the great outdoors. FROM THE STREETS Kittens come from the darnedest places, I tell ya. Over the years, Ive rescued kittens from some of the most bizarre, unexpected origins. Kittens like Scraps, a tiny tuxedo I found curled up in a compost bin in my friends garden. Kittens like Kiwi, a little tortie I pulled from a bush in front of a busy restaurant. Kittens like Gadzooks, a teeny tabby who was living underneath the hood of a car. I used to joke that if you want to find a kitten, all you have to do is step outside, open your eyes, and pivot. For years, I offered these kittens refuge and care, never understanding how so many were wandering outside alone. Looking back, its unbelievable to me that it took me so long to make the connection. Here I was, managing what felt like a constant flood of kittens, without taking a moment to consider the source of the flow. As advocates, we must not only find better ways to save the lives of those in need, but also trace their stories to their sources in order to understand how to change the future. And their beginnings are almost always identical: they are coming from the streets. Every time I rescue a kitten from outside, people want to know what kind of horrible person would have abandoned the kitten under a porch or in a trash can. Yet the answer is simple. Who would put a kitten outside? Her mother would! Porches, bushes, compost bins, and even dumpsters make great shelter for cats, so its common to find that nursing moms have placed their kittens in these makeshift hideaways. The vast majority of kittens found outdoors arent abandonedthey are simply there because thats where they were born. Research suggests that roughly 80 percent of new kittens born each year are born outdoors to free-roaming cats.2 Their mothers are typically unowned, unsterilized cats who may be right around the corner, roaming the neighborhood in search of their daily meal. NEW KITTENS BORN ANNUALLY Unfortunately, its all too common for Good Samaritans to stumble upon kittens outdoors and, assuming theyve been abandoned, pick them up and take them away from their mother. What happens next depends on the individual who found them. They may try to care for the kittens themselves, either successfully or unsuccessfully. They may bring the kittens to an animal shelter, a veterinary clinic, or a pet store, all of which are often unable to provide the care the kittens need. Its tragically ironic that those who think they have saved an abandoned animal are often responsible for setting into motion a series of events that ultimately leads to the kittens untimely death. Even when orphaned kittens end up in the care of a rescuer like me, they are at a disadvantage. The fact is that while I may be a pro at working with orphans, I will never be able to raise a kitten like a mama cat can. When a kitten is separated from her mother, it requires immense resources and energy to keep her alive. After eight weeks of pouring my heart and soul into these motherless babies, it always hurts me to know that as I work so hard to save their lives, their mothers and fathers are often still out there on the street . . . procreating more and more. This is why I believe we have a duty to educate our communities about why so many kittens are outside to begin with, and why it is so important to decrease the kitten population by spaying and neutering community cats. TRAILER PARK GIRLS: BANJO AND FIDDLE It was a winding and beautiful drive through the West Virginia mountains to get to the county animal shelter. Id been brought in to teach the local animal control officers a hands-on workshop about how to trap outdoor community cats for sterilization, and I traveled in a car full of trapping supplies. The officers had identified a trailer park that was a major source of problems for their communityfor years, kittens and cats had been surrendered from that location, and neighbor complaints about the cats were frequent. I couldnt wait to help them solve the problem. After teaching the classroom portion of the workshop, we drove caravan-style past luscious green trees, over creeks and streams, deep into the hills. Nestled in the forest was a community of about twenty trailers, and the moment we pulled up, I knew it was going to be an intense afternoon. Cats darted across the road, lay sprawled on the grass, and hid in the shade of cars. Within just one minute of arriving I saw half a dozen cats pop in and out of the open windows of one trailer, coming and going as they pleased. Yep. Thats the lady who puts out all the food, an animal control officer said with a sigh. I knocked on the door, and it slowly opened with a creak. An elderly woman in a pink muumuu and thick glasses emerged, and at her bare feet two young cats chased each other out into the yard. Hi there, my name is Hannah, and Im here to help your cats. I talked with her for several minutes, reassuring her that we didnt want to take her cats awaythat, in fact, I loved her compassionate heart and simply wanted to help her have a better experience and to get the population under control by getting everyone spayed and neutered. The situation was clearly out of hand, but fortunately the county was willing to work with her as long as the animals were sterilized. The officers and I set out traps throughout the property next to the trailers, in the woods, in driveways, and under porches. One by one, the cats went into the traps and we loaded them into the officers vehicles in preparation for surgery. As the sun was setting, we felt confident that wed gotten as many as we could that day and began to pack up. And thats when I heard a tiny muffled noise. Meowww! Do you hear that? I wondered if I had made it up. I swear, I think I just heard a little meow. I stood still and waited. Meowww! Meowww! Where on earth could that be coming from? I ducked down, looking under the porch. Nothing. Under the car. Nothing. Still, more little meows came. I got on my hands and knees and pressed my ear against the bottom of the trailer, which had a vinyl covering that wrapped over its base. MEOWWW! Oh my god. I think there is a kitten trapped underneath the house. Before I knew it, I was prying back the vinyl and peeking my head inside. The underbelly of the trailer was about two and a half feet high and pitch-black, but my flashlight revealed a dirt floor crawling with bugs and fuzzy pink insulation above. I moved my light from side to side until it illuminated a small stack of cinder blocks, and inside one I spotted a tiny black-and-white kitten, meowing her head off. I see you! Im coming! Of course, where there are unsterilized cats, there will be kittens. The act of feeding cats is a compassionate one, but without additionally spaying and neutering the population, this cat colony had been enabled to grow and grow. Although the officers and I were there to put an end to that, the fact remained that in the moment, kittens were thereand they needed help. Hunched over, I slowly crawled across the dirt floor, holding my flashlight in one hand and batting away cobwebs with the other. Oh my god, this is so gross, I thought, but I knew I wanted to get that little kitten. Spiders ran over my shoes and jumped onto my arms. Just look straight ahead. Get the kitten and get out. The meows got louder and louder as I shuffled closer. Oh no! Theres another one! I looked up into the insulation and saw that a mama cat and her calico kitten had made themselves a bed. I sighed. This wasnt going to be easy. Approaching the kitten in the cinder block, I cautiously extended a hand. She was surprisingly unafraid. I picked her up, held her against my chest, and shuffled my way back out. She was about five weeks oldthe perfect age to be weaned and socialized for adoption. I knew Id be able to get her a great home in due time. By this point, the sun had set and everyone was ready to leave . . . except me. I was so determined to get the mama cat and the other kitten that I didnt want to return to my hotel. I went back under the trailer, but to my frustration couldnt get anywhere near the pairthe mama wouldnt budge, and the little calico just kept running deeper and deeper into the insulation. The day was over and I knew I had to let it go. The officers made a plan to come back and trap the mama and the other baby, so I reluctantly packed up to leave. At least Id gotten the one. But as I walked to the car, I just felt more and more angry at myself for not getting the second kitten out of there. She was right at the age where she could be socialized, and I knew that by leaving her behind I risked having her grow past socialization age. I couldnt get myself to leave. I am getting that darn kitten. So after the officers had left, there I was, underneath this elderly womans house, late at night, covered in bugs and filth, still trying to get this little calico. The harder I tried, the less I cared about the spiders in my hair. I had my eyes on the prize. MEET THE PAWRENTS So who are all these cats giving birth under trailers and in the bushes, and where did they come from? Before getting active in kitten rescue, I had no idea that so many unowned outdoor cats populated the streets of the United States. But after years of working to end kitten euthanasia, I now know that this is a classic case of the chicken and the egg; we cant understand how to help kittens without first understanding how to help their parents. I now dedicate a large portion of my work to raising awareness about these free-roaming felines: community cats. Community cats are unowned outdoor cats who live in family groups called colonies. While some refer to them as feral cats, I find that the term community cat is a much more accurate descriptor for the population of cats who live outdoors. Feral describes behavior that not every free-roaming cat exhibits, while community cat refers to the place where these cats live and is thus an all-encompassing description: they are part of the community, just like you and me. Some research suggests that roughly half the cats living in the United States are community cats, though an accurate number is impossible to estimate at this time. Community cats are incredibly resourceful animals, and they may have one, two, or even ten food sources, including caregivers in the neighborhood, refuse, and even small rodents. They tend to congregate around densely populated urban areas due to the abundance of resources available, such as shelter and human food waste, but they are also commonly found in rural areas near farms and in suburban areas near businesses and housing developments. Simply put, wherever there are people, there are bound to be community cats. And where there are unsterilized community cats, there are bound to be kittens! While community cats can exhibit a wide range of social behaviors, many of them are undersocialized to humans because they have had limited interaction with us, up close and personal. They may be friendly, feral, or somewhere in the middle, but the less early exposure they had to human touch, the more likely they are to be on the feral end of the spectrum. Dont fear these catswhile the term feral can call to mind a negative connotation, most community cats arent ferocious to humans unless cornered. Feral cat behavior tends to be avoidant rather than aggressive! As stealthy and sleek as cats are, they can make themselves scarce if they dont want to be seen. Thats why when you find kittens outside, its common that no mother is in sight; shes probably hiding from you! While some may be surprised to find that there are so many community cats outdoors, their presence in our lives is anything but new. I like to think of community cats as the original cat, as our relationship with them can be traced back all the way to the advent of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent, over ten thousand years ago! As humans began successfully growing and storing grains, farms became a haven for rodents seeking food. And who did the rodents attract? You guessed it. All cats we know today are descendants of the wildcats, Felis silvestris lybica, that lived alongside early human civilizations. In a fascinating 2017 paleogenetics study, researchers found that cats initially spread from their home in the Near East along the pathways of the farming and trade movements, being utilized for rodent abatement on ships and eventually settling throughout nearly every corner of the world. These untamed mousers werent considered domesticated pets for the majority of our shared history. That is, until the 1947 invention of cat litter became popularized in the late 1950s and 1960s, bringing these community cats indoors . . . and changing our relationship with felines forever. If you look at our 10,000-plus years of history living alongside cats, its only within the blink of an eye that weve been keeping them as indoor pets. Yet as a few generations have passed, weve forgotten where cats originally came from. Today, cats are still living in large numbers the way they always have: outdoors, in symbiosis with human populations. While the goal might be to change the future of cats, we cant strategize about where we are headed if we dont acknowledge where they come from, and where they currently stand. I believe its critical for us to recognize that were not standing at the end of the domestication timelineif anything, were only halfway there. Tragically, we often fail to meet the needs of this population. In the absence of a community cat program, these cats are frequently killed in shelters because they are not candidates for adoption. In many cases, they may be picked up by caring individuals who believe they are lost cats and bring them to a shelter in an attempt to help them. In other scenarios, they may be dropped off by complainants, or they may even be picked up by animal control officers. In any case, once they make it to the animal shelter, the majority arent suitable for an adoptive home because they are so often undersocialized. If no program exists to save their lives, many shelters have no solution for these cats aside from euthanasia. Because of their unique needs, which are distinct from those of the pet cats we see in adoption programs, community cats and neonatal kittens make up the two largest feline populations killed in shelters. If youre an advocate for kittens, its essential that youre an advocate for their parents, community cats, too. After all, community cats and kittens are two sides of the same coin, and their fates are intertwined. We must fight for them simultaneously. FOUND, BUT NOT LOST Like kittens, community cats are a deeply misunderstood population, and that misunderstanding prevents the public from knowing how to help. Its therefore critically important to increase public awareness about who community cats are, why there are so many kittens outside, and what to do when you find a feline. I believe that a large reason we dont understand community cats is the narrative we construct around them. If you look at the language we use to talk about cats who are found outdoors, its almost always presumptive of prior habitation in a human home. We refer to them as stray, implying that they are lost and have wandered away from a guardian, or as homeless, falsely portraying them as being without a home base of their own. But community cats are not lost or homeless; the outdoors is their home. They have deep connections with their surrounding habitats, forming relationships with other cats in their colonies and establishing routines and patterns just like we do. When we fail to understand community cats, it becomes much more confusing for the public to understand why there are so many kittens outside. This results in another misused term: many people will call kittens from outside abandoned, implying that the kitten has been cruelly discarded by a human, when in reality outdoor kittens are almost always there because they were born therein a community cat colony! My grandmother recently surprised me with a funny creation from my childhood: a story I had written on construction paper in 1992, titled The Adventures of the Two Lost Kittens. Growing up, I shared the common assumption that any kittens outside must be lost. Now I know that they are typically born to community cats! This misuse of language is detrimental in a number of ways. For starters, lack of public awareness about community cats causes people to assume that any kitten found outside will be motherless. This results in kittens becoming orphaned simply because our society does not realize that their parents community catsare living all around us. Additionally, our assumption that outdoor cats are lost pets causes us to look upon them with pity that they dont get a warm lap to sit on or a windowsill from which to observe the world. This pity erases the cats own desires, which may have nothing to do with a human home. Consequently, staggering numbers of community cats are killed in shelters every year because they have been surrendered by people who were trying to give them a better life, thus robbing them of the good life they already had. But perhaps the most damaging effect of the lack of awareness of community cats is the hindering of our ability to do widespread, impactful work for them and their kittens. After all, we cant change what we dont understand. We also use this harmful language within the animal sheltering industry, much to the detriment of the cats we are tasked with saving. When keeping data on cats who enter animal shelters, we tend to have five options for the origin of the animal: Stray/at large (found outdoors) Relinquished by owner (surrendered to be put up for adoption) Owner-requested euthanasia (surrendered to be euthanized) Transferred in (coming from another shelter or agency) Other intakes (miscellaneous) More than half of all cats entering US animal shelters are classified in the system as stray, but unlike stray dogs, who are often truly lost or abandoned, the vast majority of these stray cats arent lost at all; they are simply unowned.3 This accounts for the major difference in owner reclamation with cats and dogs: while 33.9 percent of lost dogs were reclaimed in 2016, only 4.7 percent of lost cats are reunited with an owner, according to Shelter Animals Count. These cats often are not reclaimed because they never had a home to begin with. When the animal welfare industry itself offers no option for quantifying the number of animals coming into shelters who are not lost but are, in fact, community cats and kittens, it becomes immeasurably more difficult to make impactful policies and to change public awareness of issues affecting these animals. Policies are built on data, and our data is skewed by misleading criteria; we are measuring the wrong things. Community cats need their own language just as much as they need their own programs. None of this is to say that cats shouldnt be indoor companions; my personal cats are indoor-only (aside from the occasional walk on a harness!), and my entire career is spent bringing kittens off the streets and placing them into indoor homes. Rather, this is to suggest that on a small scale, we must meet cats where they are in order to save their lives, and on a larger scale, we have to be realistic and honest about our starting point if we want to be pragmatic about achieving change. Like it or not, we are starting with the reality that tens of millions of cats live outdoors in the United States, and without a cultural shift and a plan of action, we will be dealing with orphaned kittens and high euthanasia rates for years to come. With so many community cats living in close proximity to humans, people are going to be finding a lot of kittensand we have the option of making a big difference in their lives through our kind actions. But we must start at an understanding of their context, recognizing first that not all cats who wander are lost. STARTING AT THE SOURCE Anyone who works in cat welfare knows that the source of kittens is community cats, but in order to create effective policies and programs, its essential to examine the data. Time and time again, research shows that kittens are coming primarily from the outdoors. The sheer numbers and high reproductive capacity of community cats combine to make them the leading source of new kitten births, according to a study led by Dr. Julie Levy, a renowned veterinary scientist and professor of shelter medicine.4 Perhaps the best national statistics available at this time come from Shelter Animals Count, an initiative that compiles data from more than three thousand organizations to demonstrate trends in intakes and outcomes for cats and dogs in the United States. Upon examining