Cats - Few people set out to become feral cat
caregivers. Most often they come across feral cats by accident
and follow their instinct to help. The first impulse is to
feed the cats. Alley Cat Allies (ACA) advocates feeding because
food and water are necessary for survival. Not feeding the
cats and hoping they will go away is not realistic.
They cant go away, and they may starve, but they will
continue to reproduce. However you became involved with feral
cats, your best course of action is to start feeding and,
as soon as possible, begin a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program
to trap, vet, and sterilize all members of the colony. Getting
feral cats to a veterinarian for spaying or neutering and
a general health evaluation is the single most important thing
a caregiver can do for them. This is how a caregiver turns
a feral cat colony into a managed colony, whose members can
live safe, healthy, sterile lives without the dangers and
hardship of constant breeding.
Background - TNR evolved from nonlethal
control programs practiced for decades in the United Kingdom,
other parts of Europe, and Africa. In the United States, TNR
is practiced by thousands of individuals and hundreds of groups,
with the help of sympathetic veterinarians. TNR is endorsed
by numerous institutions and organizations, including the
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
(ASPCA), Best Friends Animal Society, Cat Fanciers Association,
Cornell and Tufts Universities Schools of Veterinary
Medicine, Doris Day Animal League, the Humane Society of the
United States, San Francisco SPCA, and SPAY/USA. In
a growing number of communities, TNR programs are receiving
official sanction and funding. The ACA factsheet Where
Does TNR Work? lists dozens of publicly, privately,
and jointly funded programs in the United States, but it cannot
include them all because individuals like you start new TNR
programs every day. The information needed to implement TNR
may not be available to you locally, but it is easily found
on the internet at www.alleycat.org or obtained by mail from
Alley Cat Allies. You can rapidly learn how to manage one
or more colonies of feral cats using ACAs newsletters,
factsheets, videos, and website. ACA may be able to refer
you to a Feral Friend, a volunteer in your area who can help
you get started. With guidance, you can overcome almost any
obstacle to implementing a humane management plan.
Before You Begin - A strong determination
to trap and sterilize is often a caregivers greatest
asset because, although the TNR process is straightforward,
it can be intimidating the first time. The idea of trapping
conjures images of cats being hurt or traumatized, and no
longer trusting the caregivers. This does not happen. Since
ACA was founded in 1990, hundreds of thousands of feral cats
have been humanely trapped, vetted, and returned to their
familiar surroundings where, after a brief adjustment, they
resumed their daily routine and good relationship with their
caregivers. But their lives were vastly improved by this intervention.
Before you trap and sterilize the colony or colonies you care
for, take time to learn exactly what TNR entails. The most
basic steps are in the name:
1] Trap means to humanely trap every feral
cat in the colony or colonies you care for.
2] Neuter means to take the cats in their traps to a veterinarian
or veterinary clinic that works with feral cats to be spayed
or neutered, evaluated, vaccinated, and treated as needed.
3] Return means to care for the cats through recovery from
surgery, then take them back to their established homes. The
unnamed fourth step in TNR is to provide the cats with long-term
care and feeding; in other words, to continue what you are
already doing. There are other factors that you will hear
about or encounter while practicing TNR. Familiarizing yourself
with these issues now will put you way ahead of most beginning
Safety - Feral cats, like all wild
animals, will strike out when frightened and unable to run
away (as they are in a trap). You must learn correct safety
procedures such as always labeling traps and never sticking
your hand into a trap. Make sure that everyone else involved
learns them as well. People who regularly work with wild animals
may get preexposure rabies vaccinations. If you follow established
safety precautions, you will never get close enough for a
feral cat to bite you; therefore you would not need a pre-exposure
rabies vaccination. You should, however, be aware that the
vaccination is available and decide for yourself if you should
Stress Reduction - Learn how tension,
loud noises, extremes of heat and cold, and exposure can affect
the entire TNR process. Maintaining a calm, comfortable environment
for the cats will reduce their stress and speed their recovery
from trapping and surgery. Careful planning and a realistic
timetable will enhance the process for trappers as well. The
Alley Cats Allies factsheet Dos and Donts of Stress
Reduction (for Cats and for Trappers) offers practical
pointers to increase your trapping success.
Taming Feral Cats - You may hear
from people who want to tame feral cats and place them in
homes. This is not realistic. There are tens of millions of
feral cats in North America. Shelters and animal control facilities
kill more cats than any other species each year. Although
many kittens and stray adult cats can be socialized and adopted
into homes, it is impossible to home the feral cat population
as a whole. Attempts to tame adult feral cats divert time
and energy from the most important objective: sterilizing
the feral cat population to end overpopulation.
Relocation - The great majority of
feral cat colonies should be returned after sterilization
to their established locations, where you found them. The
alternative, relocation, is a difficult, time-consuming, and
problematic procedure. It is not necessary or recommended
except under extreme circumstances. Alley Cat Allies
factsheet Relocation: Guidelines for Safe Relocation
of Feral Cats explains why relocation is rarely the
step to take and also explains what is involved in safely
relocating feral cats. Do not attempt a relocation without
reading this information.
