That cute, cuddly ball of fluff is irresistible. Kitten issues are complex and emotional at best. Some people feel that all kittens should be socialized and placed into homes. Others realize that if we removed all the kittens from the streets, there aren’t enough homes. Resources are limited, they think, so why not save a litter at the pound that would certainly be killed. Other people feel it’s wrong to fix and return kittens.
At Stray Cat Alliance, we know it’s worse to simply do nothing. Kittens in a safe, well-fed colony can have quality of life. Their mothers will teach them to stay safe. You see, cats have complex family systems and we respect that. If kittens are sick, then of course we must help. We believe it is also moral and ethical to fix kittens and put them back. Don’t let the worry of “what in the world am I going to do with the kittens?” stop you from trapping.
Some volunteers secretly hope that if they trap, they won’t catch kittens because there’s no place for them. Others don’t trap at all because of this. Please get out there and “fix away!” If you trap kittens weighing approximately two pounds or less, make sure your veterinarian is knowledgeable about early-age spay and neuter. Do get them fixed—for the greater good of cats.
Kittens are usually fully weaned at around four to five weeks, a good time to start socializing them, which takes a few days. Kittens not exposed to humans early on learn from their mothers and quickly become feral. If their mothers are tame, the kittens are usually easier to socialize but still require human touch to be completely comfortable. Socializing is harder if they still live in their colonies.
• Under one week: Eyes are shut, ears flat to head and skin appears “pinkish.” Part of umbilical cord may still be attached.
• One week to ten days: Eyes begin to open but ears are still flat. A kitten this age is smaller than an adult hand.
• Three weeks: Eyes are fully open, ears are erect and teeth are visible. Kittens are just learning to walk and very wobbly.
• Four to five weeks: Eyes have changed from blue to another color. Kittens have begun to pounce and leap and to eat solid food.
• Eight weeks: Kittens this age weigh approximately two pounds. If they have not been exposed to humans, they will likely be feral.
Now that you know the age and stage of your kitten clan, here’s what you need to know to encourage them to grow into outgoing, affectionate felines that will steal a cat lover’s heart:
• Confine kittens initially in a dog crate or cage for more space or try a bathroom with toilet seat down and cabinets closed.
• Don’t let feral kittens run loose in your house! Tiny babies can hide in tiny spaces and it goes without saying (but we will): They’re hard to locate and coax out.
• It’s tough, but if you have more than one kitten from a litter, separate them. Left together, the kittens will bond with each other instead of with people.
• Don’t try to handle a truly feral kitten that hisses and spits at you for the first few days. Visit the kitten frequently, always moving slowly, and talk softly to it. Reassure it that all is well.
• After the kitten calms down, begin handling—you know you want to! Wrap the kitten in a towel and find a comfortable place to sit with kitten on your lap. Enjoy. If you can pet now, terrific, but otherwise, give it time.
• Food is your incentive for taming. Start by feeding the kitten baby food or “wet” cat food on a spoon, delivered through the cage.
• Next, offer baby food or wet food on your finger. If the kitten doesn’t accept it, then dab a tiny bit on the end of its nose. The kitten will lick it off and want more.
• This is your chance: gradually pet the kitten’s face, chin, and behind the ears while you talk softly.
• Leave a television or radio on a few hours a day, but not too loud, so kittens get used to human voices.
• Aim for several feeding/petting sessions of 15 to 20 minutes as often as possible.
• Play and resulting interaction with you can hasten the taming process. Use a string or cat toy for the kitten to chase. It’s tempting, but don’t let the kitten bite, scratch or play with your hand.
• Once the kitten no longer runs away from you and instead seeks your attention, confine it to a kitten-proofed room rather than a cage. Always watch for dangerous electrical or blind cords and other household hazards. Think: Could my kitten “get into this?”
• Encourage friends to handle feral kittens frequently. They typically bond with one person so exposure to others is a critical part of their socialization process.