their 2017 intake records of more than 1.5 million cats, its plain to see that the single largest population entering shelters is kittens (up to five months in age) who are found outside (stray/at large). CAT INTAKES 2017 AdultUp to 5 MonthsAge UnknownTotal Stray/At Large300,926369,179141,929812,034 Relinquished by Owner199,676134,19441,919375,789 Owner-Intended Euthanasia21,1282,0713,66226,861 Transferred from Another Agency81,864100,20623,457205,527 Other41,10930,56510,83682,510 Total 644,703 636,215 221,803 1,502,721 Awareness that cats from outdoorsand particularly their kittenscomprise the majority of animals entering shelters should be enough to stop all animal welfare advocates in their tracks. We absolutely must be directing attention to these free-roaming kittens and their abundant source: community cats. It raises the question: If kitten season is a flood, do we spend all our time mopping the floor, or do we try to plug the leak? TNR: A KITTEN-PREVENTION PROGRAM Sterilizing community cats is the number one way to prevent kittens and to save the lives of community cats. This is done through a process called TNR, or trapneuter-return. Trap-neuter-return is a process through which community cats are humanely trapped, brought to a veterinarian for spay/neuter and vaccination, eartipped, held overnight for recovery, and then returned to their outdoor home. This gives cats the ability to continue living out their natural lives in their colonies, while stabilizing the population so no new kittens can be born. Over time, populations naturally decline. This decreases the life span of the colony while increasing the life span of the individual cata win-win for everyone. The most beautiful thing about TNR is that it lowers the number of animals both entering animal shelters and being killed there. Levys 2014 study at the University of Florida found that after targeting one region with community cat spay/neuter, 66 percent fewer cats from the target zone came into the animal shelter, and euthanasia for cats from that region decreased by a whopping 95 percent.5 Similarly, the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Fairfax, Virginia, saw a 41 percent decrease in their orphaned kitten intake after three years of TNR, which makes sense, because outdoor cats were no longer breeding rampantly!6 By integrating a community cat program into their work, this shelter was able to decrease the number of cats in the shelter, making it possible to find all the remaining cats and kittens foster homes and adopters. Bravo! TNR and kitten rescue go hand in hand; think of TNR as a kitten-prevention plan. If youve rescued a kitten from outside, you should also be ensuring that the remaining colony is sterilized. Conversely, if youre sterilizing community cats, you should make sure you have a plan for any kittens who are found. One thing is sure: once you get out there on the streets, youll be able to make a world of difference for the felines in your community. A trap and a spay keep the kittens away! DOUGIE FROM THE BLOCK The DC summer heat is sticky and sweltering, so on a hot July afternoon my friend Katherine and I were hiding out in her air-conditioned apartment, drinking cold seltzers and catching up. You know, there are a few cats living in the bushes outside my place, and Im positive theyre not sterilized. In fact, I think one might be a kitten, she told me. I hadnt noticed them when I came over, but my curiosity was piqued, so we put our shoes on and headed downstairs to take a look. As we stepped outdoors, a wave of humidity hit my face. I looked to the left and gasped. She was right: not only were a mom and a large kitten sitting right outside of the bushes, but the kitten was nursing! The mom tensed up and stared me down, and the kitten scooted sideways so he could watch me out of one skeptical eye, but he never took his mouth off his mamas breast. There we stood, getting the stink-eye from this huge kitten, who seemed way too old to be breast-feeding, and his mama, who was clearly a well-fed community cat who had never been spayed. As I kneeled down to greet them, they both darted off down the block. The kitten was what I call a cusp kitten. At about eleven weeks old, he was just on the verge of being too old to socialize for adoption. I knew that if I waited even a week, the window for socialization would closemaybe it already had. So I hopped in my car, drove home to pick up traps and bait, and came back with all the gear I needed to catch the cats. I set my traps with stinky tuna and sardines, hid them under the bushes, and waited. My friend and I watched from about fifteen feet away as the mama cat, a black beauty, stepped cautiously into the trap. One little step at a time, she inched toward the back of the trap until . . . click! She stepped on the trip plate and the door closed. As I approached to cover the trap with a blanket, she hissed and rammed the side of the trap. She was not a happy mama. Next, I needed to catch the kitten. Without his mama around, he was more skittish than ever. He ran back and forth, bopping around the block, unsure about entering the trap. I moved it several times, trying to place it somewhere that felt stable and natural to walk into. Little kitten, I have delicious snacks! Come and get em! I said in a singsongy voice, laughing at myself. For a while it was like we were doing a dance together, but as the sun set, I finally started to get in sync with him. I placed the trap against a brick wall and walked off out of sight. We waited, and waited, and finally heard the sound every trapper waits for: click! The door was shut and the kitten was caught. I looked up at the sign on the corner, which read DOUGLAS ST NE. Nice to meet you, Douglas, I said, and loaded the kitten and his mama into my car. That night, I put the two traps in my bathroom in preparation for the TNR clinic the following day. The mom was clearly going to be eartipped, but I wasnt so sure about the kittenI needed to assess him and see if he was a candidate for socialization. After a few hours of settling in, I lifted the cover from his trap and he sat there, still as a statue, looking at me. As I spoke with him, he cocked his head to the side like a confused puppy dog. He took a baby step toward me, then two steps back. One more toward me, then back again. While he was scared, he seemed open to the idea of human interaction. The following morning the two went in for surgery. The mama was sterilized, vaccinated, and eartipped, and after she recovered, she was returned to her outdoor home, where she still lives (and thrives!) today. The little boy was neutered, but instead of being returned to the block, I brought him home to recover in a playpen. Cautiously curious, he would allow me to scratch his head, but would gently hiss as if to say, I like this, but I also hate this. For days the only sound I heard from Douglas was a hiss, but every time I worked with him, he got a little more comfortable, until he was eventually leaning into my pets. I knew it would be only a matter of time before I had him eating from the palm of my hand . . . literally. Just like wed done our trapping dance, we now did a dance of socialization. Id move in with chin rubs and wet food, and hed slowly get more and more comfortable with the idea that I was safe. Id hold his food in my hand, and hed nibble on it but keep his distance. Four days passed of actively talking to him, hand-feeding him, and teaching him physical affection, and when the fifth morning came, I couldnt believe my ears. Meow! Meow! Meow! Douglas little vocalizations were suddenly reverberating throughout my home, high-pitched and constant. I ran into the room to see why he was crying, as Id never heard him make a single peep (aside from hissing!). To my surprise, when I walked in, he jumped into my lap and let out a long meooooooow. Seemingly overnight, hed transformed from a cautious kitty to a needy sweetie! I cracked up. This tough street kitty who had started out so hissy was now completely obsessed with mefollowing me around, meowing, and begging for me to pay attention to him. Douglas was adopted just one week after he was trapped, setting the record for one of the quickest kitten adoptions Ive ever done. I still see his mama on Douglas Street, where she has a daily caregiver who feeds and shelters her. When I see her eartip, it puts a smile on my face to know that I was able to stop the cycle of reproduction so that Douglas is the last kitten Ill ever have to lure from the bushes on that block. HOW TO TRAP A CAT OR KITTEN When you work with kittens outdoors, knowing how to humanely trap a cat is essential. Most of the time trapping is done using a humane box trap, which is a metal box that encloses the cat safely and harmlessly. Inside the box trap, a small trip plate is set, which triggers the door to close when the cat walks to the back of the trap to eat the bait. Trapping can sound overwhelming, but its a simple, impactful, and really fun activity that anyone can learn to do. Heres a step-by-step guide to get you out there! Plan Get to know the colony. First things first, youll want to know how many cats and kittens are in the colony in order to properly prepare. By setting out food at the same time each day and observing from a distance, you can track how many cats and kittens are present. Get to know where the cats spend their time, who they are, and when they like to come around. Note if there are kittens, cats with eartips, etc. Plan to trap every cat or kitten without an eartip in the colony. Communicate with the neighborhood. Determine if the area where you want to trap is on private property, and talk with the owners of the property, as well as the surrounding neighbors, to obtain permission before trapping. A little communication goes a long way, and can help people understand what youre doing and why its so important. Talking with neighbors will also help you determine if any of the cats in the neighborhood are in fact pets, and other people in the neighborhood might even be able to tip you off to the location of kittens, other caregivers, and more! Make a spay/neuter appointment with a vet clinic. Youll need to have an appointment at a clinic in order to start trapping. Note that many private practice vets do not accept community cats for surgery, so youll need to find a spay/neuter clinic that offers TNR services. Once you have your appointment, you can make your trapping plan! Prep their bellies! Feeding the cats at the same time every day will get them on a routine. You can feed them in a dish, or if you have the traps ahead of time, you can slowly get them used to eating from the trap (just dont set the trip plate until youre ready to catch them, and keep the door locked open with a clip!). On the day before you trap, withhold foodyou want them to be hungry enough to be willing to go into the trap. Gather supplies. Most of the supplies youll need are cheap or free, but since most of us dont have a cat trap at home, thats the one piece youll likely need to borrow or buy. Many animal shelters or TNR groups have trap loan programs, so call around and see if you can borrow what you need. Otherwise, you can purchase a trap online or at many hardware or feed stores. To trap a cat, youll need the following supplies: A humane box trap (preferably enough traps for every cat in the colony) Newspaper or cardboard (to line the trap) Bait (I prefer tuna in oil, mackerel, or stinky wet food) A trap cover (a sheet or large towel) Tarp (to line your vehicle and overnight space) Trap Pick a time and place. Plan to trap on the day before your vet appointment, during the time of day that the cats are used to eating. Make sure youre putting the trap on a level surface in an area that the cat or kitten is likely to go. Most cats will feel safest going into a trap that is in a covered or partially contained area, such as behind a bush, under a porch, or alongside a building. Count your traps. Make sure you know exactly how many traps you put out, and where, so you can collect them all and ensure you havent left any behind. Dont miss this crucial step! Prep your traps. Line the base of the trap with a folded piece of newspaper or a flat piece of cardboard. Ensure that it is smooth across the bottom so the cat can comfortably walk into the trap. Place a large spoonful of bait on the back end of the trap, behind the trip plate. Place one or two pea-sized bites at the front to entice the cat. Partially cover the trap with your trap cover. Set the trap and exit the area. Bait n wait. Once the traps are set, stay close enough to see if the cats go into the trap, but far enough away to allow them to comfortably explore. Hang out in your car, listen to some music or a podcast, and watch from a distance until the cats start entering the traps. Peek and cover. Once a cat enters the trap, take a quick peek to ensure you know who you got. Is the cat eartipped or wearing a collar? If so, release her. Is the cat actually a raccoon? If so, release her. If youve caught the cat or kitten youve intended to catch, cover the trap completely with a blanket to help calm him down. Hold overnight. If you cant go straight to the clinic and must hold the cat overnight, choose a safe, climate-controlled holding area such as a spare room or bathroom. Line the floor with a tarp and keep the cat inside the covered trap. Never touch, bother, or take the cat out of the trap before surgery. Spay/Neuter Drop em off. To transport the cats to the clinic, place a layer of tarp down in the car to protect the vehicle, then place the covered traps over it. Once at the clinic, fill out the paperwork and indicate the services you would like. Youll always want a spay/neuter, FVRCP and rabies vaccines, pain medication, and an eartip, but you may also decide to include a microchip, flea treatment, or other services. Pick em up. After surgery, cats may be groggy from anesthesia. Read the discharge paperwork and ask any questions you have. Hold overnight. If the clinic will hold them overnight for you, great! If not, youll need to hold them for recovery in your climate-controlled holding area. Monitor the cat for any signs of lethargy, vomiting, or bleeding. If youre concerned about the cats recovery, call the clinic. Return Rise and shine! In the morning, check on the cat. If he is bright-eyed and alert, then you can return him to his outdoor home. Return to the exact home. Make sure youre returning the cat precisely where you trapped him. Cats are bonded with their homes, and its important to ensure that theyre returned appropriately. You wouldnt want to wake up from surgery in another stateso never release a cat to a place that is unfamiliar to him. Let em fly! This is the most fun part! Unlatch the lock, pull the door upward, and let the cat run free. Hell be so thrilled to be back home! Feed and monitor. After TNR, its compassionate to continue giving support to the colony as much as you are able. Ongoing colony care can involve providing daily food and water, providing winter shelter, and monitoring the site. If you werent able to trap every cat, keep trying and dont give up! If any new cats without an eartip show up, now you know to get them TNRd, too. CATCHING KITTENS Dont let their cute faces fool youkittens can be feisty. For your own safety and for the safety of the animal, you should never attempt to physically pick up a kitten on the street with your bare hands. Although they might be tiny, they can (and often do!) fight back when they feel threatened. If youre bitten by a kitten outdoors, it can result in a lot of painand not just for your skin. Kittens who have bitten a human are typically required to be quarantined by the local government, which is far from ideal. Protect yourself and the kittens by using a humane trap to catch them, or if theyre young enough to simply scoop up, wear protective gloves to ensure a safe rescue for everyone. Sometimes, you may find yourself in a position where a kitten is in need and you dont have time to get the proper tools to save her, such as a trap or gloves. In these situations, you should act with caution and compassion, taking as many steps as possible to reduce the risk of harm to either yourself or the kitten. In some scenarios, it will be best for you to leave the kitten where he is until you can return with proper equipment. In other cases, you may find that the situation is urgent and that rescue cannot be delayed. If this is the case, you can either call upon your local animal control to assist, or you can cautiously take matters into your own hands, understanding that there is always a risk associated with rescuing kittens without proper equipment. In the absence of proper equipment, I have been able to catch injured and critical kittens using available materials such as blankets and sweaters, which provide a protective layer between myself and the animal. While its always preferable to use proper trapping equipment with kittens, the reality is that if a person is going to do without, its better to do it with a spirit of harm reduction and a little creativity. TO CATCH A PIGEON It was almost midnight, and the neighborhood was illuminated by yellow streetlights. Having just come from teaching a kitten-care workshop across town, I was walking through Brooklyn in a striped dress, accessorized by a massive travel carrier where my foster kitten, Tidbit, sat on a soft bed like a little prince. As I made my way up the block toward my friends apartment where Id be sleeping that night, I noticed a young woman crouching on the ground, clearly distressed. A small silver can glimmered in her hand and stopped me in my tracks. Are you trying to help a cat? I asked instinctively. How did you know? she responded. Theres a little kitten Im trying to catch. Her eyes are all messed up and I dont know what to do. Ive been out here all night. I gestured toward the little orphan in my carrier. Im a kitten rescuerI had a hunch. Do you want a hand? She couldnt believe I had a kitten by my side already! She showed me where the kitten was hiding out, under a dumpster behind a large metal gate. Next thing I knew, I was lying with my white dress pressed firmly against the dirty sidewalk, with my cheek against the ground. Sure enough, a tiny tabby was under the fence, seemingly blinded with swollen, red eyes. I agreed to put my things down at my friend Candaces place and come back quickly to help. I silently opened the door to the apartment, tiptoeing so I wouldnt wake anyone. I set my kitten carrier down and looked around, trying to quickly come up with a plan. Fortunately, I had an entire tool kit of animal care supplies and cat food with me . . . but what I didnt have was a trap or gloves. Darn. Id need to make do with what I had. I wonder if Candace would be okay with me using her bedding to catch a kitten on the sidewalk? She was going to have to be. I rushed back out to the sidewalk with a can of cat food and a big blanket. Heres what I think we need to do. We need to be completely quiet so she will come out and eat. Then I will try to scoop her up with the blanket. For about twenty minutes, we sat quietly, gesturing but not making a peep. Finally, a tiny nose cautiously poked out from under the fence . . . then whiskers . . . then ears. The little kitten sniffed at the bowl of food and soon she was chowing down, unaware that I was just a foot away from her, hovering with a blanket and waiting in silence. My heart pounded in my chest. I knew I had only one shot to get this right, or she might run off and not return. I waited . . . and waited . . . and waited . . . and . . . whoosh! I dropped the blanket over the kitten and quickly wrapped it around her. Its okay. Its okay. Youre okay. I got you. Its okay. I couldnt believe itId caught her! But now what? The young woman suggested I come inside. We walked up the steep steps into her small apartment, where we took a first look at the kitten in the light. One eye was crusted shut, while the other was swollen open. The kitten shivered as I cleaned her up using a warm compress and some eye meds I serendipitously had in my bag. She was clearly pretty petrified of people, but at about seven weeks old, she was young enough that I knew shed warm up quickly. Are you able to foster her? I asked, and the woman replied that she wasnt able to and hoped shed find someone who could. I looked down at the kitten and sighed. She can come with me. Shell get better in no time. Tiptoeing back into my friends apartment, I tried my best to stay silent as I set the kitten up in the bathroom for the night. By this point it was nearly 2 a.m., I was covered in filth, and I was stowing away