Getting Started - To begin implementing
TNR, determine what cats you want to sterilize and line up
the resources to do it. The steps are:
1] Count how many cats are in the colony or colonies you plan
to TNR. Start keeping records on the cats now.
2] Locate and learn how to use the equipment
needed to humanely trap.
3] Establish a relationship with a veterinarian
or a veterinary clinic that will work with feral cats.
4] Ask friends, neighbors, or other cat
advocates to help. Determine how you (and others) will care
for the cats before and after surgery, and on an ongoing basis.
5] Review Alley Cat Allies Humane
Trapping Instructions factsheet for specific steps for
safe and successful trapping.
6] Trap, neuter, and return the cats.
Trapping Equipment - The list of
equipment either needed or recommended for trapping is lengthy,
but be assured, you already have most of it at home: e.g.,
thick gloves, antibacterial hand wipes, and several cans of
tuna or wet cat food. The most important equipment, however,
you probably dont have at home: one or more humane box
traps. Ideally, you would have one trap for each cat, although
this is not always feasible. Traps are available from several
sources. There may be a Feral Friend in your area who lends
traps and even assists in trapping. Some large TNR programs
have established trap depots, where you can borrow
traps. You may be able to borrow traps from a humane society
or animal facility, but if you do this, you could be required
to return the trap AND the cat, who will most likely be killed.
Always determine a humane society or animal facilitys
policy toward feral cats before borrowing their traps. If
you cannot borrow traps, you will have to purchase one or
more. One benefit of owning your own trap(s) is greater flexibility
in planning your trapping schedule. Humane box traps can be
used for many years, so you can trap well into the future
or lend your equipment to other caregivers who are just starting
Working with a Veterinarian - It
is essential to find a veterinarian or a veterinary clinic
that is familiar with or willing to learn how to treat feral
cats. This must be done before trapping begins. Start with
your own veterinarian by explaining what you want to accomplish
for the cats and for the benefit of your community. If your
vet does not want to treat feral cats, contact every veterinarian
and veterinary clinic in your area. Ask other people who want
to help the cats if they know of a cooperative clinic. You
can find a list of feral cat organizations in your area at
www.alleycat.org/orgs.html. Explain TNR to each veterinarian
you contact, emphasizing that sterilization is essential to
the process. If a veterinarian is interested but has no experience
with feral cats, provide him or her with one or both of ACAs
training videos and suggest the information about treating
feral cats available at www.alleycat.org/resources.vets.html.
When you find a veterinarian or veterinary clinic willing
to treat feral cats, establish a protocol to ensure that everyone
involved understands what to expect and that you get all the
services the cats need. Most clinics see patients by appointment.
With feral cats, appointments cannot always be kept. The clinic
must be flexible. Find out how many cats the clinic can accommodate
on a single day. This information will guide your trapping
activity. Establish a protocol ahead of time for euthanasia
of very ill cats, aborting pregnant females, and testing for
FIV/FeLV. If a veterinarian insists on procedures you do not
want, refer him or her to information on feral cats at www.alleycat.org.
Each cat will require a spay or neuter procedure (using anesthesia
that can be administered while the cat is in the trap) and
eartipping, and such other general or specific treatment as
each cat requires: e.g., ear cleaning, vaccination, and flea
treatment. Figure out the cost of veterinary care for a male
and a female cat, so that you can estimate a budget for the
whole colony. Spay surgery is more expensive than neutering.
The gender ratio of a typical colony is 60 females to 40 males.
Some veterinarians will offer discounts because you are providing
a community service. If they do not offer, always ask. If
the cost of sterilizing the colony is too great, ask for financial
help from neighbors and businesses where the colony resides.
They may be happy to contribute because you are taking action
from which they will benefit. Arrange a warm, quiet environment
in which the cats, in their traps, can recover from surgery.
Your only involvement at that point will be to monitor their
recovery and prepare to return them. Cats cannot regulate
body temperature under anesthesia, so see that they do not
get cold. This is especially important for kittens.
Get Help from Others - Working with
other caregivers and sharing equipment, resources, and moral
support make the work go easier and faster. Recruit anyone
you know who wants to help the cats - friends, neighbors,
or a Feral Friend. Plan to trap as many cats as possible at
one time. Feral cats are smart - if you trap repeatedly in
the same location, they soon become trap wary. But always
keep in mind, the number of cats you can trap at one time
is determined by how many cats your veterinary clinic can
sterilize in one day.