a secret street cat, so I must have made a bit more noise than Id intended, because pretty soon my friend was standing in front of me. You all right? Candace whispered as she came out of her bedroom in her pajamas, rubbing her eyes. Hi! Okay. I can explain. So, dont get mad . . . but theres a feral kitten in your bathroom. Candace erupted with laughter. Of course there is. Oh, and I used your blanket to catch her, so now I have nothing to sleep with. Of course you did. Candace chuckled again. This is why we are friendswe are both massive animal advocates, and neither of us would expect any less from one another. The next morning I drove back to DC with my new foster kitten, and while I wasnt able to stay behind and address the breeding population on the block, Im happy to share that the woman Id met that night ended up being able to catch the mom and have her spayed. As for the baby, I decided to name her Pigeon, after the birds that live in the city; like them, this kitten was a little grimy, but very beautiful. She was a tough little New Yorker. Pigeon flourished in my nursery, and as her eyes healed, so did her spirit. She became a trusting, playful little cat who loved climbing cat trees, hiding in her cat tunnel, and getting her belly rubbed. She was promptly adopted after a friend of mine visited and decided that she couldnt live without her. I cant blame her . . . Pigeon was quite a catch! WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A KITTEN OUTSIDE Every kitten season, thousands of kittens are scooped up from the streets by compassionate people trying to lend a hand. Yet without knowledge of what the kitten needs, sometimes these good intentions can do more harm than good. Each scenario is different, so youll want to use your best judgment based on the specific situation, such as the kittens age, the presence of a mother, the sociability of the kitten, and the availability of a foster home. Dont forget that if there are kittens present, it means there is also a breeding populationso try to get everyone sterilized. While its wonderful to help individual kittens, we must simultaneously fix the leak in order to stop the flood! In this section, Ill teach you everything you need to know about assessing kitten scenarios so you know how to respond effectively if you find a kitten outside. In order to accurately assess the situation, youll need to know how old the kitten is, so make sure you check out Act Your Age! on this page to learn about determining age. Lets look at the various situations you might encounter, and how to decide the best course of action. KITTENS 0 TO 5 WEEKS OLD Kittens fewer than five weeks old will still be nursing, and will not be eating independently. No one is better at caring for these babies than their mother, so they should be kept with her whenever possible. If youve found unweaned newborns, the first step should be determining if they have a mother, and making every attempt to keep them safe with her. If no mother is present, youll want to wait and see if a mother does return. If the kittens are alive, clean, and appear to be in healthy condition, they are almost certainly being cared for by someone . . . and it isnt the friendly neighborhood opossum, its their mom. In many cases, the mother is right around the corner looking for food, or may simply not be there because you are! If no mother returns after an attempted reunion, youll need to intervene quickly and take them into your care. Saving orphaned neonatal kittens requires specialized knowledge and supplies, so check out Chapter Four to learn how to act as a surrogate caregiver to unweaned kittens who have been separated from their mothers. If a mother is present, the very best option is to trap and place the entire family into foster care together. Friendly moms can be cared for in a loving foster home, and once the babies have reached eight weeks of age, the entire family can be spayed or neutered and placed for adoption. If the mother is unfriendly, she can still go into foster careshell just need someone who is willing to care for an unsocialized cat. Feral or undersocialized moms can be kept in a covered kennel with a comfortable hideaway where they can avoid human interaction and nurse their young. As soon as the kittens are weaned, the mother can be spayed and returned to her colony. Its important to recognize that not all situations are the same, and that helping kittens outdoors is a matter of balancing the specific circumstances and the available resources. Use your best judgment, know your local resources, and offer as much support as you are able. KITTENS 5 TO 12 WEEKS OLD At five to twelve weeks of age, kittens are becoming much more mobile and independent. Improved eyesight and coordination allow them to explore their surroundings, and with their sharp baby teeth present, theyre learning to eat on their own and relying less on nursing. During this period of time, kittens are forming their impressions of the world and are adaptive to new surroundings such as a foster home. These characteristics make the five-to-twelve-week range an ideal age to rescue kittens from the outdoors. The earlier you rescue kittens in this age range, the more quickly they will adapt to life indoors. Think about it like learning a new language: if youre introduced to a language at an early age, its easy to pick it up, but as you get older it becomes much more challenging. Thus, six-week-old kittens may adapt to a new routine within hours, but ten-week-olds may take a week or even longer (read about the socialization window on this page). Intervening early during this critical socialization period will allow the kittens to have a smooth transition, to obtain necessary veterinary care, and to prepare for a loving home. Its important to make decisions based on the specific situation and the resources available; there is no one-size-fits-all method to rescuing kittens. For instance, if a kitten is nearing twelve weeks old and unsocialized, and no foster home is available, it may be more suitable to TNR the kitten than to keep her in a shelter setting where she may not receive effective socialization. Use your best judgment to help during each individual situation. KITTENS OVER 12 WEEKS OLD As they approach twelve weeks, kittens are becoming highly independent, resourceful, and more set in their ways. Around this time, the window for socialization is closing. While kittens who are already social toward humans at this age can often be successfully transitioned into a human home, those who have not been exposed to humans will likely be quite averse to the idea of interaction. It becomes exponentially more challenging to socialize kittens for adoption as they age, so if a kitten exhibits feral behaviors and is more than twelve weeks of age, the best outcome will typically be TNR. While some may attempt socialization with feral kittens over twelve weeks of age, I will caution that this strategy can sometimes backfire and result in a kitten who is suited for neither a home nor a colony. Its all too common for an animal shelter or rescuer to take in a feral kitten, fail to appropriately socialize him over a period of many weeks, and then be stuck with a cat whom they can neither safely return to the colony nor place in a home. For this reason, its critically important to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve depending on the specific circumstances. TNR is always a more humane outcome for healthy unsocialized kittens than euthanasia, and with love and colony management these kittens can grow up and become quite successful members of their outdoor communities! There are many different ways to be a cat, and its up to us to help make the best judgment calls about how to meet kittens where they are and help them achieve the best outcome possible. THE PARENT TRAP: REUNITING FELINE FAMILIES When we remove young kittens from the outdoors without getting the mama, we put the kittens health at risk and we fail to address the breeding population. But when we leave the kittens outdoors in their colonies, we put them at risk, too. Even with their mama, neonatal kitten mortality on the street is high, and their fragile bodies can be threatened with exposure to the elements, fleabite anemia, or even predation. Nearly half of all kittens born outdoors die within their first year.7 The best way to ensure that the kittens will be safe and that the cycle will end is to reunite the entire family in foster care. When to wait for mom Kittens are unweaned and will not be able to eat on their own. Kittens look bright-eyed, clean, and alert. Kittens appear healthy and well-fed. Someone is able to monitor and provide help if the mother does not return. When not to wait for mom Kittens are lethargic, unresponsive, or seriously ill. Kittens are filthy or emaciated. Kittens are in immediate danger, such as during a snowstorm or hurricane. Youre certain that the mother has died or is not present. How to determine if mom is present Line a shallow box with a blanket, ensuring that the kitten is still easily visible. If the outside temperature is less than 90 degrees, provide a heat source, such as disposable hand warmers. Place the kitten in a safe area away from direct sunlight, rain, traffic, and other potential hazards. Ensure that she is still within ten feet of where she was discovered. Observe from a reasonable distance. The amount of time you wait is entirely dependent on the situation; I generally suggest waiting no more than three to four hours to determine if the mother returns. Cant wait around? Create a thick ring of flour around the kitten box. If there are paw prints when you return, youll know theres a mom. If you find a mom, make all attempts to trap and reunite her with the kittens. If no mom is found, care for the kittensbut return to the colony to TNR the remaining cats as soon as possible. How to trap mom using kittens Place the babies in a closed carrier lined with a blanket and a heat source, and press it against the back side of your humane box trap. Cover the back of the box trap and the carrier with a blanket or trap cover. This will create the illusion of an entryway for the mother cat to walk into to retrieve her kittens. Set your trap and wait. The mother cat is likely to hear her young and walk into the trap to be with them. Cover the trap completely, then bring the whole family unit to be placed in foster care. Once the kittens are weaned, the mom can be spayed, vaccinated, eartipped, and returned to the colony. Dont forget to TNR the rest of the colony so no more babies are born! Using babies to trap a mama. THE QUEEN OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD There are three newborn baby kittens in a bush in my front yard. Where should I take them? read a comment on my social media. I clicked the profile, saw that she lived in my city, and responded instantly: Please do not take them anywhere! Send me your address and Ill be right there. I grabbed a few supplies, hopped in my car, and headed over to assess the situation. I know this scenario all too well: People find kittens outdoors and, meaning well, remove them without attempting to reunite them with their mothers. The babies are put at risk, and the mothers are left behind to continue procreating. This time, I wanted it to be different. I pulled up to the house and was pointed toward the prickly palmetto bush where the woman had last seen the babies. As I approached, the spiky shrub trembled with low, threatening growls. I ducked down to take a peek, and as I did, a feral cat quickly shot a warning hiss in my direction, lunging toward me like a bolt of lightning. I jolted back, so shocked that I nearly lost my footing! Just as I suspected, there was a mama . . . and she was not pleased. I couldnt help my nervous laughter over the scare shed given me. If her intention was to scare me off, shed done about as good a job as any cat could ever hope to dobut I dont frighten that easily. Knowing that her kittens were being weaned and that shed soon be returning to her kingdom, I set out to ensure that all the remaining cats at the site were sterilized. A friend and I geared up with traps, trap covers, and bait, and headed over to the colony to scoop up as many cats as we possibly could. Ive always greatly enjoyed trapping with friendsit feels like were secret agents on a mission to save lives. We silently wait in the shadows as the cats approach the traps, and suddenlyaha!weve got our guys. Once wed trapped all the cats we could find, we brought them to the clinic for sterilization and returned them to the colony so that they could continue their lives without bringing any further kittens to the cat party. The colony was still missing its queen, but not for long! Mama Bun was spayed, vaccinated, and received her honorary eartip: a sign that in the future, shed never have to experience pregnancy again. The morning of her return, I placed the trap in the cool grass, lifted the sheet, and told her how happy I was for her. She responded by hissing and batting violently at the bars with her claws out, in her typical fashion. I smiled anyway, knowing she was about to be surprised with exactly what she hoped for: an open door to return to her kingdom. Mama Bun leapt from the trap, and my heart overflowed with joy for her. She was finally home. Back at my house, the babies were all eating independently and preparing for adoption. Because they had always been with humans, they were social and friendly (well, except Shish, who was mostly sweet but would let out the occasional tiny hiss, yknow, to let you know she was still her mothers daughter). The kittens cuddled at my side, pounced on plush toys, and played in cardboard boxes just like your everyday house catand when it was time for adoption, youd never have known they were born in a bush to a feral, hissy mother. The woman who had originally called me about the kittens in the bush became so passionate about what had transpired that she actually became inspired to get active in TNR as well. Best of all, she sent me the most precious updates of Bun, who was unrecognizably happy as she rolled in the grass and soaked up the sun. To me, this is the happiest story in the book. Mama Bun, in her fierce feral glory, was able to continue a life of lounging in the sunshine with her colony, her babies were kept safe and healthy until adoption, and the entire extended family was now sterilized, ending the cycle of reproduction. So often my rescue stories end with a cliff-hanger, not knowing where the SPOTLIGHT: RESCUED IS THE BEST BREED With so many kittens dying in shelters and on the streets, we dont need to be creating more of thembut thats exactly what some people are doing through the unfortunate trend of commercial cat breeding. Popular cat culture continues to perpetuate the idea that it is acceptable to breed cats for certain physical qualities, such as coat pattern, folded ears, or even shortened limbs. Many breeds are the result of selecting for genetic defects that are actually damaging to the cats physical well-being, such as Manx and Munchkin cats. The commodification of the cat is deeply troubling to me, as cats are living individuals, not inanimate products to be bought and sold. We should not have the luxury of custom-designing kittens while so many die without homes. When I speak with people who have purchased cats from breeders, its always clear that they do love their cats, but that theres a substantial disconnect between the love they feel for their companions and their comprehension of the consequences of breeding. They may see their purchase as harmless, but they have typically never stood inside a municipal shelter that reverberated with the cries of cats on deaths door through no fault of their own. These cats are literally dying for the home that is instead being filled with a designer cat. When we throw our trash on the ground, it may feel like an innocuous act, but our litter doesnt disappearit floats downstream. Somewhere someone is suffering the consequences of our actions. Somewhere there is an island of garbage accumulating, whether we see it or not. Having spent years trying to clean up the unimaginably monolithic tragedy of overpopulation, I am struck by the fact that the average cat fan might not know that to purchase from a breeder is to add another life to the pile. When it comes to bringing home a cat, we have the option of being part of the solution or part of the problem. We must challenge the notion that certain cats are more worthy than others, and encourage would-be cat guardians to open their homes to a feline in need. SHUTTING DOWN THE KITTEN FACTORY Sterilization is all about decreasing the supply to meet the demand. We must focus on both ends of the equation: decreasing the number of kittens in need, and increasing the resources available for those who do need assistance. It is the complex work of cat advocates to simultaneously shut down the kitten factory and find a safe haven for all our feline inventory! Now that weve talked about the state of the kitten and the significance of kitten-prevention programs, its time to dive into the main course: saving the littlest lives. CHAPTER THREE WHAT TO EXPECT (WHEN YOURE EXPECTING KITTENS) EVERYDAY SUPERHEROES S aving kittens requires community-based solutions in which everyday people like you and me step up and lend a hand. By offering our homes to vulnerable animals, we provide a solution where there would otherwise be none. We are the answer to the cries of the tiny tabby; we swoop in like superheroes and literally save the day! Foster parents are the difference between life and death for the little ones. Ordinary people can transform into extraordinary lifesavers by simply opening their doors and their hearts. Fostering saves lives in a number of ways. We are able to provide a safe haven where kittens will not be exposed to illness; we can provide them with individualized attention that meets their unique needs; we can even be there for their midnight feedings! We can help the weak become strong and the tiny become triumphant. Most important, we can provide them with affection in a home environment, preparing them beautifully for a loving life ahead. With a little bit of know-how and a lot of love, anyone can save lives. SAY YES We are overflowing with kittens who need rescue. Shelters pleas for help during kitten season are constantthere are simply far more kittens in need than there are people willing to provide them with care. Most of us are far removed from the reality that kittens face at the animal shelter. We arent hearing their high-pitched cries or looking into their tiny faces as their eyes scan the room between the bars, aching for a source of comfort. Its easy to be unaware of animal suffering when its occurring behind closed doors, but harder when the animal in need is sitting at your feet. Thats why when the average person finds a kitten outside, they actually do want to intervene and lend a hand. In a 2018 survey I conducted of more than 14,000 current kitten foster parents, an overwhelming 76 percent reported that they first became active in kitten rescue because they found a kitten outsidenot because they signed up to foster at a shelter. Of course, thats how I got started, too: had I not found Coco up in that tree, it never would have occurred to me that these little lives were suffering, and that I could actually do something to prevent that. Looking at her frail body clinging to a branch, I had to decide if I was a person who sees an animal in need and says no, or a person who says yes. By saying yes to my first kitten, I discovered that I have the power to create lifesaving change for countless vulnerable beings just like her. You may not know it yet, but you have what it takes to save lives, too. Kittens need advocates who become aware of their plight and make the decision to be a person who says yes. If you walked outside today and saw an orphaned kitten on your doorstep, would you help her? If youre someone who believes in saying yes, then dont delaykittens are already waiting for a superhero like you. While there are many ways to help save little lives (see this page, Find Your Feline Superpower), fostering is the very best way to directly make an impact in the life of a kitten. In this chapter, Ill walk you through the basics of preparing for kitten fostering. Ill dismantle some of the perceived obstacles, teach you the building blocks of kitten development, and welcome you into the wonderful world of rescue. Youve got this! CROSSING GUARDS With all the bottle-feeding and butt-wiping I do, its reasonable to consider my role in a kittens life a parental