In Conclusion - With a well-organized
plan, a TNR program can be implemented with ease. If trapping
initially feels awkward, be assured that it will soon become
a skill you perform readily, perfecting your technique with
each experience. By then you will be ready to demonstrate
trapping to others. Every time you assist in sterilizing a
colony, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have
helped more feral cats live safe, healthy lives without reproducing.
a Feral Cat
Feral Cat or Kitten
fostering feral cat and kittens from an advoCATS member
Building a drop trap
Feeding Stations and Shelters
Preparation for trapping
If possible, get the cats used to being fed at the same place
and time of day. You might try leaving the trap unset and
covered with a large towel during routine feeding so that
the animal will get used to seeing and smelling it in the
area. Dont feed the cats the day/night before you are
going to trap so the cats will be hungry. Be sure to notify
others who may feed the cats not to leave food out either.
Plan to trap so that you dont have
to keep the cat too long before surgery. Trapping the night
before is usually the best approach. Cats should not eat 12
hours prior to surgery.
Prepare the area where you will be holding
the cats before and after the clinic. A garage or other sheltered,
warm, protected area is best. Lay down newspapers to catch
the inevitable stool, urine and food residue. You may want
to use pieces of wood to elevate the traps off the newspapers.
This allows the mess to fall through the wire away from the
cats. Spraying the area ahead of time with a cat-safe flea
spray (like Adams or Ovitrol) will discourage ants.
Prepare the vehicle you will use to transport
them as well. Plastic may be an additional precaution. But
remember that you will need to use newspapers or some other
absorbent material in addition. ( Urine will roll right off
of the plastic and that isnt what you want )
Plan your day of trapping carefully. Remember
that if you trap an animal and release it for some reason,
it is unlikely that you will be able to catch it again
learn very quickly.
If there are young kittens involved, remember
that they should not be weaned from the mother before 4-6
weeks of age. If you are trapping a lactating female, you
may want to wait until you have located the kittens and they
are old enough to wean. If you wish to tame and foster the
kittens to adopt out, they should be taken from the mother
at 4-6 weeks. If you wait until the kittens are older than
4-6 weeks before trying to tame them you will find the job
progressively harder with age.
Setting the traps
Plan to set traps just before or at the
cats normal feeding time. This is often at night. Dusk is
usually the best time to set traps.
Dont trap in the rain or the heat
of day without adequate protection for the trap. Cats are
vulnerable in the traps and could drown during storms or suffer
from heatstroke in the sun. Use common sense!
Fold a piece of newspaper to line the bottom
of the trap just covering the trip plate. Cats dont
like walking on the wire surface and the paper helps to keep
their feet from going through when you pick up the trap. Be
sure that the paper does not extend beyond the trip plate.
Too much newspaper can interfere with the trap mechanism or
prevent the door from closing properly.
Plan placement of traps on a level surface
in the area where the cats usually feed or have been seen.
Cats are less likely to enter the trap if it wobbles. If trapping
in a public area, try to place traps where they will not be
noticed by passersby (who may not understand that you are
not trying to harm the cat). Bushes are often places where
cats hide and provide good camouflage for the trap.
Use smelly food to bait the trap. We find
that canned Mackerel is very effective and relatively inexpensive.
It is best not to put any bowls inside the trap to hold food
since the animal can easily hurt itself on it in a panic or
while recovering from anesthetic.
Soak a small scrap of newspaper (2-3 inches
by 3-4 inches) in the Mackerel juice and place it on the ground
where you plan to place the rear of the trap.
Spoon a small amount of food onto the soaked
newspaper scrap and place the trap on top of the food so the
food is as far back in the trap as possible while still not
accessible from outside the trap. (You want the cat to go
all the way into the trap to avoid being injured when the
trap door closes.) Press the trap down onto the food so that
it squishes up through the wire. The idea is to make the food
a little hard to get so that the cat has to go into the trap
as far as possible and has to work at getting it long enough
to trip the trap. (Some cats are very good at getting in and
out of traps without getting caught. We dont want to
make it too easy for them to get away with that trick. Also,
having the food essentially outside of the trap prevents the
cat from eating it in the trap before surgery and is less
After baiting the trap, open the trap door
by pushing the top of the door in and pulling the bottom of
the door upward. There is a small hook attached to the right
side of the trap top. It hooks onto a tiny metal cylinder
on the right side of the door. The hook holds the door in
an open position which also raises the trip plate. When the
cat steps on the plate it will cause the hook to release the
door and close the trap.
After setting the trap, cover it with a
large towel or piece of towel-sized material. Fold the material
at the front end of the trap to expose the opening while still
covering the top, sides and back of the trap. The cover will
help to camouflage the trap and serve to calm the cat after
it is caught.
Just before you are ready to leave the trap
for the cat to enter, you may want to push the hook (ever
so slightly) a little bit back off the cylinder to create
a "hair trigger". (Dont get too carried away with this
step or the trap will trip as soon as the cat takes a sniff!)
Waiting for success
Never leave traps unattended in an unprotected
area, but dont hang around within sight of the cat (or
you will scare it off). The trapped animal is vulnerable.
Passersby may release the cat or steal the trap! Wait quietly
in an area where you can still see the traps without disturbing
the cats. Check traps every 15 minutes or so. You can often
hear the traps trip and see the cloth cover droop down slightly
over the opening from a distance. As soon as the intended
cat is trapped completely cover the trap and remove the trap
from the area if other cats are not in sight. You may consider
putting another trap in the same spot if it seems to be a
"hot" one. Be sure to dispose of the food left on the ground
when you pick up the trap. (You dont want to litter
or give out any freebies and spoil any appetites!)
When you get the captured cat to a quiet
area away from the other traps lift the cover and check for
signs that you have the correct animal and not a pet or previously
neutered feral. (The FCC marks the right ear of every animal
we alter so we can avoid repeat animals) If you note that
you have captured a lactating female check the area for kittens
and remember that this female must be released 10-12 hours
after surgery so she can care for and nurse her kittens. Cover
the cat back up as soon as possible. Uncovered, the animal
may panic and hurt itself thrashing around in the trap.
Of course, there is always the chance that
you will catch some other wild animal attracted to the food
or an unintended cat. Simply release the animal quietly as
stated in the releasing procedures here.
After you have finished trapping, you will
probably have to hold the cats overnight until you can take
them to the vet. (Unless you have made previous arrangements
with a vet)
Place cats in the prepared protected area.
Dont feed them. You can place a small bowl of water
in the trap by opening the trap door just a couple of inches
and placing the bowl by the trap door. Try to use a bowl that
wont be tipped over easily. An empty catfood or tuna
can works fairly well. Dont open the door too wide or
the cat may escape. (Be sure to remove the bowl before transporting
the cat to the vet.)
Keep cats covered and check periodically.
They will probably be very quiet as long as they are covered.
Dont stick fingers in the trap or allow children or
pets near the traps. These are wild animals which scratch
and bite. ALL ANIMAL BITES ARE SERIOUS! IF YOU ARE BITTEN
SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION AND DO NOT RELEASE THE CAT. IT MUST
BE QUARANTINED. CONTACT YOUR VET FOR QUARANTINE INSTRUCTIONS.
Wash and change clothes before having contact
with your own pets as a precaution against spreading any contagious
diseases the cats might carry.
Always get feral kittens checked out by
a vet and isolate them from your pets. Some deadly diseases
can incubate without symptoms. Check with your veterinarian
and use caution.
Releasing the cats
If a cat does not seem to be recovering
well from the surgery, consider having it checked out by a
vet before releasing. When cats are ready for release, return
to the area in which they were captured and release them there.
Do not relocate the animal! It will be disoriented and most
likely die. In all likelihood, area cats will drive it away.
If the veterinarian has indicated a serious
medical problem with the cat which you will not be able to
treat, you, with the advice of the vet, must make the decision
on whether it is safe to release the animal or kinder to euthanize
it. Untreated abscesses and respiratory infections, and a
number of other conditions, can mean suffering and a slow
Make sure the spot you pick for release
does not encourage the cat to run into danger (like a busy
street) to get away from you. Keep the trap covered until
you are ready to release. When ready, simply hold the trap
with the door facing away from you and open the door. The
cat will probably bolt immediately out of the trap. If it
is confused, just tilt the trap so the back is slightly up
and tap on the back of the trap to encourage it to leave.
Never put your hand in the trap! If the animal still will
not leave, prop the door open with a stick and leave it for
a while. A trapped skunk or possum, which is nocturnal, may
decide to sleep in the trap all day and not leave the trap
After releasing the cats hose off traps
and disinfect them with bleach. Never store traps in the "set"
position (door open); animals may wander into even unbaited
traps and starve to death.
Bring a flashlight with you if trapping
at night. It will come in handy for checking traps from a
distance and might help you avoid a twisted ankle in the dark.
Bring a cap for the top of the Mackerel
can. Nothing smells worse than fish juice spilled in the car.
Dont forget a spoon!
Females with kittens will be attracted by
the sound of their kittens if the previously captured kittens
are placed in a covered carrier just behind the trap. Similarly,
kittens will be easier to trap if the previously captured
mom is in the carrier. Females in heat can be placed in a
carrier to attract male cats who have been eluding the traps.
Never place the "bait" animal in the trap or anywhere where
it may be harmed by the trapped animal. Even moms can hurt
their babies if frightened enough. Be careful not to let the
"bait" animal escape.
Some kittens can be caught without a trap
but are still too wild to be handled easily. Use a thick towel
to pick up the kitten to help protect you from scratching
and biting. This also helps prevent the kitten from squirming
away from you.
Here is a company that sells humane traps:
Tomahawk Live Trap -
The world's most trusted name in the industry. Hundreds of
quality, value-priced products used by animal control officers
and pest control operators worldwide. In stock and ready for
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a Feral Cat
Feral Cat or Kitten
fostering feral cat and kittens from an advoCATS member
Building a drop trap
Feeding Stations and Shelters
Taming a Feral Cat
Feral cats are homeless cats, many of whom
were born in the wild; others are pets who were abandoned
or have become lost. They are for all intents and purposes
wild animals. Those adult stray cats which were once owned,
or feral cats of quiet temperament, may sometimes be tamed
with patience. However, the feral kitten is often easily tamed
if it is captured young enough. Considering the short miserable
lives that feral cats suffer, those kittens which can be tamed
and adopted by humans are indeed lucky.