one. Foster parents are responsible for the wellbeing of their little ones just like a mother or father, but sometimes I think the term carries a connotation of parental commitment that intimidates and scares away would-be rescuers. The truth is that rather than being like parents, a more fitting comparison would be that kitten rescuers are like crossing guardswe simply provide temporary protection. Like crossing guards, we place ourselves in a dangerous intersection, see that someone is standing in harms way, and volunteer our time to escort them to safety. Once theyve arrived at their destination, we wish them well and return to our post, knowing there are always more who need assistance. Kittens stand at the intersection between vulnerability and viability, and its up to us to be their crossing guards. For them, making it across the roadto adoption ageis a matter of life and death. The pathway can be eight weeks or just eight short days, but either course is perilous without a hand to hold. As beloved as cats and kittens are, we just cant seem to find enough people who are willing to volunteer their time escorting kittens to the safety of the sidewalkto help bridge the gap between homeless and home. People often wish they could lend a hand, but believe that they cant due to some barrier such as not having enough space or time to dedicate to the cause. As someone who has helped many cat-lovers take the leap into fostering, Im happy to report that these obstacles often exist only in our perception, not in reality. Just about anyone can save kittens, and we certainly need as many people as we can get! You dont have to be a stay-at-home parent or a millionaire to help out. On the contrary, all you need are a little knowledge, a bit of time, and a whole lot of love. MAKING TIME If youve heard the saying they grow up so fast to describe human babies, just wait until you meet a newborn kitten. Kittens develop at lightning speed, and they only require specialized care for a few weeks before theyre prepared for a forever home. Over the course of just eight weeks, the kitten transforms from a defenseless jelly bean into an independent little lion cub! Fostering is therefore a short-term commitment with a lifelong impact. The length of the commitment depends entirely on how far from adoption age the kittens are when they arrive in your care. While kittens may be unadoptable as newborns, finding forever homes can be a piece of cake once they reach eight weeks. This means youll be in a great position to plan your time commitment from the start. Subtract the kittens age from two months, and youll have an estimated length of commitment, which will help you to plan accordingly! Keep in mind that kittens have different needs at different stages of development, so you can choose which age range works best with your lifestyle and availability. For instance, a six-day-old kitten requires overnight feedings, but by six weeks old, most kittens are weaned and able to be left alone during working hours and overnight. If you dont have time to help newborns, you may still be able to help weaned kittens, feral kittens, or moms with babies! Find the population that works with your schedule and needs. Finally, remember that you dont have to do it all alone. Having friends who can occasionally kitten-sit is a helpful way to ensure you can fulfill the time commitment of fostering. Kitten-sitters and co-parents allow you to make it to your business meeting, attend that out-of-state wedding, or just take a weekend off. Talk to your friends, family, and other community members about the possibility of collaborative kitten care, and youll find that there are many people who will jump at the opportunity to kitten-sit! Im a busy bee, so no one knows better than I do what its like to balance the time commitment of animal care with the rest of lifes responsibilities. When I know Ill be home for several weeks, I take on more complicated cases or younger kittens, but if I know Ive got a hectic schedule or travel planned, Ill take on older kittens who require less of a commitment and can be placed for adoption more quickly. Your life doesnt have to stop in order for theirs to continueits all about finding the balance that works for you. At the end of the day, we only have time to do what we make time to do. When just a few minutes every few hours can save a life, its up to us to make those minutes count. If we have time to scroll through social media or take a coffee break, we can absolutely find a moment to feed a hungry animalits all about how we prioritize. The clock is ticking for kittens, and by giving them a little bit of our time, we can stop their time from running out. PURRMANENT RESIDENTS Many people are afraid to get involved with rescue work because they already have animals at home, but this doesnt have to stop you from saving lives. Believe it or not, my cats, Coco and Eloise, are not fans of kittens at all! They prefer to be the queens of the castle (and rightfully so), so they dont take too kindly to newcomers. Regardless, Ive been able to raise hundreds of kittens without my grumpy girls having to bat an eyelash. Whether you have a pack of pups or a crew of cats, you can still safely foster kittens without causing stress to your animal family. Here are some tips for managing your permanent residents while fostering: Keep them separate. The easiest way to keep the peace in your home is to keep your foster kittens separate from your personal pets. A room with a door that can close is your best bet, but if you dont have a spare room, you can always keep kittens in an enclosed playpen on the floor or table. Use different supplies. Dont allow your pets to share water dishes, litter boxes, blanketsanything the kitten has had contact withuntil you know the kitten is healthy. Certain parasites and viruses can travel via feces and saliva, so its best to keep separate supplies when first introducing a kitten into your home. Know your pet. As a pet parent, youll know your furry friends personality better than anyone. When presented with a new animal, your cat or dog may be anything from interested to aggressive to avoidant. The important thing is to keep a barrier between the animals that is appropriate given the circumstances, and not to put either party in harms way. Give your cats vertical space. Introducing some new wall perches, cat trees, and platforms can help your cats expand their space, allowing them to feel less cramped and giving them more confidence. Its great to do this for your cats anytime, but especially when bringing foster kittens into your home. Give your kittens a boost. If youve got a dog in the house, keeping the kittens up on a high table or counter may be the safest way to keep them out of reach of the pup. Practice good preventative care. Cats should be kept up-to-date on the FVRCP vaccine to protect them against common viruses. Double-check with your vet to make sure your personal pets vaccines are up-to-date before allowing any contact with foster kittens. THERES ALWAYS ROOM FOR KITTENS! If youre concerned that you dont have enough space for kittens, fret not! Kittens are very small and dont need much space. Swaddle a neonatal kitten in a baby blanket, and hell be about the size of a cannoli. If youve got room for a cannoli in your home . . . youve got room for a kitten! Whether you live in a five-bedroom house or a studio apartment, you can save kittens lives. Heres what you need to know about preparing your home for your foster babies. PREPARING YOUR SPACE FOR KITTENS 0 TO 3 WEEKS OLD Kittens under three weeks old are not big explorers. In fact, they spend most of the day asleep when they arent eating! During the first weeks of life, the most important thing is that they are safe and contained as they hibernate through their most vulnerable developmental stage. At this age, kittens should be kept in a top-opening nesting box that can be easily sanitized or disposed of, such as a plastic tub, a lidless aquarium, or a cardboard carrier that is at least twelve inches tall. A top-opening carrier allows you to easily see and access the kittens, and because the neonates are so small, they will not be able to jump over and out. Avoid front-opening carriers, as the metal grates can be hazardous for tiny limbs. Inside their carrier, youll want: A heat source. Place your heat source at one end of the kittens space, leaving ample room for them to choose whether they want to use the heat source or move away from it. A soft baby blanket. Cover the heated and nonheated areas. Youll want to get several blankets and change them out as needed, typically every few days or any time they are dirty. Make sure that the blanket is flat enough that they are not smothered and can breathe easily. A stuffed animal. I highly recommend providing a soft teddy bear for the kitten to cuddle, which can provide a wonderful source of comfort, especially for solo kittens. No litter box is needed for neonates under three weeks old, as you will need to stimulate them to pee and poo. A lidless plastic tote is just enough space for a neonatal kitten. PREPARING YOUR SPACE FOR KITTENS OVER 3 WEEKS OLD By three weeks old, kittens are becoming coordinated enough to start slowly exploring their surroundings. This also means that theyll be curious about popping over the top of their top-opening carrier. This is a great time to expand their world and upgrade them to a covered playpen! Playpens are an affordable way to keep kittens safely contained while allowing them to navigate their environment. Even if your space is limited, you can foster kittens all the way to adoption age inside the safety of a playpen. Inside their playpen, youll want: A heat source. The heat source is no longer necessary after four weeks old if the kitten is healthy and the ambient room temperature is at least 70 degrees. Soft baby blankets and a stuffed animal. Kittens of all ages appreciate a soft place to snuggle. A shallow litter box. At three weeks, kittens will start exploring the litter box. Use a nonclumping litter with a very shallow box so that they can get in and out easily. A cardboard tray from a case of wet food makes an excellent disposable training box! Toys. Its important to start introducing play as kittens become more coordinated, and toys will help bring out their natural predatory instincts, keeping them happy, healthy, and enriched. Choose jingly balls, soft mice, and other kitten-safe toys (see this page to learn about kitten-safe toys). A hideaway. Kittens love having a comfy place to get away from it all, such as a small plush tent! KITTEN-PROOFING YOUR HOME If you plan to have kittens loose in a room, or if youll be integrating kittens into your whole home, be sure the space is kitten-proofed. Kittens, by nature, are curious, impulsive, pint-sized mischief-makers, which means if there is any potential to get into trouble, they will. Ill never forget the day I came back into my office after a meeting and found one of my kittens screaming from the bottom of my recycling bin after climbing inside! Ive seen kittens get into everything from the trash can to the toilet, which has taught me that you always want to consider your space carefully before letting the little guys loose. Here are some tips for kitten-proofing your home: Avoid long, dangling strings on blinds or curtains, which can easily wrap around a leg or neck. Close up any holes in the wall such as areas behind appliances. Dont leave dresser drawers open. Check your dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, and other household appliances for kittens before closing them. Keep your bathroom curtain on the inside of the bath so the kitten cannot climb up and fall into the bathtub. Keep curtains away from the floor to deter kittens from climbing them. Be mindful of all electric cables and cords, including laptop and phone cords. Many common houseplants, including azaleas, English ivy, and lilies, are toxic to cats. Make sure to keep toxic plants out of reach of curious (and climbing) kittens. Avoid leaving trash cans open or with bags draped down the side, which kittens can use to climb up and into the can. Keep kittens away from couches with open bottoms, where they may get stuck. Furniture with accessible springs, like pull-out couches, or other sharp infrastructure can be dangerous or even lethal to tiny kittens. Dont leave open beverages, especially glasses of water, unattended. Curious kittens will stick their heads and paws into glasses, drink from your water, and then knock/head-butt/swipe the glass off the table! CUTEST COWORKER EVER Young, unweaned kittens need care throughout the day, so when I rescued my first neonate, I was petrified that my employer wouldnt accept his presence. Too scared to ask permission, I snuck him into work every day in my scarf, slipping out of the room every few hours like a covert operative to sneakily bottle-feed in a bathroom stall. Once he got a bit older I decided it was time to fess up, and when I did, I was astonished to find out that it wasnt the end of the world after all! Young kittens fit discreetly in a small carrier and spend most of the day silently sleeping, and I found that my employer was very understanding. Ever since then, Ive never had an issue bringing a kitten with me to work once Ive had a simple conversation. Talk to your employer about fostering neonates in the officeyoull be surprised to find that once they understand the request, they may say yes. Depending on their age, kittens can sleep up to twenty-two hours a day, so their presence beneath your desk will barely be noticeable. Assure your supervisor that the kittens will be nonintrusive, and suggest a short test run. Apart from being unbearably cute, kittens cause minimal distraction and can even go completely unnoticed. If your office has a firm no-pet policy, theres always the option of co-parenting with a friend or a loved one! If you cant make it work, you can always rescue weaned kittens or moms and babies, who dont need supervision at all hours. WHEN YOUR PLUS-ONE IS A KITTEN I used to worry that Id cause an inconvenience by bringing little ones with me to gatherings and social events. Over the years, Ive brought kittens to dinner parties, potlucks, picnics, business meetings, caf?s, movie nights, bowl-a-thons, and even a number of weddings. What Ive learned is that no one resents the presence of kittens, and moreover, everyone appreciates a compassionate act. Ive also found that its astonishingly easy to bring kittens along without strangers noticingprobably because no one expects to see a kitten! This means that most of the time, those who dont need to know dont have to, and those who need to know dont mind. I no longer worry about whether I can incorporate rescue work into my day-to-day life; instead I figure out how to do what needs to get done. The first priority should always be the kittens well-being. Kittens should not be brought into any environment where they will be exposed to loud noises or extreme temperatures, and should not be left unsupervised in unfamiliar places. The care schedule should remain constant, and the kitten should be kept in a warm, comfortable carrier. Physical contact with humans aside from the caregiver should be limited for a neonate. If others are to touch the kitten, hand washing should be required before contact. The second priority is discretion. If Im going somewhere it isnt common to bring a cat, I prefer to use a well-ventilated puppy purse that looks like a handbag. Before bringing a kitten as a plus-one, I try to determine if I will have access to a refrigerator for my supplies, and if there will be a discreet place to feed. This sometimes means feeding in a bathroom at a wedding reception, or excusing myself to a guest room at a friends holiday party. It can feel a little sneaky and silly, but I cant even begin to count the times Ive shaken hands with a fellow partygoer who had no idea that they were just inches away from a few napping babies in my bag. When little lives are depending on you, you do what it takes to keep them safe by your side. A MEOWY CHRISTMAS ROAD TRIP I know, I knowit isnt polite to invite guests to someone elses holiday party. But when I rescued a litter of bottle babies just two weeks before Christmas, I knew Id have to ask Andrew if his family would welcome five more to their celebration. Up in the snowy mountains of northern Pennsylvania, his family has a beautiful cabin where they celebrate the holidays, and this would be my first year joining them. They all knew I was a kitten rescuer, but nothing makes an impression quite like showing up on Christmas Eve with gifts in one arm and a kennel full of purring orphans in the other. When it comes to packing for myself, Im not highmaintenance. But preparing the five three-and-a-halfweek-old kittens we called the spicy kittens (named after hot sauces: Cholula, Frank, Texas Pete, Valentina, and Harissa) for a snowy road trip turned me into a maniac. I tried to anticipate everything those lil ones might need and packed piles of blankets, extra bottles, emergency medical supplies, and enough formula to fill a swimming poolyou know . . . just in case. Shivering in the cold, we started the engine, defrosted the windshield, and loaded the car with gifts, one small weekend bag, and no fewer than six bags of kitten supplies. To keep the kittens extra cozy, I microwaved two heating disks and filled their large mesh dog kennel with extra plush blankets. Our drive up took about five hours, meaning we needed to make a pit stop to feed five hungry neonates. We pulled into a rest stop, where I ordered two hot chocolates for us and one hot water for the babies. Parked in the lot, I stirred a combination of powdered formula, bottled water, and hot water to make the kittens a perfectly warm midday meal. Afterward, Cholula nuzzled into my scarf, where she stayed and slept for the remainder of the trip. Bundled up together, we made quite the cozy pair. We finally made it to the cabin and had a beautiful Christmas. The five babies were the highlight of the visit for everyone. Curled up in their playpen, they were perfectly portable, and there was plenty of time to sneak in feedings between our own hearty meals. Andrews family was overjoyed to cuddle with the kittens, and many of them had never met a neonate. It was a win-win for everyone: the babies benefited from socializing with many different people, and we all had the joyous opportunity to play with a litter of cuddly, happy kittens on Christmas morning. Watching the snow fall outside, I felt grateful to be warm in my comfy holiday pajamasand grateful that I could keep my little ones safe and warm, too. IF I WON THE LOTTERY . . . If I ever win the lottery and become a millionaire, Ill spend all my money on saving animals! is a phrase I hear all too often. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I probably would be a millionaire! While its a thoughtful sentiment, the fact is that you dont have to have a lot of money to save lives. Animal shelters and rescue organizations arent just kitten suppliers; theyre also full-service providers for foster parents. When you work with a local organization, they will provide you with the veterinary services you need, from vaccines to sterilization. Many groups will even provide supplies such as blankets, food, and litter, meaning all you have to do is provide the time, space, and love. Think of yourself as an extension of the shelter; the reason they fundraise is to be able to save lives, whether in their kennels or in your home. They sponsor your ability to have a revolving door of kittenshow awesome is that? It doesnt have to cost you money to volunteer your support. Of course, some programs have limited funding, and may not be able to provide you with every supply you need. Fret notthere are lots of creative ways to stock your home with kitten-care tools. Start by tapping into the existing rescue community and seeing if anyone has extra supplies. Rescuers are generous, and many of us have extra bedding, playpens, or even feeding supplies were happy to share. For new supplies, online wish lists and gift registries are a great way to ask your friends, family, and coworkers to give you a hand. You can even throw yourself a kitten shower, which is like a baby shower for felines! You dont have to do this alone, so dont be afraid to ask for support. Trust me, when your friends find out that youre saving fluffy little lives, they will want to help out! Who doesnt want to come to a party for baby cats? KITTEN SHOPPING SPREE! Time to stock up on supplies! Most of my rescue gear is purchased from either a pet supply shop or, if you can believe it, the baby aisle. Diaper bags arent just for human parentstheyre for kitten rescuers, too! Here are some of the common supplies you may want when preparing to save lives: Keep Em Fed Kitten formula Kitten bottle Smoothie shaker or mini-whisk (for eliminating clumps) 3 cc or 5 cc syringes (for syringe-feeding neonates) Wet canned kitten p?t? Shallow food dishes Keep Em Clean Tissues (for potty time) Unscented baby wipes (for easy cleanup) A shallow litter box Nonclumping, unscented litter Unscented baby soap or dish soap (for bathtime) Hand sanitizer (for yourself) Disinfectant solution Keep Em Healthy Small digital food scale Flea comb Claw trimmer Feline probiotics Unflavored electrolyte replacer (for dehydrated kittens) Dextrose 50% or corn syrup (for combatting low blood sugar) 1 cc syringes (for administering medications) Keep Em Cozy Soft baby blankets Heat source (such as a microwavable heat disk) Stuffed animal (with internal heartbeat for extra comfort!) Covered playpen Portable carrier Comfy beds and hideaways READY, SET, RESCUE! Now that youre ready to rescue, its time to get yourself set up to accept kittens. Whether you live in rural Nebraska or downtown Los Angeles, I promise you, kittens need your help. Heres where you can find them. Hop on a search engine and type in your city or county plus animal shelter. Look for information on their website about fostering or volunteering, or give them a call and talk to someone on the phone. If your local shelter doesnt seem to have a website, call your local government and find out who provides animal control services for your area. Some less-populated areas may not have an animal shelter, or may just have a small impoundment facility. While they may not have a foster program, they may let you rescue animals and find them homes, or work with a local rescue group to save animals impounded in your community. Do a search online for the name of your city or county plus animal rescue. You may find that there are several rescue groups working with kittens in your community, so take a look at each of them and see which might be the best fit for you. Find their contact information and let them know youre interested in volunteering. Consider looking up your local TNR groups, too. Groups that conduct trapneuter-return are regularly in need of help with orphans and feral kittens, and theyll be glad to hear from you. Once youve found the organization youre going to work with, theyll give you guidance about their volunteer orientation process. Remember that just because you get signed up to help doesnt mean you have to say yes to every opportunityit just means youll be in the loop so you have the option of lending a hand when its the right time for you. Getting your foot in the rescue door is your first step into the wonderful world of saving lives. Welcome to the community! ACT YOUR AGE! Once youve rescued a kitten, one of the first things to do is to determine the babys age. Its important to know how to accurately determine the age of a kitten so that you can discern whether she is healthy, what care she may need, and what to expect developmentally. Because each kitten will vary in health and size, physical traits such as weight or appearance are not always a precise indicator of age, so youll want to examine multiple developmental traits, such as the presence of teeth, in order to precisely determine the kittens age. For instance, Ive rescued many kittens who were the weight of a younger kitten but at the development stage of an older kittenindicating emaciation. Knowing how to accurately age a kitten will be greatly helpful in developing your game plan for her care. Here are the important developmental and behavioral milestones of a kitten! NEWBORN: THE SLEEPY WEEK Newborn kittens have their eyes closed and their ears folded. They have no teeth, and their gums, nose, and paws may appear bright pink in color. They do not yet have a gag reflex or the ability to thermoregulate. The umbilical cord is attached, and will fall off on its own around four to five days of age (never attempt to remove it manually, as this can cause trauma to the area, which can result in an umbilical hernia or a bacterial infection). Claws are nonretractable. BEHAVIORAL DEVELOPMENT: Newborns will sleep for the majority of the day. They cannot see, hear, or defend themselves, but they can smell, crawl, and seek warmth and comfort. Starting at two days old, kittens can purr and hiss in response to touch or smell. A healthy newborn will writhe and meow if handled. AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: 95 to 97 degrees at birth. Its critical to provide a gentle heat source, like a heating disk or heating pad, to keep the kitten warm and stable. The kittens environment should be kept around 90 degrees during this first week. AVERAGE WEIGHT: 80 to 150 grams (premature kittens may weigh less). CARE INFORMATION: Newborn kittens belong with their mother full-time, as she will provide them with food, cleaning, warmth, and bathroom support. During the first day, a nursing mother may pass immunity to her kitten through colostrum in her milk, which will help the kitten fight illness. Kittens who dont receive the colostrum will be immunocompromised and more vulnerable to disease and infection. If no mother is present, they must be fed kitten formula with a bottle or syringe every two hours (see this page), stimulated to go to the bathroom (see this page), and kept at an appropriate temperature. ONE WEEK: THE SQUIRMY WEEK One-week-old kittens have their eyes closed, but no umbilical cord. They still have no teeth, and claws remain nonretractable. Around seven days, the kittens ear canals will gradually open, and their ears will slightly unfold. Between eight to twelve days, the eyes will slowly begin to open, which can occur over the course of several days. One eye may open more quickly than the other; its important to let the kittens eyes open at their own pace. All kittens will be born with blue eyes, which will transition to an adult eye color with age. Although their eyes are opening, their vision will be poor. BEHAVIORAL DEVELOPMENT: One-week-old kittens, though larger than newborns, are still mostly uncoordinated and sleep for the majority of the day. These kittens may begin to respond to sounds as their ear canals open. At this age they should be able to hold their heads up, move by wiggling their limbs, and be active and vocal if handled. AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: 97 to 98 degrees. The kitten is still unable to thermoregulate, and its critical to provide a gentle heat source to keep the kitten warm and stable. The kittens environment should be kept around 88 degrees at this time. AVERAGE WEIGHT: 150 to 250 grams. By one week of age, the kitten should have roughly doubled her birth weight. CARE INFORMATION: One-week-old kittens should be nursed by their mother. Without a mother, they must be fed kitten formula from a bottle every two to three hours, stimulated to go to the bathroom, and kept at an appropriate temperature. TWO WEEKS: THE BRIGHT-EYED WEEK At two weeks of age, the kittens eyes are fully open and baby blue, with enlarged pupils. The kittens vision will be poor, and she wont be able to see very far. The ear canals will be open and the ears will be small and rounded, like a baby bear cubs. The hearing will be improving, and the kitten may startle awake at the sound of your voice. If you open the kittens mouth, you will find that there are still no teeth. Claws remain nonretractable. BEHAVIORAL DEVELOPMENT: Two-week-old kittens slowly become more coordinated and start to attempt their first steps. They will be wobbly on their feet and may fall over while attempting first steps, which is normal. Kittens may exhibit some curiosity about the world around them, but arent interested in playing and still spend the majority of their time sleeping. AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: 98 to 99 degrees. Two-week-old kittens still cant regulate their body temperature, and as during the previous weeks, it is critical to provide a gentle heat source to keep the kitten warm and stable. The kittens environment should be kept around 85 degrees. AVERAGE WEIGHT: 250 to 350 grams. CARE INFORMATION: Two-week-old kittens should be nursed by their mother; orphans must be fed kitten formula from a bottle every three to four hours, stimulated to go to the bathroom, and kept at an appropriate temperature. Kittens may begin dewormer at this age (see this page for information about deworming). THREE WEEKS: THE CURIOUS WEEK At three weeks of age, kittens have blue eyes and small ears that begin to unfold and point upward, like those of a miniature cat. The kittens vision and hearing slowly improve, and the tiny teeth at the front of the mouth, called the incisors, begin to emerge through the gums. At this age, kittens slowly begin retracting their claws. BEHAVIORAL DEVELOPMENT: Three-week-old kittens will be walking, exploring their surroundings, and even beginning to eliminate independently. They may become curious about toys as their visual orienting improves, though they are not yet able to run or chase after moving objects. They will sleep frequently and may begin some small self-grooming behaviors. During this week, coordination improves rapidly. AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: 99 to 100 degrees. Three-week-old kittens begin to regulate their body temperature but still require a heat source. They will gradually become more active and may stray from the heat source when not sleeping. The kittens environment should be around 80 degrees. AVERAGE WEIGHT: 350 to 450 grams. CARE INFORMATION: Three-week-old kittens who are without a mother must be fed kitten formula from a bottle every four to five hours. At this age, kittens will be transitioning from being stimulated to go to the bathroom to learning how to use a litter box (see this page for information about litter training). FOUR WEEKS: THE RESPONSIVE WEEK At four weeks old, a kittens vision and hearing improve rapidly. The kittens canines, the long teeth next to the incisors, start to emerge through the gums, and claws become retractable at this age. BEHAVIORAL DEVELOPMENT: Four-week-old kittens begin confidently exploring their surroundings and develop more coordination, allowing them to walk, run, and even start to play. With their improved senses, they are notably more responsive, making frequent eye contact with caregivers and reacting to sights and sounds in their environment. As they experience new stimuli, they may exhibit defensive behaviors such as arching their backs. Their grooming skills may still be limited but are improving. Four-week-old kittens will begin engaging in social behaviors with littermates, and can learn tasks through visual cues. AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: 99 to 101 degrees. Continue providing a heat source, although the kitten will use it only when resting. The kittens environment should stay comfortably warm, never colder than 70 to 75 degrees. AVERAGE WEIGHT: 450 to 550 grams. CARE INFORMATION: Motherless four-week-old kittens should be bottle-fed every five hours, including overnight. Although they may show curiosity about solid foods, kittens this age will primarily nurse for sustenance. They will generally be using the litter box on their own, and can begin to be introduced to toys. FIVE WEEKS: THE WEANING WEEK At five weeks of age, kittens premolars will start to emerge on the sides of the mouth. Their eyes are blue, ears will be growing and pointed, and claws are retractable. BEHAVIORAL DEVELOPMENT: Five-week-old kittens run and play confidently. Their social skills develop, and they begin to interact more with humans and other animals. Their grooming skills improve, and by this age, they will have perfected their use of the litter box. At this age kittens are honing their hunting skills and will be practicing taking down prey (toys). AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: 100 to 101 degrees. A heating source is no longer required as long as the environment is a comfortable temperature of 70 to 75 degrees. AVERAGE WEIGHT: 550 to 650 grams. CARE INFORMATION: Five-week-old kittens, if healthy, may begin the weaning process. Kittens should receive ample wet kitten food every five to six hours, in addition to access to their mothers milk or, if orphaned, a bottle. If weaned, food and water should be provided at all times. Always provide supplemental bottlefeeding as needed to ensure that the kitten is maintaining a healthy weight and body condition during weaning. Provide a shallow litter box at all times. SIX WEEKS: THE SOCIALIZATION WEEK At six weeks of age, a kittens deciduous teeth will be fully descended. The eyes are still blue, and vision and hearing are fully developed. BEHAVIORAL DEVELOPMENT: Six-week-old kittens socialize confidently with peers, play-fighting, pouncing, hiding, and defending themselves against threatening stimuli. They are curious about their surroundings and eager to explore. At this age they are perfecting their grooming skills, and becoming coordinated enough to jump off furniture and land on their feet. AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: 100 to 101 degrees. A heating source is no longer required as long as the environment is a comfortable temperature of 70 to 75 degrees. AVERAGE WEIGHT: 650 to 750 grams. CARE INFORMATION: Kittens should receive ample wet kitten food if weaned. Provide supplemental feeding if needed to ensure that the kitten is maintaining a healthy weight and body condition. The kitten should have access to water, food, and a shallow litter box at all times. At six weeks, kittens should receive their first FVRCP vaccine to protect them against viruses (see this page for more about vaccination schedules). SEVEN WEEKS: THE ENERGETIC WEEK PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT: All baby teeth are present at seven weeks of age. At this age, the kittens eyes change from baby blue to their adult eye color. (Kittens with green, gold, or copper eyes are likely seven weeks or older.) Male kittens testicles may begin to descend around seven weeks. BEHAVIORAL DEVELOPMENT: Seven-week-old kittens experience a spike in energy. They sleep less and spend more time playing, running, climbing cat trees, and confidently jumping off furniture. Their sleep pattern becomes much more adult-like, and their hunting skills are mature. AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: 100 to 101 degrees. A heating source is no longer required as long as the environment is a comfortable temperature of 70 to 75 degrees. AVERAGE WEIGHT: 750 to 850 grams. CARE INFORMATION: Kittens should receive ample wet kitten food, and may have dry kitten food as a supplement. Provide access to water, food, and a shallow litter box at all times. EIGHT WEEKS: THE MINI-CAT WEEK PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT: All baby teeth are present at eight weeks of age. The eyes will have completely transitioned to their adult color of green, gold, copper, or blue. The ears will be proportional to the kittens body. BEHAVIORAL DEVELOPMENT: Eight-week-old kittens are energetic and independent. Their agility and coordination are nearly fully developed. They will be highly interested in social play with littermates. AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: 100 to 101 degrees. A heating source is no longer required as long as the environment is a comfortable temperature of 70 to 75 degrees. AVERAGE WEIGHT: 850 to 950 grams. CARE INFORMATION: Kittens should receive wet kitten food three to four times per day, and may have access to dry kitten food as a supplement. Provide access to water and a shallow litter box at all times. If two weeks have passed since their first FVRCP vaccine, kittens may receive a booster at this time. At this age, if at least two pounds and healthy, they may be spayed/neutered, FIV/FeLVtested, microchipped, and adopted into loving forever homes. BEHAVIOR AND BIOLOGY One of the great joys of raising young kittens is watching their behavioral and physical development during their first weeks of life. You might not realize it yet, but at each stage of growth, biology dictates behavior! If youre wondering why kittens develop at the rate they do, lets dive a little deeper into the development of each body part, and discuss how the changing body influences the kittens to engage with the world around them in new and exciting ways. THE TRUTH IS IN THE TOOTH Kittens are born toothless, with nothing but a cute lil set of pink gums for the first three weeks of life. After this period the kittens baby teeth, also called deciduous teeth, will start to descend in sets: first the incisors at three weeks, then the canines at four weeks, and finally the premolars at five weeks. By six weeks of age, kittens will have a set of twenty-six baby teeth. While it can be challenging to tell a kittens age based on her weight or appearance, tooth development is a more reliable way to make a determination. Thats why when it comes to aging kittens, I always recommend peeking inside the mouth . . . because the truth is in the tooth! Kittens teeth each serve specific purposes, and I find it fascinating that their behavioral development so closely echoes their baby-tooth development. For instance, the adorably tiny incisors at the front of the mouth are totally useless for hunting, but theyre great for groomingand around three weeks of age is when I start to notice self-cleaning behaviors. Canines arent great for shredding meat, but theyre perfect for hunting, and four weeks is right around the time that I see kittens start to practice predation. Premolars act as shears that are perfect for chewing on meat, and they tend to come in right around the time that meat becomes both appetizing and healthy for kittens to consumeat five weeks of age. The teeth are therefore a reflection of the kittens preparedness for the world. Between three and a half and seven months of age, the kittens adult teeth will begin to push against the twenty-six deciduous teeth, causing them to absorb their roots and pushing the crowns of the teeth from the mouth. The baby teeth are replaced by a full set of thirty permanent teeth. As the baby teeth fall out, kittens will typically swallow them, or you may even find a tooth that has fallen out in bedding. During this time, its normal to see things like two canine teeth right next to one another for a period of about a weekso dont panic if your kitten temporarily resembles a fluffy shark! However, if two teeth occupy the same space for more than a week, youll want to make an appointment with a veterinarian to discuss the retained tooth and potentially have it extracted. 