Feral moms usually give birth in quiet unseen
spots where kittens will not be visible for several weeks.
With no human contact they will be totally wild. When kittens
begin to romp and play, they are first noticed by humans but
are not easily captured. They may be captured in humane traps
and should be taken from the mother at 4 to 6 weeks of age.
Older kittens can also be captured and tamed but the process
gets slower and less successful the longer the kittens stay
in the wild. They should not be taken from the mother before
they are old enough to be weaned at about 4 weeks. Kittens
taken too young are vulnerable to disease and may not survive.
The mother cat should also be captured and spayed to prevent
The process of taming kittens can take from
2 to 6 weeks (longer for some exceptionally skittish kittens)
depending on their age and state of wildness. Individuals
can differ greatly in temperament even within the same litter.
Some may tame up immediately and some may take quite a long
time. Any person attempting to tame kittens should be totally
committed and patient. The taming process is certainly worthwhile.
You are saving lives and producing affectionate loving companions.
The steps involved in the taming process
1. Containment (I) in a cage or large pet
2. Periodic and brief handling with a protective
3. Containment (II) in a small room
4. Exposure to other humans
5. Placement in suitable adoptive homes
A feral kitten may hiss and spit
at humans. They are usually terrified of humans. The kitten
which acts the most ferocious is just the most scared, but
it is capable of giving you a nasty scratch or bite and will
probably try to escape if given the chance. Remember that
to the kitten you may be a predator; the kitten may think
it is fighting for its life.
ALL BITES ARE SERIOUS. IF BITTEN SEEK MEDICAL
ATTENTION AND QUARANTINE THE KITTEN.
Feral kittens should be checked out by a
veterinarian and tested for diseases contagious to other cats
before you bring them home. Keep them isolated from your pet
cats, wash your hands, and wear a smock (or change clothes
between handling visits) to protect against the spread of
disease from the kittens to pets or from pets to kitten.
If a trap was used to capture the kitten,
transfer the kitten to a cage or a pet carrier large enough
for a small litter box and bedding. Place it in a small room
away from family pets and children. Be careful not to allow
the kitten to escape during the transfer process.
For the first two days, do not attempt handling.
The kittens must learn to feel safe. Visit them frequently
and talk to them quietly, but resist touching. Always move
Food and water and bedding should be placed
in the cage or carrier. Many cages and carriers have food
and water bowls attached to the doors so that you can feed
and water the kittens without having to place your hand inside.
If you do not have a cage, or your carrier is too small for
a litter pan, place the kittens in a small room, like a bathroom,
in the carrier. Place the litter box in the room and leave
the carrier door open so that the kittens have access to the
Some people use worn clothing as the kittens
bedding to get them used to the smell of humans.
After 2 days, select the least aggressive
kitten, place a towel over it, and pick it up in the towel.
If the kitten stays calm, pet it gently on the head from behind.
Never approach from the front. A hand coming at the kittens
frightens them which may cause them to hiss or bite.
If the kitten remains calm, grip it securely
by the nape of the neck, put the towel on your lap and set
it on the towel. Stroke the kittens body while speaking
in soft, reassuring tones, then release. Make this first physical
contact brief. Go through this process with each kitten. After
all have been handled, give them a special treat. Baby food
or canned food off a spoon is always a great ice-breaker.
Repeat this process as frequently as possible.
Brushing with a soft pet brush imitates
the action of the mother grooming the kittens and will help
the kitten start to transfer its need for parental love to
you. It is also extremely important for the health of the
kittens to remove fleas as soon as possible. Kittens become
anemic from flea infestation and can easily fall prey to illnesses
in this condition. Combing with a flea comb also helps the
Never stare at the kittens for prolonged
periods. This is aggressive body language to cats. Avert your
eyes frequently and lower your head often to display submissive
behavior. This will be less threatening to the kittens.
Play with the kittens using "kitty tease"
toys (a tiny piece of cloth tied to a string which is tied
to a small stick) or lightweight cat toys. Dont leave
the "kitty tease" alone with the kittens as kittens will often
swallow string. This can be fatal.
Within a week the kittens should have made
considerable progress. Each kitten will develop at a different
rate. They should have access to the room and can be placed
in the cage only if necessary.
If there is one that is not becoming tame,
place it in a separate cage in another room, away from the
others. This will allow you to work with the baby more frequently
and will increase its dependence on a human. It will
also prevent perpetuation of wildness in the littermates.
All members of some litters must be isolated as not to reinforce
wildness in the group.
A large room may overwhelm a timid kitten
and cause increased fear. Bedrooms can be a problem. If kittens
become frightened and go under the bed it can be difficult
to get them to come out and stressful for them if you force
Also try to kitten-proof the room as much
as possible before letting the kittens out into the room.
Seal up any nooks and crannies where frightened kittens may
enter and become trapped or inaccessible to you. Bathroom
sinks often have spaces between the kickboard and the cabinet
just large enough for the kitten. Block access to behind bookcases
and heavy furniture behind which the kitten can become wedged.
Be careful of open toilets and anything which could be climbed
and pulled down on top of the kitten causing possible injury.
Protect vulnerable knick knacks, clothes, and plants (some
poisonous) from curious kittens.
When the kittens no longer respond by biting
and scratching, encourage friends to handle them as often
as possible. It is very important that they socialize with
other humans. Feral cats tend to bond with one human so they
best adjust to a new home if they are socialized with other
humans before being adopted out.
Kittens can be adopted out at 8 weeks or
so if tamed and socialized to humans.
When screening prospective "parents" remember
that the kitten will do best if there are no small children
in the home. All the work you have done can be easily shattered
by normal kid activity and noise. This is vital to remember
when placing the kittens for adoption. The most suitable home
is a calm environment so the kittens will feel secure. The
ideal home is one which will keep their pet indoors and will
take 2 kittens together (actually easier to care for and more
fun to watch) or that will have an adult home during the day.
Be sure that you inform the adoptive family
that the kitten must be neutered. This can be done as early
as 8 weeks of age. You may want to ask for a refundable deposit
from the adoptive family to encourage them to neuter. Or you
may want to neuter it yourself and ask the new owner to reimburse
you. Many forms and contracts exist for doing this. For example,
FOCAS, the Humane Society, and the Department of Animal Control
all have such agreements.
a Feral Cat
Feral Cat or Kitten
fostering feral cat and kittens from an advoCATS member
Building a drop trap
Feeding Stations and Shelters
Fostering a Feral Cat and Kittens from an advoCATS Member
I've had two feral mothers give birth in
cages on my lanai in April. The cats had been in a colony
but not yet fixed. Talk about wild! I had to use gloves just
to be able to put in food and water daily. Both mothers tried
to intimidate me (they did a very good job at it, too) and
I don't think even if they stayed here after they were spayed
that they would have friendlied up very much. They've both,
in the past two weeks, been spayed and returned to their colony.
I was afraid the mothers would imprint the fear of humans
on their babies, as they growled and attacked my hand in front
of the kittens. However, that hasn't been the case.
Once the kittens reached 3 to 4 weeks old,
the moms started wanting some help with them. As the kittens
tumbled to the front of the cage when I came around, I'd tentatively
pick them up and if the mother didn't make a fuss, I'd remove
them for a few minutes. I would have done this earlier as
recent studies are showing that it's okay to handle babies
from the get-go, but I wasn't that brave. All six kittens
are loving and cuddly, brave and adventurous. Now that the
moms are out of the picture I have to do all the feeding,
but the kittens are old enough to handle solid food. I feed
them 3 or 4 times a day, usually kitten kibble moistened in
chicken broth or kitten replacement milk, which I buy at Wal-Mart.
There's also a product called Kitten Sip that cats can digest
which I find at certain grocery stores.
I was able to wait until the babies were
5 weeks old before I had the mother removed. I figured her
tending to them and feeding them was not only convenient for
me, but healthy for them. At 5 weeks they could use the litter
box themselves and tackle food from the bowl, although the
moms were encouraging them to eat the kibble I put out for
her. Both moms were being fed kitten food because it's high
in calories and gives good nutrition for them to produce milk.
They'd get canned food once a day and some kitten replacement
You might not have the luxury of waiting
until the kittens are 4 or 5 weeks old because your mom cat
might choose to move them. This has happened to a friend of
mine who rescues kittens, and she's lost the opportunity to
tame the babies because of that. She's found it's better to
take the babies when she can, even if they're only 2 or 3
weeks old. It's a lot of work, but the kitten replacement
milk can be fed to them through a little baby bottle (kitten
sized), a dropper, or a syringe. By three weeks old the kittens
can usually drink from a bowl. Softened kibble and canned
food work, too.
If you bring the babies into your house
you'll want a big box or container they can't climb out of
yet. Stock it with a litter box, bedding, and maybe a toy.
I don't put a lot of water in the enclosure at a time because
it invariably gets spilled. Hopefully you won't have to get
up at night to feed them--only with very small kittens do
you have to do this, but since you're not sure of their age,
that advice isn't certain. If their eyes are open they're
over a week old. The ears start to stand erect after 3 weeks
of age. I figure about a quarter of a pound per week, so if
a kitten weighs a pound it's about 4 weeks old. That isn't
a hard and fast rule, though.
This web site can be very helpful:
Good luck. It's a really fun adventure.