1. Gums 2. Incisors 3. Canines 4. Premolars Age Tooth Development 02 weeksNo visible teeth 23 weeksIncisors beginning to emerge, forming tiny bumpy ridges at the front of the gums 3 weeksIncisors present 4 weeksIncisors and canines present 514 weeksDeciduous incisors, canines, and premolars present 1416 weeksTwelve adult incisors emerge, six on the top and six on the bottom, beginning with the center set 1620 weeksAdult incisors present; adult canines emerging 2024 weeksAdult incisors and canines present; adult premolars emerging 2428 weeksAdult incisors, canines, and premolars present; molars emerging 28 weeks (7 months)Full set of permanent teeth present THE EYE OF THE TINY TIGER Born with their eyelids sealed shut, kittens are blind throughout the first week of life. At between eight and twelve days of life, the eyelids will slowly separate, giving kittens their first peek into a blurry world. This doesnt happen all at once instead, the eyes tend to slowly peel open over the course of several hours or days, starting at the tear ducts and opening outward. They may look a little silly during this process, like their globes are microscopic or like theyre winking at you, but soon enough their eyes will be fully visible . . . and absolutely adorable! Just because their eyes are open doesnt mean their ocular development is completein fact, its only just beginning! During the first seven weeks of life the kittens eyes will continue to develop, both in function and in appearance. Youll notice that young kittens dont have particularly good eyesight, and will not respond to visual stimuli during the first weeks of life. This is due in part to corneal edema that wanes over the first weeks of life, and in part due to the immaturity of the retina, which makes it a challenge for them to see clearly. Neonatal kittens tend to have large pupils, resulting in eyes that look cartoonishly dilated and innocent, with hardly visible irises. Around four weeks of age youll notice the eyes beginning to change. As the retina matures, the pupillary light reflex begins to improve, allowing the pupil to constrict relative to the brightness of the room. At this point youll be able to see more of the blue-colored iris as the pupil takes on the iconic vertical slit of the feline eye. I adore this age because its when kittens first start to visually connect with metheyll make direct eye contact, visually follow my movements, and even react to toys and objects in their environment. I cant help but smile when I realize that for the first time, Im not just looking at the baby; the baby is also looking back at me! From there, things only get better. By five weeks of age, kittens are able to learn tasks through visual cues, such as watching their playmates play, eat, or groom. As their vision improves, so does their ability to navigate the world around them, and they begin understanding how to avoid obstacles . . . and how to jump, climb, and squeeze their way around and over objects in order to get to their desired destination. Coinciding serendipitously with the maturation of their motor skills, vision reaches adult standards around six weeks of age, at which point the kitten engages with the surrounding environment much like a miniature cat. Let the fun begin! SPOTLIGHT: BABY BLUES All kittens are born with baby blue eyes, a sweet feature that surprises many first-time caregivers. This coloration is not due to actual pigmentation, but rather a lack thereof. What we are seeing when we see a kittens baby blues is actually refracted light and an immature iris. As the eyes mature, melanin production increases and we begin to see specks of the true adult eye color. By seven weeks of age, the kittens eyes will have transitioned to a beautiful hue of green, gold, copper, or, in some cases, a permanent shade of blue. LISTEN UP, LITTLE ONE! Its not that newborn kittens dont want to listen to you telling them how adorable they areits just that they cant actually hear you! Like the eyes, the ears are not fully mature when a kitten is born. The external ear canal stays closed throughout the first week of life, and begins to open up between one and two weeks of age. This protects the ears from dirt and residue, allows the auditory system to safely develop, and prevents hearing damage from changes in pressure. While the ear canal is open at two weeks, their hearing continues to improve over the next several weeks. As the inner ear develops, so does its outer shapehelping the kittens silhouette blossom from a rounded lil bear cub to a pointy-eared micro-cat. THE NOSE KNOWS Kittens may be deaf and blind at birth, but their sense of smell is already intact. Until the eyes and ears are open, kittens navigate their world primarily through tactile, thermal, and olfactory senseswith the nose playing a major role in their ability to locate their mother (or bottle). By three weeks of age, the olfactory system is completely developed, allowing them to take in information through the nose. Kittens will display a natural rooting reflex wherein they press the nose and mouth toward the scent or feel of their food source, such as the mothers belly or the orphan caregivers palm. When all other senses leave the kitten in the dark, the nose always knows! CLAWS OUT Ouch! If youve noticed that kittens are pricklier than a cactus, thats because their claws are nonretractable for the first month of life! This aids in kneading the mother to stimulate milk production, and may be useful for reflexes such as clinging. Their small white nails are visually present at all times until about four weeks of age, at which point kittens gain the physical ability to retract the claws into the paw. Claws are an essential part of the feline body and are necessary for stretching, balancing, climbing, and expressing other natural behaviors, so please never declaw! Declawing is the cruel mutilation of an essential body part. Instead, train kittens to engage in appropriate clawing behaviors and to get used to having their claws trimmed. Around the time that claws are able to retract at four weeks, you can start gently clipping the pointy white tips of the claws to YOUVE GOT THIS! Preparing for kittens might feel overwhelming, but dont worryyou can do this! Sometimes the best way to get comfortable with kitten rescue is to work backward, starting with older kittens and working your way toward saving the younger and more delicate babies. In the next two chapters, Ill tell you what you need to know about working with kittens in the first and second months of life, from the tiniest neonate to the big kids who are getting ready for adoption day. Soon enough, youll be comfortable helping kittens of all different ages! CHAPTER FOUR FIGHT FOR THE LITTLE GUYS NEONATAL KITTENS T heyre miniature, theyre squirmy, and theyre the most fragile of them all: neonatal kittens are undeniably my favorite population to work with, partly because I love a challenge and partly because I love a transformation. To hold an entire life in your palm, knowing that life is entirely dependent on you for survival, is a call to action. When we answer the call, we witness a profound metamorphosis that changes not only the kittens lives but also our own. When they look up at us with bright eyes and ears wiggling, every drop we feed is a chance for them to livenot just for that moment, but for an entire lifetime. Like a gardener who sows a seed and tends it with care, we can watch every step of the way as they bloom. We discover that we are capable of incredible things, and our hard work is rewarded with the kittens vitality, affection, and downright cuteness. MY FIRST NEONATE I wasnt prepared for the first newborn kitten I raised. On a cold and rainy night in South Philly, my friend Jeanne called to ask for help with a little black kitten shed found in the alley outside her row house. After twelve hours of watching and waiting for a mother cat, it seemed that he was alone for good and would need specialized help. Id rescued a few kittens by then and felt certain Id be able to assist, but the truth is, I had no idea what I was walking into when I headed over that evening. When she opened the door, I gasped. I had never seen a cat so small! I felt a rush of anxiety pour through my body. He was barely the size of my palm and looked like a little black mouse curled in a fetal position. His eyes were closed, his umbilical cord was attached, and his little body felt cold in my hands. To be honest, I didnt think he would survive the night. But the little guy had a strong will to live. We got him through that first night using a syringe and some kitten formula, a heating pad made out of some microwaved dry rice in a sock, and a healthy dose of luck. As the sun rose on my second day with him, so did my hope that I might be able to keep him alive. Jeanne and I scrounged together enough cash to afford an exam with a vet, and while they tried to help, it seemed that even cat specialists didnt have expertise in orphaned kitten care. The learning curve was steep. I relied on information I gathered from the vet, a mishmash of questionable and often contradictory resources I found online, my gut instinct, and a fierce determination to help him through his first weeks of life. Incredibly, he continued to grow and grow, and Jeanne and I lovingly referred to him as Wolfman because of the downy black wisps of kitten fur that radiated around his little face. During his first weeks, Wolfman spent most of his time hidden in my shirt, only waking up so I could secretly bottle-feed him in a bathroom stall at the Bottle-feeding my very first neonate. Lets just say Ive since improved both my bottle-feeding skills and my hairstyle! public school where I worked as a counselor for children with special needs. I became a total helicopter parent, obsessing over every aspect of his well-being, constantly anxious about whether I was doing everything I could for him. When he didnt poop for two days, I took the day off work and canceled my plans until I was sure he was passing stool. When my alarm clock went off for his middle-of-the-night feedings, Id shoot right out of bed, anxious to fill his belly. With all the time he spent curled in my hand, it turned out I was the one wrapped around his little finger! With a little luck and a lot of hard work, he made it to adoption age, and it was time to find him a forever home. My friend Ginny knew she wanted to adopt him, and I couldnt think of a better mom for my little Wolfman. Wed been friends since fifth grade, and she and her mother had always been the biggest cat ladies I knew as a kid. After the adoption, Ginny changed his name to Zeke, and all these years later, he is still living the good life in her Virginia home. YOU MUST BE NEW HERE I was clueless when I saved my first baby, but you dont have to be. The delicate art of neonatal kitten care can be learned through research, mentorship, and personal experience, and youll soon be astonished at your ability to help a budding life begin to bloom! Once you know the basic building blocks of a healthy baby, youll be able to assess each situation and take appropriate action. When youre meeting a kitten who is new to the world, the first step is to assess her condition so you know what course of action to take. It can certainly feel overwhelming when youre saving your first baby and youre not sure whats normal and what isnt. While a veterinarian can (and should) do a more thorough examination than you can, we can immediately learn a lot about a kittens health based on some basic observations. These observations should be made and documented the moment you bring the kitten home, but also throughout the kittens first weeks of life. The following is a list of things to consider when observing the kitten: Temperament should be active and alert when awake. Even a one-week-old kitten with her eyes shut should be responsive when handled. The kitten should be able to lift her head, vocalize, and make age-appropriate movements of her limbs. In cases of extreme lethargy, a vet should be consulted without delay. Temperature should be comfortably warm. Never feed a hypothermic kitten; hypothermia decreases the ability to suckle and slows gut motility, and feeding a cold kitten can result in aspiration, bloating, or even death. If hes cold to the touch, warm him gradually over the course of at least thirty to sixty minutes. If the body is overheated, gradually cool by placing him in an air-conditioned space or by an ice pack wrapped in a cloth until his temperature returns to normal. Fur and skin should be smooth and clean. Look for any wounds, abscesses, or fur loss. Look for evidence of external parasites, such as dirt-like residue from fleas. Always treat fleas within twenty-four hours of arrival to avoid infestation or anemia, and seek veterinary advice about skin conditions. If the umbilical cord is still attached, do not pull it. Never touch a fresh umbilical cord with dirty hands. If its still wet, clean the cord with iodine, tie it off close to the skin with a piece of unflavored dental floss, and cut it with sterile shears. If its dry, simply allow the stump to fall off naturally. Mouth should be closed unless meowing or yawning. Open-mouth breathing is a sign of overheating or serious distress. Take the kitten to the vet if shes breathing through the mouth. Gums should be pink and wet. White or bluish gums could indicate lack of oxygenation or anemia. Pale gums could indicate hypoglycemia. A drop of corn syrup or oral dextrose can be given to temporarily boost the blood sugar of a hypoglycemic kitten in an emergency situation, but its critical to follow up with a visit to a veterinarian. (See this page.) Eyes should be bright and clear of any discharge. (See this page.) Ears should be clean. Check for signs of ear mites, which may cause dirt-like residue. (See this page.) Nose should be clear of any discharge or sneezing. If discharge is present, youll want to consult a veterinarian. (See this page.) Urine should be pale yellow. If its dark, your kitten may be dehydrated and will benefit from careful hydration support. (See this page.) Feces should be well formed. If diarrhea is present, youll want to address the issue with haste. (See this page.) SOME LIKE IT HOT (JUST NOT TOO HOT) Neonatal kittens cannot thermoregulate, and therefore rely on their mothers bodies to keep them warm. When orphaned, young kittens quickly become hypothermic. It is critical to provide kittens with a heat source until at least four Electric heating padLong-lasting heatCannot use while in transit, automatic timer may turn off, cannot move kittens easily Microwavable heating diskPortable, durable, can retain heat between feedingsMust reheat every four to six hours; can scald if overheated Single-use hand warmersEasy heat source for on-the-go needsNot a sustainable approach for ongoing heat Rice mom (uncooked rice in a sock, microwaved)Cheap, portable, made of resources available at homeCan lose heat more quickly than other heat sources IncubatorConsistent, precise regulation of temperature and humidityExpensive and bulky medical device At birth, kittens will have a low body temperature of around 95 degrees, which will increase over the first month of life until it reaches a standard cat temperature of roughly 101 degrees. During the first four weeks, its critical to provide a warm environment. Kittens Age Average Body Temperature Target Temperature for Environment 02 weeks9599F (3537.2C)8590F (29.432.2C) 24 weeks97100F (36.137.8C)8085F (26.729.4C) 4 weeks99101F (37.238.3C)?75F (23.9C) COLD KITTEN, HOT MESS It was unseasonably cold in Washington, DC. Spring was coming, but not quickly enough and after several weeks of warm weather, we had been hit with a sudden cold front that dumped a foot of snow on the ground. It was on this frozen day that a community cat in my neighborhood went into labor prematurely and, seeking shelter, slipped through a local artists studio door, which had been left ajar. Under the refuge of a large oil painting, she gave birth to two underweight kittens . . . and then exited the building, never to return. By the time I received the call about the two kittens, they were four hours old and nearly dead. I rushed down the street with a heating pad and a rescue kit, and entered the studio to find the artist in a state of panic. The studio wasnt much warmer than the street, and the two newborns were frozen stiff like little Popsicles. Still wet from birth, they were covered in a chilled, bloody residue. They made no sound or movement, other than shallow breaths from the small tuxedo kitten. The black kitten appeared to have no life in her body. As I reached for the kittens, the artist asked, Are you sure its okay to touch them? I wasnt sure, so we didnt. Yesyou have to touch them in order to help them, I said, lifting their lifeless bodies to my mouth, breathing hot air into their damp fur. Externally, I was composed, but internally, my heart was flooded with sadness, knowing theyd been left there to freeze without any assistance or warmth. Situations like these are why it feels so important to me to educate people about kitten welfare. People just dont know what to do. I placed them side by side on a heating pad. They were in a very bad state: clearly born prematurely, left with no heat source for hours, never having had a lick of food from their mother. Using a cloth, I got to work cleaning the afterbirth from their fur and clearing the residue from their airways. I brushed their bodies vigorously with a soft-bristle toothbrush, trying to get their blood flowing. After a few minutes, the little black one began to breathe. The artist gasped. The kitten was still alive after all, but barely. A cold kitten is a dead kitten; neonates cannot survive without a heat source. Once it was clear that the kittens were still clinging to life, I brought them back to the nursery, naming the black kitten Mink and the tuxedo kitten Badger. They were underdeveloped and so, so tinyit doesnt get tinier than a preemie. Despite everything we tried for Mink, she sadly passed on her second day, leaving baby Badger all alone to fight for his life. FIVE WAYS TO COMFORT AN ORPHAN Mother cats dont just provide food for their babies; they also provide love and comfort. When caring for orphans, we want to make sure were providing them with all the comforts of mom so that they can have a cozy, relaxing, stress-free experience. Here are five ideas for comforting an orphaned kitten: Warmth: A heat source is essential for body temperature regulation, but its also a nice source of motherly comfort for a kitten. In addition to keeping her nest heated, make sure that her formula is a comfortable temperature so that she can rest contentedly after filling up on a warm bottle. Heartbeat: The gentle vibration and comforting sound of a mothers heartbeat can lull kittens to sleep. Orphans will benefit from having an audio heartbeat simulator placed near their space or inside a plush toy, or you can even hold the kitten against your own chest for a soothing sound. Plush blankets: Cat blankets are okay, but human babies get all the best stuff! Consider buying a few nice plush micro-fleece baby blankets for the kittens to curl up in. Theyre especially fond of blankets with some texture to them, which resemble their mothers soft fur. Recycled fur scraps: Anyone who loves animals knows that fur coats are the product of immense cruelty. But rather than toss your grandmas old mink stole, why not repurpose it and allow it to actually help animals? Kittens love curling up on a recycled fur scrap. Take some scissors to that mean old coat and transform it into a bunch of cozy kitten beds! Toothbrush: A toothbrush is a similar size and texture to a mothers tongue, and kittens will love feeling the toothbrush against their fur every day. Gently brush their backs, their heads, and even the sides of their faces to give them the comforting sensation of being lovingly groomed. WORTH THE WEIGHT Weight gain is an important indicator of health, so its essential for caregivers to monitor the weight of kittens daily. Weight loss can be an early indicator that something is going wrong. Monitoring allows us not only to celebrate their growth and progress but also to catch small problems and address them before they become more serious. I cant overemphasize the importance of this step. It takes only a few minutes, and those few minutes are worth it! You may choose to monitor the pre- and post-feeding weights at every feeding, weigh twice a day, or just get a daily weight summary every morning, but its important to do some form of daily weight monitoring. For me, the younger or more vulnerable the kittens are, the more often Im checking in on their weight throughout the day. Whatever you choose, be sure that youre writing the weights down and tracking their progress (see this page for a Kitten Growth and Monitoring chart that you can photocopy for future use). Remember that all kittens are different, and the weight and feeding chart below is just a guide, not a rule book. That said, you should be seeing an incremental gain of roughly 10 grams per day or more in a healthy kitten. Heres what you need to know about how to weigh a kitten purrito: Youll need A small digital food scale A small baby blanket or washcloth A bowl A notepad and pen A kitten Kittens are squirmy and wont do well sitting directly on top of a small digital scale, but using this technique, weighing kittens is as cute as it is easy. Set the scale to weigh in grams. Place the cloth inside the bowl, put it on top of the digital scale, and tare the scale so that it says 0. Remove the cloth and wrap it around the kitten to form a loose purrito. This will lightly restrict movement while you weigh the kitten. Place the purrito into the bowl, note the weight in grams, and write it in your notepad along with the date, time, and the kittens name. KITTEN WEIGHT AND FEEDING CHART AgeWeightAmount per FeedingSchedule 01 weeks75150* grams26 mlEvery 2 hours 12 weeks150250 grams610 mlEvery 23 hours 23 weeks250350 grams1014 mlEvery 34 hours 34 weeks350450 grams1418 mlEvery 45 hours 45 weeks450550 grams1822 mlEvery 56 hours 58 weeks550850 grams(weaning: offer ample wet food)Every 6 hours POTTY TIME! EXCELLENT! What goes in must come out, and youll be amazed at how quickly food moves through the tiny body of a neonatal kitten. For the first three weeks of life, kittens cant pee and poop on their ownthey need a little bathroom assistance. Mama cats stimulate their young to go to the bathroom by regularly licking their bottoms, keeping them comfortable and clean. If youre raising an orphan, youll need to mimic this behavior ( . . . no, not by licking them!) by gently rubbing them with a soft, absorbent tissue every few hours. Before each feeding, youll want to empty them out so that theyre comfy and ready to accept a meal. Use a soft disposable cloth such as a tissue or toilet paper, avoiding harsh products like heavy paper towels, which could irritate the kittens skin. Hold the kitten steady with one hand, and gently rub the genital region in a circular motion with your soft tissue. The tissue will become saturated as the kitten begins to pee. Continue to stimulate the kitten until she is no longer peeing. Depending on the kittens age, this may take anywhere from ten to thirty seconds. If the kitten needs to poop, you may feel her abdomen flexing as she works to push. Stimulating helps encourage her to use her muscles to pass waste, so continue rubbing until the kitten has finished her business. Monitor the urine and stool for any concerning symptoms. Pee should be clear or light yellow in color and should occur at every feeding. Bottle-baby poop should be well formed and mustard yellow in color, and can occur anywhere from one to five times a day, depending on the kitten. If youre concerned about the frequency or consistency of the kittens poop, learn more about poop problems on this page and consult a veterinarian to get help. Dont forget to clean the kitten up after potty time! Mama cats meticulously clean their babies, and you should do the same. Even if the kittens skin feels dry after peeing or pooping, you still want to wipe her butt down with a wet cloth or a baby wipe afterward to keep her clean. Kittens have sensitive skin and are susceptible to urine scald, a form of moist dermatitis caused by urine residue that burns and irritates the skin. You can help kittens stay comfortable by gently wiping them down after stimulating. If the kitten does get urine or fecal scald, keep the area clean at all times and apply a light zinc-free topical ointment to help her heal. Once the kittens are three to four weeks old, youll notice that theyll start wanting to go on their own, which means its time for a litter box! Learn all about litter box training on this page. BOTTLES UP! If a kitten is orphaned or unable to get enough nutrition through nursing, youll need to bottle-feed. Bottle-feeding is an acquired skill, and its totally normal to feel a little awkward the first time you do it. Be patient and dont give upsoon enough, youll be a pro! Heres what you need to know about helping kittens nurse on a bottle. Preparing to Feed ASSESS THE KITTEN. If a kitten is cold, it is unsafe to feed until you have stabilized her temperature. This should be an issue only during the first feeding, as orphans are often hypothermic when rescued but will be kept warm once in your care. If a kitten is hypothermic, gradually warm her for at least thirty to sixty minutes with a gentle heat source, and do not feed until she is warm to the touch and moving freely. If a kitten is not able to swallow, it is not safe to feed her. For instance, if a kitten is too lethargic to lift her head, you should not flood the mouth with food and should instead seek veterinary support. If a kitten has a cleft palate, it may be riskier to feed her, and caregivers should be especially cautious. Ensure that the kitten is able to swallow by placing a drop of formula on her tongue and feeling the throat with one finger. If the kitten appears stable and is swallowing, proceed. Kittens who are unable to swallow should see a veterinarian immediately. GATHER YOUR SUPPLIES. You can purchase a kitten bottle at any pet supply store or feed store, or online. Be aware that many bottle nipples dont come precut; you will need to cut a hole in it yourself using sharp scissors. The hole should be big enough that if you hold the bottle upside down, formula will slowly drop out of the nipple but not so big that formula flows out freely. Purchase kitten formula. Kittens have special nutritional requirements and require a meal that is formulated for their needs. Never feed a kitten cows milk, other dairy products, dairy alternatives, or human baby formula, as this can be dangerous or even fatal to the kitten. Instead, purchase kitten formula in powdered or liquid form. Once its opened, keep the formula refrigerated and follow the labeling for storage, use, and expiration. PREPARE THEIR MEAL. Make fresh formula every one to two feedings, as old formula can spoil or develop unhealthy bacterial content. Use a smoothie shaker or a miniature whisk to completely eliminate clumps, which can clog the bottle or lodge in the kittens throat. Formula should be a comfortable temperature. Fresh formula can be made with warm water; refrigerated leftovers can be microwaved for eight to fifteen seconds (microwaves vary, so be cautious!) or placed in a mug of hot water for thirty seconds to gently warm. Always shake the bottle thoroughly before feeding, and test the temperature on your wrist. If it is too hot or too cold for you, it is not the right temperature for the kitten. Feeding ASSUME THE POSITION. Lay the kitten in a natural, belly-down positionnever on her back. Think of how a kitten would nurse from her mother: with her belly facing the floor, lying down or seated. When bottle-feeding, its normal for her to eagerly sit up or even try to stand, but its crucial that you keep her in a forward-facing position. If a kitten is fed belly-up, its not just unnatural; its dangerous and can cause aspiration. Hold the kittens head stable with your nondominant hand. The index finger and thumb can be used to gently keep the head in place, while the middle finger can lie lightly across the throat to feel if the kitten is swallowing. Gently slide the nipple into the kittens mouth and invert the bottle so that the liquid line completely covers the opening of the bottle. This should start the downward flow of formula into the kittens mouth. Be very careful not to squeeze formula into the kittens mouth, as this can cause aspiration. If you are feeding a very young kitten and having a difficult time controlling the flow, consider syringe-feeding. LOOK FOR THE LATCH. The goal is to have the kitten roll her tongue into a U shape and begin to swallow. This is called latching and is a sign that shes fully engaged and eating well. Kittens who are latched will suckle at their own pace, with their tongue rolled, and may wiggle their ears as they chow down. Latching is the goal, so if youve gotten that far, pat yourself on the back! If the kitten latches, thats great, but its okay if it takes a while for her to get the hang of things! Bottle-feeding is an art form that improves with time, so be patient and dont give up. FILL EM UP! In general, kittens will tell you when theyre done eating by unlatching and turning their head away from the bottle once theyre full. However, youll want to check out the Weight and Feeding Chart on this page to determine the proper amount and frequency of feeding so you know if the kitten is undereating or overeating. Remember that every kitten is different, and this chart is a guideline, not a rule book! Some kittens prefer to eat smaller meals more frequently, or may eat a large amount at one feeding and less at the next. Some kittens may benefit from being offered seconds. If Im not positive a kitten has had a big enough meal, Ill revisit her once Ive made the rest of my rounds, and offer her another try. Feeding Tricky Bottle Babies BE PATIENT AND PRESENT. Got a kitten who just doesnt get it? Thats pretty normal, especially when one or both of you are still new to bottle-feeding! The keys are patience and presence. You must remain calm and present during the process and guide her along the way. If youre feeling frustrated, reset yourself and the kitten by taking sixty seconds to put her down, stretch, take a breath, and try again. Be sure youre really holding the head and body stable. Kittens dont necessarily understand what youre trying to do when you bottle-feed them, so the first few times, you may need to hold the head firmly (but gently) in place until they learn what youre doing. CHECK FOR USER ERROR. The kitten might not be eating because she cant eat due to a blockage or a poorly cut nipple. If youre using a nipple that you manually cut, make sure the hole hasnt been cut too big or too small. Check for clumps in the formula that may be blocking the hole. Ensure that the formula is adequately warm; many kittens will not accept a cold or lukewarm bottle. SWADDLE EM. You can gently purrito the kitten if need be with a small receiving blanket to contain wandering limbs and keep the kitten focused on her goal; just make sure she is still in a proper belly-down position. SIMULATE TRUE NURSING. When a kitten nurses from his mama, his face is in her fur, and she may comfort him by licking. You can comfort an orphan by feeding him on a heat pad next to a stuffed animal, gently covering his eyes to help him feel contained, and rubbing his face with a cloth or toothbrush to simulate a mothers tongue. Kittens suckle reflex is strongest when they first wake up, so try feeding a fussy eater as soon as he wakes. After Mealtime NO MILK MUSTACHES. Milk mustaches are cute, but not if theyre left to dry. After feeding, always clean the kittens face by wiping away any formula with a warm, wet cloth or baby wipe. Formula left behind can cause the kitten to get a crusty face or moist dermatitis that causes the fur to fall out, so keep her nice and clean. LAST CALL FOR POTTY TIME! Even if youve helped the kitten go to the bathroom before the feeding, some kittens may have to go again after the feeding. I like to stimulate them one last time after they eat so that they can be comfortable during their next nap. Dont forget to wipe them up after! STORE YOUR FORMULA SAFELY. If theres still formula left over, put the bottle back into the refrigerator until the next feeding. If youve used the same batch of formula for more than a few feedings, its a good idea to dump it out and start fresh. SLOW AND STEADY SYRINGE-FEEDING Bottle-feeding is the standard method for feeding orphaned kittens, but if youre having difficulty feeding a small newborn kitten, you may want to consider switching from a bottle to a syringe. A syringe can be greatly beneficial for kittens under two weeks of age. Syringes make it easier to measure in small increments, so you can feel confident that the kitten has eaten a full meal. However, it does come with some risks, as very young kittens dont have a gag reflex and can easily aspirate if fed too quickly. For small babies, I recommend a 3 cc or 5 cc oral syringe (without a needle, of course!). You can find these online for less than ten cents apiece. In a pinch, ask your local veterinarian or animal shelter for a few syringes; they will definitely have some on hand. Ideally, you will use a syringe in combination with a nipple attachment to help the kitten get a good latch. Be sure to pick up at least a dozen syringes, as you dont want to use them for more than a few feedings, even if youre sanitizing them. Used syringes can operate less smoothly, and its dangerous to syringe-feed if you cant control the flow. Prepare the formula according to the manufacturers instructions, making sure that it is fresh, clump-free, and comfortably warm. Pull the formula into the syringe. Just like with bottle-feeding, you should always lay the kitten in a natural, belly-down positionnever on her back. Gently slide the syringe into the kittens mouth and slowly drip formula onto her tongue. The kitten should begin to swallow. Hold the kittens head and lightly feel her throat to ensure she is swallowing. If the kitten latches on and is suckling, thats great! Very slowly continue to drip formula into her mouth, as slowly as necessary in order for her to swallow each drop. Exercise extreme caution while syringe-feeding to avoid aspiration. ASPIRE NOT TO ASPIRATE If youve ever swallowed down the wrong pipe, then you already know what aspiration is. At the back of the throat, there are two pipes: the esophagus, which leads to the stomach, and the trachea, which leads to the lungs. Most of the time, the trachea is open so that air can easily pass through to the lungs, but when we swallow, a series of muscles constricts and the trachea is closed to allow food to enter the pathway to the stomach. In order for the body to choose the right pipe, the brain and the body have to work together to close the trachea through swallowing. Neonatal kittens are at special risk of inhaling food into the trachea, especially if they are being bottle-fed. This can occur if the bottle is squeezed and fluid is forced into the kittens body, if the kittens feeding posture is incorrect, or if the kitten is struggling to swallow due to a congenital issue such as a cleft palate or megaesophagus. By feeding slowly in a natural upright position and monitoring to ensure the kitten is swallowing, we can reduce the risk of aspiration and keep the food going where it needs to go. If a kitten does aspirate, you may notice that formula is sneezed out of the nostrils or coughed up. If this occurs, stop feeding immediately and assist the kitten in coughing up the formula. In some cases, aspiration will not be evident right away, but the kitten may develop lethargy, inappetence (loss of appetite), or respiratory distress. Consult a vet immediately if these symptoms of aspiration pneumonia arise, and discuss the option of an antibiotic or nebulizer. Of course, the best way to fight aspiration pneumonia is to prevent it from occurring to begin with, so stay present when feeding and ensure that the kitten is actively engaged in swallowing during mealtime. OH, MAMA If youre not quite ready for the responsibility of bottle-feeding and potty time, but you still want to help baby kittens, why not foster a litter that comes with their very own kitten-care expert: a mama cat! Lactating moms and their babies are in regular need of foster families, and its a unique and fun experience to care for a family unit. Mama cats can be incredible caregivers, giving their babies almost everything they need, including warmth, breast-feeding, grooming, and bathroom stimulation. Im always amazed how perfectly pudgy and sparkling clean their babies tend to look. Mamas even clean up and ingest their babies waste. Now, thats motherly love! Before you foster a family, make sure you know what to expect and how to prepare. Mama cats require a little more room to roam than baby kittens do and can get antsy when kept in tight quarters for extended hours. If you can, its a good idea to dedicate a room to the family. Set up a comfortable nesting area in one corner of the room using a kennel or playpen lined with a soft blanket. Until the babies are about four weeks old, the mama cat will likely spend nearly all her time in this space, nursing and cleaning her babies. Outside of the nesting area, provide the mama cat with a litter box, fresh water, and ample amounts of kitten food for her to eat. You may notice that the mama is hungry, and thats normal! Its important to feed mama cats large amounts of kitten food, as their bodies need the higher fat and protein content while they are nursing their young. In addition to feeding the mama cat, youll want to keep an eye on her belly to ensure shes having a comfortable lactation experience. If you notice that she has any swelling, redness, or pain from nursing, make sure she sees a vet right away. As the babies grow and become more independent, the mama will start seeking distance from them for several hours of the day. Its nice to give her a place she can get away for a bit, like a perch or a raised bed, so she can have a little bit of me time! Mama cats typically appreciate the opportunity to gradually get back to life as usual after several weeks of baby care, and by the time the kittens are old enough for adoption at eight weeks, theyll be more than ready to say good-bye. Most important, dont assume that every cat knows how to be a good mama. Every day, youll still want to weigh the babies, examine them, and ensure that they are in good health and growing appropriately. In some cases, mama cats arent able to provide adequate care to their young, and in other cases, babies may have health conditions that a mama cat cant tackle alone. Monitoring the kittens will be important so that if any of them begin to struggle, you can intervene by providing supplemental bottle-feeding and additional care. THE NAMING OF KITTENS Whats in a name? Its a single word, but its packed full of meaning. Just like the title of a favorite book or movie, names can give us a first impression of something much more complex. To name a cat is to uniquely convey his individuality. While it may seem silly to put thought into giving a name to a kitten who cant possibly comprehend the meaning of the word, I believe naming kittens is more about developing a bond with each animalmaking her more than a number. Choosing a kittens name links her to us as a valuable being with a singular identity. Names can be descriptive or random, refined or downright silly. If you ask me, names do two things for kittens: they dignify, and they signify. Tetley was brought to the shelter in a tea box. Ive named hundreds of kittens over the years, but its still one of my very favorite things to do. Depending on the individual kitten, Ive given them names that are sweet and simple, like Primrose and Estelle, or totally bizarre, like Jumbo Slice and Texas Pete. I often find myself naming kittens after their origin story, such as Tetley (who arrived in a tea box), Hankie (who arrived in a tissue box), and Beanie (who arrived in a coffee bean box!). Themed names are great for litters of kittens; I may decide to name a whole crew after different pastas or different types of bears. I try to have fun with the names, choosing something suitable and completely unique . . . which isnt always easy after naming as many as I have! Every time I hear a word I think would make a great name, I write it down. Open my notepad, and youll find a massive stockpile of names waiting to find their home in a baby cat. Of course, while building this archive has been fun, naming a kitten is always more involved than pointing to a word on a list. I typically need to get to know the kitten for a day or two before I can choose a name that fits just right. Jumbo Slice was less than half his target weight when rescued, so I named him after a gluttonous meal to encourage weight gain! Try creating your own list of potential names! Here are some ideas to get you started: Tasty foods or desserts Characters from books, movies, or TV shows Terms of endearment Favorite toys from your childhood Historical figures, celebrities, or personal heroes Words relating to the kittens background story Get creative! You can consider the kittens personality traits and physical attributes, or choose something totally random. Whatd you eat for GROW, BABY, GROW Sometimes Andrew and I jokingly refer to our home as the baby farm, because this is where baby cats come to grow. While caring for a neonate might sound complex, its really all about establishing a simple routine and sticking to it until the kitten grows old enough to perform these functions independently. As kittens age, their care routine becomes increasingly easy as they gain more mass, more strength, and more skills. In the next chapter, well talk about what happens as kittens become more independent, getting bigger and stronger as they prepare for adoption. CHAPTER FIVE FROM TINY TO MIGHTY IM A BIG KID NOW A s kittens reach one month of age, everything starts to change. Their vision is sharpening, their coordination is improving, and theyre becoming much more curious about the world around them. During this exciting period of change, kittens are testing the waters of being a big kidand its up to us to be their life vest as they do! Theres nothing more fun (or funnier) than watching kittens try out their first toy, practice their first pounce, or take their first bite of meat, and seeing them discover the fierce feline inside of them. Lets learn about what happens as tiny kittens transform into big kids! TEENY WEANIES Cats bodies may be designed for hunting, but these carnivorous critters arent born ready to chew on a chunk of meat. During the first weeks of life, kittens subsist entirely on a liquid diet, either by nursing from their mother or, if orphaned, drinking formula from a bottle. As their teeth begin to fill in and their bodies begin to develop, they start the process of weaning, or transitioning from a liquid diet to a