Be sure you get mama cat spayed so she doesn't do this to
A kitten may need hand raising because the
mother has died, become ill, rejected the kittens or abandoned
them. In the case of feral cats, the kittens may have been
taken from the mother for taming.
Kittens should not be taken from the mother
before 5 to 6 weeks of age if possible. (For wild kittens
you may want to take them away from the mother at 4 weeks
to tame them. As they get older, taming gets progressively
harder.) The longer the mother cat is able to feed the kittens
the better ,since young kittens need mother's milk for best
nutrition as well as important antibodies. This passive immunity
usually lasts until the kittens are 6-14 weeks of age. Since
orphans have no such protection, they are especially vulnerable
First try finding a foster feline mother;
breeders, veterinarians and animal shelters may know of nursing
cats in your area. Try calling any "cat people" that you know
for leads as well. Cats will very often feed kittens other
than their own.
If you must feed them yourself before weaning
age, you must devote considerable energy and weeks of constant
care if the kitten is to have a good chance at survival. The
younger the kitten, the more fragile it is. Very young kittens
may not survive without a mother no matter how good the care.
WARMTH AND FIRST AID
As soon as you find an orphaned kitten it
must be protected from becoming chilled. Place it under your
clothes next to your skin. Most of the young kitten's energy
is needed for growth and yelling for more food, so there's
not a lot left over for heat generation. Normally the mother
cat and litter mates would provide a good deal of warmth.
During their first week, kittens should be kept between 88
and 92 degrees F. For the next 2 weeks they still need temperatures
of 80 degrees or so. When they reach 5 weeks or so they can
tolerate a lower room temperature.
If possible, take the kitten to a veterinarian
to be checked out for dehydration and general condition. Kittens
can become dehydrated very quickly without a mom and may need
fluids under the skin. Kittens that are dehydrated from lack
of fluids or diarrhea will have very little energy or appetite,
so this is important to take care of immediately. Stools should
be checked for worms and parasites. The vet can supply a lot
of advice on hand raising kittens as well as needed supplies
so don't skip this step.
When you get the kitten home you must continue
to provide warmth. Find a place in your home that is warm,
draft-free and isolated.
Feeding can be done with an eyedropper or
a nursing bottle (available at the vet). If using the eyedropper
be careful not to force feed the kitten. Let the baby suck
the fluid at its own pace, otherwise you can fill the baby's
lungs with milk and cause pneumonia.
If the baby is old enough to suckle, the
bottle method is best. One company even makes a special kitten
nurser which is designed to keep air bubbles out of the baby's
tummy. The company is Catac ($15 to Kitte Res-Q, Dept. C,
P.O. Box 723, Santa Paula, Ca 93061).
All utensils should be sterilized before
To feed your kitten, place it stomach down
on a towel or other textured surface to which it can cling.
Open its mouth gently with the tip of your finger, then slip
the nipple between its jaws. To prevent air from entering
the kitten's stomach, hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle,
keeping a light pull on the bottle to encourage vigorous sucking.
If a suckling kitten aspirates formula into
its lungs, immediately hold it upside down until the choking
subsides. If the kitten is not strong enough to suckle, seek
veterinary assistance ASAP.
Formula should be warmed to body temperature
and fed to small kittens every 3-4 hours. As they get older
every 6-8 hours will be enough. Check the package for recommended
feeding amounts and feedings per day. A kitten needs approximately
8 ccs of formula per ounce of body weight per day. The
kitten's age determines the number of daily feedings it should
When a kitten has had enough formula, bubbles
will form around its mouth, and its tummy will be rounded.
After each meal, burp the kitten by holding it upright against
you shoulder and patting it lightly on the back.
Do not overfeed kittens, as this can bring
on diarrhea as well as other problems.
AGE IN WEEKS OF KITtEN/ AVG. WEIGHT/ AMOUNT
OF FORMULA/ NUMBER OF FEEDINGS PER DAY
1 week old - 4 ounces / 32 cc / 6
2 weeks old - 7 ounces / 56 cc /
3 weeks old -10 ounces / 80 cc / 3
4 weeks old -13 ounces / 104 cc / 3
5 weeks old - 1 pound / 128 cc / 3
For kittens with a lack of appetite or anemia,
"Pet-Tinic" vitamin/mineral supplement (available at the vet
and pet food stores) will stimulate appetite and rebuild systems.
Follow the directions on the bottle for dosage and give direct
by dropper or add to food.
Kittens should be weighed frequently to
ensure that they are growing properly. You'll soon know if
your orphans are thriving because they will grow at an incredible
The kitten's natural mother takes care of
both ends of her baby. By licking the kitten's abdomen, she
stimulates the bowels and bladder and tidies up the resulting
mess. A surrogate cat mom should gently rub the kitten's abdomen
and bottom with a cotton ball or pad or tissues moistened
with warm water. This stimulates the discharge of waste and
keeps babies clean. Be careful to rub only enough to get them
to expel waste materials. Keep the area clean and watch for
chafing which might indicate that you are rubbing too hard
or not cleaning well enough.