solid diet. Weaning can be a fun and messy endeavor. Just like a toddler covered in spaghetti sauce, kittens are often adorably ungraceful when learning how to consume solid foods. Ive always enjoyed the weaning process because watching kittens consume meat for the first time is like watching a light turn on in their tiny carnivorous minds. Theres something hilarious and endearing about watching an innocent one-pound furball discover her true nature as a predator. They typically start exhibiting their first hunting behaviors around this age, like pouncing and attacking toys, and they may even let out a tiny growl. What petite, fearsome beasts! Weaning Supplies Kitten formula Wet kitten food (make sure it says kitten!) Shallow food dish Small scale (for monitoring weight) Puppy pads and baby wipes (for easy cleanup!) WHEN TO WEAN In order to give kittens a successful weaning experience, it is critically important to get the timing right. Weaning is one of the most vulnerable periods of a kittens life; she is being introduced to new nutrients and a new method of eating, leaving lots of opportunity for something to go awry. Weaning is therefore most successful when a kitten is biologically prepared to handle both safely consuming and digesting the new nutrients that are being introduced. The digestive system changes greatly during the weaning process. The intestinal villi develop rapidly, increasing the intestines internal surface area and allowing the kitten to properly absorb the new nutrients. This process is critical for ensuring that the kitten can safely absorb the vital proteins and sugars through the gut. The digestive enzymes also begin to shift at the time of weaning; the lactase, which breaks down milk sugars, changes to sucrase, which breaks down the sugars present in meat. Even though you cant see the gut, its changing and developing rapidly inside the growing kitten, preparing him for his future. Kittens weaned prematurely are at risk of weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and malabsorption. Their bodies may not be able to properly digest or absorb nutrients from meat. They also may not be able to safely or effectively eat the food, and can choke or undereat, consuming an insufficient quantity to meet their caloric needs. Premature weaning is a common risk factor for serious illness in kittens, so its best to wait until five weeks to wean. Of course, weaning too late can be an issue, tooin addition to not gaining the right nutrients, kittens weaned too late risk shredding the nipple of a bottle with their sharp teeth! The first baby teeth will be descending at three and four weeks of age, but dont be fooledthese teeth are not designed for eating meat. Incisors are useful for grooming and nibbling at the fur, and canines are useful for learning to hunt prey; but it isnt until the premolars descend at five weeks that the kitten is ready to start shredding solids. At this age, kittens bodies are coordinated enough to begin seeking, finding, chewing, and swallowing food independently. Ultimately, however, the age of weaning often depends on the kittens real-life circumstances. Many shelters and rescue organizations routinely begin introducing kittens to solid foods as early as three and a half to four weeks old due to the difficulty of finding foster homes for kittens who are unweaned. This isnt what Id recommend in a perfect world, but my perspective is that we have to make pragmatic decisions with the specific conditions in mind, doing right by each individual within his or her own context. If a kitten is four weeks old and is at risk of euthanasia if unweaned, its obviously preferable to give the kitten a chance to live by introducing him to a solid diet. That said, kittens are more robust and healthful when given an extra week to nurse or at least supplemental bottle-feeding; whenever possible, its better to adjust the caregiver duties to meet the needs of the kitten than to adjust the care of the kitten to meet the needs of the caregiver. When kittens are given age-appropriate care, its a better experience for everyone involved. My hope is that one day there will be fewer kittens in need of homes, and that those who are in need will be able to be cared for on a timeline that gives them the best experience possible. GIVING MOM A BREAK If youre caring for a mother and her babies, youll find that weaning often happens quite naturally. As the kittens become more mobile and inquisitive, they may start being curious about their mamas food and trying to take a few nibbles. Whether they do or dont show interest in her food, youll want to start handfeeding wet food to them around five weeks of age. The goal should be to help them become independent eaters by six weeks of age so that you can slowly begin to give mama a break. Once the kittens are eating on their own, its a good idea to start giving mom a little space. As kittens sharp teeth grow in, mom cats are often pretty ready to get them off her teats! While she may allow them to supplementally nurse, you want them to be primarily subsisting on wet food by six weeks. How you give her a break will depend on the situation. If the family has full run of a room, it should be relatively easy for the mom to create distance for herself, and if she can, she will! It can be helpful to give her a perch or platform where she can get some solo time. However, if the family is being kept in close quarters such as a kennel or playpen, its a good idea to physically separate the babies and mama during part of the day to encourage independent eating. Part-time parenting for a one-week period gives both the kittens and the mother a slow, comfortable transition. Four to seven days after nursing ceases, the mothers milk will begin to dry up and shell be back to her independent ways. You can then move mom to a separate room, to her adoptive home, or TNR if shes a community cat, and prepare the kittens for adoption. Whenever possible, avoid pulling the babies off the mama too early or too quickly. In addition to being dangerous for the kittens, premature weaning can also have a negative impact on the mother. Abruptly ceasing nursing can cause milk to accumulate in the mammary glands, leading to pain or even an infection called mastitis. If the mother develops signs of swelling or discomfort, youll want to talk to a vet about antibiotics, and apply warm compresses if the cat is friendly and safe to work with. However, its best to avoid this situation altogether by allowing the weaning process to occur at a comfortable pace for all! DONT HURRYTRY SLURRY One way to start introducing meat to kittens, especially those who are orphaned, is to create a transitional food called slurry. Slurry is a combination of the food they are used to consuming (kitten formula) and the food they are moving on to (wet food). The great thing about slurry is that you can create different concentrations so that the kitten can become gradually more acquainted with the new food, both texturally and digestively. You can introduce slurry around five weeks of age. Purchase wet kitten food and mix it with your kitten formula. You can start by making a soupy texture that can be lapped up, and over time increase the concentration of meat as they learn to chew. Many kittens will not automatically understand slurry, so be ready to offer it to them via a finger (or a tongue depressor if you dont want to use your hand). You can place a little bit into the mouth and observe to ensure they are swallowing, then repeat the process so they get used to the idea of solid foods. Over time, you can lower your finger into the dish to show them that they can lap it up independently. Never assume that a kitten can eat on her own until she has a track record of successfully doing so. By sitting with the kittens and actively supporting the feeding process, you can physically introduce them to the food until theyre able to do it on their own. To make sure theyre getting a full tummy, I recommend continuing supplemental bottle-feeding after each slurry trial until theyre eating a full meal on their own. Once the kittens are confidently eating slurry, you can transition them completely to their diet of wet kitten food. Of course, there are some kittens who may automatically understand wet food without the transitional slurry, and thats okay, tooits all about getting to know the individual and supporting his unique needs. Either way, most kittens will be totally transitioned onto wet food by six weeks of age, which means life will be getting a whole lot easier for you. Woo-hoo! WEANIN AINT EASY It was a crisp February evening in Philadelphia, and while kitten season hadnt started yet, this crew of two-week-old tabbies clearly hadnt gotten the memo. When I picked up my new quintuplets, they had just opened their eyes, and were ravenous bottle babies. Every few hours Velouria, Margot, Barnaby, Winston, and Phillip would take turns chugging a warm bottle and then fall sound asleep with fat, happy bellies. Andrew and I took turns on the night shift, waking up several times throughout the night to feed the feasters. Bottle-feeding five kittens is a wild ride. At first, the kittens were peaceful and gentle sucklers . . . but as they got older and more aware of their surroundings, they became more competitive. By the time they were reaching five weeks of age, it was an absolute riot as they MEAT THEM WHERE THEY ARE Remember when you were a little kid and your caregiver would say, If you dont finish your veggies, you cant have dessert? Take that idea and throw it out the window when it comes to weaning kittens. If a kitten doesnt want her meat, the last thing you want to do is shrug and tell her its too bad. Give her something else! If she doesnt want wet food, try slurry. If she doesnt want slurry, offer her formula. Some kittens may even reject wet food altogether, but may love crunchy food. Try different things until you find what works. Theres no such thing as tough love when it comes to kitten weaning. We have to meet them where they are. The important thing about the weaning process is not to rush. I highly suggest that you continue to have the kittens nurse at the end of the meal for the first several days of the weaning process. By providing supplemental bottle-feeding (or nursing with mom), you ensure that the kitten is truly getting a full meal and meeting all her caloric and nutritional needs. This is a more natural and gradual approach than switching abruptly, and reduces the risk of weight loss during this critical period. The kittens will be grateful for a few last chances to nurse! Most important, make sure youre monitoring the kittens throughout the weaning process, and paying attention if their health starts to decline. Weigh your kittens twice a day while they are transitioning onto solid food, and ensure that their weight is going upnot down. Take a look at their stool, and notice if its loose or pale in color. Notice their energy level: Are they playful and active, or are they listless and lethargic? If youve started weaning a kitten and his health is declining, its a good idea to scale back and let him nurse (or bottlefeed) until he is a little older. Slow and steady wins the race! TINY CARNIVORES Cats are obligate carnivores, and like with all felids, eating meat is a biological necessity for them. They have evolved to be perfectly designed for consuming the bodies of other animals, and to thrive on an all-meat diet. For instance, cats have carnassial teeth, which are paired upper and lower teeth that pass by each other sharply in a manner that allows them to shear flesh and tendons. They have shortened intestines that allow them to pass food through the gastrointestinal tract quickly, absorbing the nutrients and completing the digestive cycle in a matter of hours. Unlike plant-eating species, cats are unable to self-produce certain vitamins and amino acids, and must instead obtain them by eating others. Whether hunting in the wild or circling our feet in the kitchen, cats have always thrived on a diet of meat. If it seems like the kittens are eating like ravenous little piggies, its because they are! Kittens require more energy from their food as they growup to twice as much food per pound of body weight as adult cats, says cat expert Ingrid King, author of the award-winning blog The Conscious Cat. In addition to eating a larger quantity, kittens also need to eat more frequently, and with a greater amount of protein and fat. Choosing a diet that is rich in protein and fat and offering it generously during the first six months of life will help to develop the building blocks of a healthy body. Once they reach six months old, most kittens can be transitioned onto their adult diet and feeding schedule. When choosing a kitten food, one important consideration should be hydration. Wet canned food is always preferable to dry food, as a higher moisture content is present. Because cats lack a strong thirst drive, obtaining plenty of water through the food is critical. This is especially true for kittens, who may still be learning to consume water, and may have more opportunities to lose hydration if sick. But thats not the only reason wet food is preferable. King continues, Cats lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically, and as a result, they need few to no carbohydrates in their diet. With dry food tending to be substantially higher in carbohydrates, it is not an optimal diet for a kitten, and should be used sparingly or as a supplemental snack. The commercial pet food industry has several wet diets marketed specifically for kittens, which is a great place to start when shopping. Not all kitten foods are created equal, though, so if youre looking for the highest-quality food for your kitten, I recommend getting a moist canned food that contains high protein and fat content. It can be a challenge to find kitten food at some grocery chains and big-box stores, but online retailers and pet supply shops tend to carry a wide variety of options. Some kitten rescuers swear by raw diets for kittens, and while it can be done with great success, I will caution that it is a potentially risky decision if done incorrectly. While raw diets are high in nutrients and water, they also quickly develop bacteria that can harm a sensitive young tummy. If you plan to feed a raw diet, choose a balanced commercial raw diet and be very mindful of storing and preparing it properly. At the end of the day, the deciding factor may end up being . . . the kitten! Interestingly, many kittens have picky palates and may reject one food but love another, so dont be afraid to try a few brands or flavors until you find the one they love. I keep three different kinds on hand in my home nursery, and find that when it comes to palate preference, kittens are every bit as choosy as people are but once they find something they like, they tend to stick with it. Bon app?tit, little ones! WATER YOU WAITING FOR? Kittens bodies contain a higher water content than their adult counterparts, and hydration is therefore central to their health and well-being. Water aids in digestion and bowel function, maintains the kidneys and other organs, energizes the muscles, protects the bones, and keeps kittens feeling refreshed and healthy. Water is life! Neonates receive their water content completely through breast milk (or formula). However, as they begin to wean, kittens will need to obtain their moisture content elsewhere. Once kittens are weaning and tapering off their liquid diet, you can begin to introduce them to a shallow bowl of fresh water. Most kittens will not naturally understand water until they understand eating from a dish, so dont fret if it takes them several days to figure it out. As they discover water for the first time, its normal for them to dip their faces into it awkwardly, almost pecking at it like a bird eating seed. This is how they learn! Just make sure its a shallow dish and that theyre old enough (and big enough) not to fall in. Once the kittens are at the weaning phase, they should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. Its common for kittens to become dehydrated (see this page to learn about kittens and dehydration), and because its one of the biggest dangers they face, youll want to think about ways to increase their moisture content. It doesnt hurt to stir a splash of water into their wet food to help boost their hydration, especially if youre concerned that they arent consuming enough water. Of course, providing wet food is highly preferable to dry food, as it is 70 to 80 percent water, versus dry food, which typically is about 10 percent water. Wet food is therefore a great way for kittens and cats to consume water without even realizing it! SO FRESH AND SO CLEAN Cats tend to be spectacularly clean, making them a wonderful low-maintenance animal when it comes to grooming. However, kittens arent always spick-andspan (especially during the weaning process!), so they need to learn selfgrooming behaviors in order to develop a healthy cleanup routine. Getting kittens accustomed to being meticulously clean is important for both their physical health and their grooming awareness. Here are a few pieces of advice to help kittens learn how to primp: An unscented baby wipe or damp washcloth can be used to clean messy faces, dirty bums, and any areas of the body that might need a little love. Remove any residue from the fur and use gentle, short strokes to mimic a mothers tongue. Just make sure the kitten is warm and dry after you wipe her down. A soft-bristle toothbrush is a great way to comb through the kittens fur and encourage licking. By regularly brushing the kitten, youll teach him that it feels good to get his fur feeling sleek and spotless. Groom after mealtime. This gets kittens into the rhythm of a cats natural routine: hunting, eating, then grooming. By spending some time on cleanup after each meal, youll get them into the swing of a healthy grooming ritual for the rest of their lives. Help the kitten maintain claw health by providing a scratching post, and by introducing claw trimming at one month of age. THINK INSIDE THE BOX: LITTER TRAINING As kittens reach three to four weeks of age, they begin looking for somewhere to go to the bathroom, making this a great time to introduce the litter box. Luckily for caregivers, the litter box comes instinctively to most kittens, and by a month of age the majority of them will be using it with ease. Ive always felt that the term litter training is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to kittens; its less about training and more about simply providing the right set of circumstances for them to succeed. By giving them a consistent and proper experience from day one, we can set kittens up for a lifetime of good litter box habits. Cats are marvelously clean animals, and they tend to seek out places where they can discreetly do their business and then cover it up. These instinctively polite poopers dont want to leave behind a strong scent, which is why outdoor cats tend to choose loose soil for a toilet rather than pavement. The fine grain of the litter provides a similarly attractive place for kittens to pee, and the goal of litter training is to make the litter box the simplest and most obvious place for them to bury their waste. Its important to simultaneously decrease alternative areas, such as piles of laundry or bedding, which can seem to a young kitten like a similarly suitable place to cover up their waste. Keep bedding smooth and avoid these unwanted potential potties, especially while kittens are learning to use a litter box, or whenever they are entering a new and unfamiliar space. You want to make the litter box the only desirable option for bathroom time! What makes a good kitten litter box? While many adult cat litter boxes have tons of bells and whistles like steps, covers, or even self-cleaning capabilities, none of that is appropriate for a young kitten. Kittens need a box that is low to the ground, with a shallow lip that is easy for them to walk over. One great option for the truly teeny guys is to use a cardboard tray (such as the kind that holds wet cat food) or a disposable baking pan, both of which are small and can be tossed out once used. Most kittens will prefer to use the bathroom in a corner, and boxes should be placed within close proximity to the kitten. If the kitten has access to more than one room, ensure that there is at least one box in a corner of every room the kitten has access to until she has fully acclimated. A shallow, disposable box or tray is a great way to introduce kittens to litter training!

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