When you feed and clean the kittens, wash
their fur all over with a barely damp towelette using short
stokes as the mother would use. This cleans their fur, teaches
them to clean their fur, and gives them a feeling of attention
If the kittens have diarrhea and become
caked with stool, it is easier on their skin to wash them
in warm water.
The kitten's instinctive need to suckle
(frustrated by the lack of the mother's breast) may cause
the kitten to suckle its litter mate's ears, tail or genitals,
causing irritations to develop. Try to satisfy this oral need
by caressing each kitten's mouth with your finger or a soft
Abandoned kittens will need to be cleaned
and rid of fleas soon after they are found. Flea anemia can
hamper any attempt to save the kitten and fleas carry tape
worm eggs. The vet will carry flea sprays suitable for use
on kittens. Always check the manufacturers instructions
for use on kittens. Adams flea spray (according to one foster
mom) has been found to be safe and effective in quick kill
of fleas while not harming even day old kittens. After using
the spray (as directed on the bottle for kittens) place the
kitten on a towel that can be removed with the dead and dying
fleas 20 to 30 minutes later.
After the spray has rid the kitten of fleas,
bathe the kitten in gentle soap or surgical soap if flea sores
are present making sure to prevent chilling the kitten. DRY
THE KITTEN IMMEDIATELY. 1 to 3 week old kittens can be dried
carefully with a hair dryer. (Be careful to avoid blowing
in their faces.) Older kittens are frequently frightened by
the blowing and noise, so towel dry them as best you can and
place them in a container that is in a warm place (like next
to a refrigerator). You may also try putting the towel-dried
kitten in a pet carrier and aiming the blow-dryer into the
carrier where the warm air will gently circulate to dry the
If necessary, you may begin weaning the
kitten at 4 weeks of age. Start by feeding it formula in a
bowl. Then gradually introduce solid food. Strained baby food
or canned kitten food works well. Or you can moisten dry kitten
food with formula or water. Don't expect the kitten to be
weaned overnight. As it eats more often from the bowl, reduce
the bottle feedings.
Canned kitten food can also be used to introduce
the kitten to solid food. Young kittens cannot chew dry kitten
food without moistening. Check instructions on the container.
Try to buy high quality food for the kittens (from the vet
or pet food stores). Much of what is sold in supermarkets
is pure junk food and may not help your kitten thrive.
Changes in diet or certain foods can cause
diarrhea, so keep an eye on stools. Diarrhea can be life-threatening
to a young kitten.
LITTER BOX TRAINING
The 4 week mark is a good time to introduce
the kitten to the litter box too. Place the kitten in the
box after each meal. You may have to take the kitten's paw
and show it how to scratch in the litter. Usually the kitten
will catch on quickly.
LOVE AND ATTENTION
Besides food and warmth the kitten needs
emotional closeness. Pet it frequently and let it snuggle
against your warm skin.
Some experts believe that hand-raised kittens
show higher intelligence, greater loyalty and deeper affection
for their owners. Cat trainers also recommend lots of handling
for kittens and swear that this makes them easier to train.
Some experts argue that no adequate parental
substitute for the natural mother cat exists.
At birth, a kitten should weigh 2 to 4 ounces.
By the end of its first week it should double in body weight.
The kitten should open its eyes at about 8 days. The eyes
will stay blue for about 2 more weeks. (The true eye color
will not appear until the kitten is about 3 months old.)
At 2 weeks the ears will start to stand
up. At about 3 weeks the kitten will try to walk. At 4 weeks
kittens start to play with each other and develop teeth.
Check with your veterinarian as to the timing
of the needed vaccinations.
The kitten should be ready for adoption
at 8 weeks, and can be spayed or neutered at that time if
in good health.
Orphaned kittens are especially vulnerable
to diseases. At the first sign of any abnormal behavior or
loss of appetite, take them to the veterinarian.
Colds, like upper respiratory infections,
are caused by various viruses and claim many kittens each
year. Some of these same viruses, or an organism known as
Chlamydia, can also cause permanent damage to a kitten's eyes.
If bacteria invade the infected eye the organisms can puncture
the tough covering, resulting in blindness. Even a lesser
infection can leave the eyeball badly scarred.
Diarrhea can result from disease, food changes,
worms, or overfeeding. The resulting dehydration can be deadly.
Distemper is also a chronic danger to young
cats, especially those who did not have the advantage of the
mother cat's antibodies. It is airborne, very contagious,
and often a killer.
A FINAL WORD
Caring for an orphaned kitten can be difficult
and even the most conscientious foster parent may lose a little
one. If a kitten dies, the substitute parent should not blame
himself or herself. Nor should you accept all the credit if
the kitten thrives.
A kitten is most likely to die at birth,
in its first week, or while weaning. But, armed with common
sense and an ability to care (as well as accurate information),
you have a good chance of raising a motherless waif to the
adoption age - or beyond.