Pet shelters: Don't assume a litter of kittens is abandoned, or else it's 'kit-napping'

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Every year, around mid-May, county pet shelters tend to get flooded with kittens. It’s a time usually called “kitten season.”

Even though this period of time tends to be from spring through early summer, litters can appear in the community at any time of the year. Sometimes, those kittens that are taken to the shelter should actually have been left alone.

According to the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center, while citizens may think they are saving a kitten that appears to have been abandoned and taking them to a nearby pet shelter, it may actually be “kit-napping.” It may be a good-hearted move, but it can have negative effects.

Shelter workers said almost always, the mom is still in the area, and it’s a huge issue dealing with influxes of not-yet-weaned kittens.

“Mom is going to be the best one to take care of them until they are two months old,” explained Lauryn Postiglione with the Pet Resource Center. “Mom still needs to go get food and water, so she’s going to put them somewhere, leave them alone for a little bit, but she will come back. So, just keep an eye on them.”

Lauren said if you noticed that the mom still hasn’t returned after a couple of hours, or if they appear to be injured or in distress, then it may be time to take action.

“Mom typically feeds them every couple of hours. Especially if they are smaller, they normally eat about every two hours. So, mom is going to come back and feed them,” she said.

The Pet Resource Center offered the following tips for those who come across a litter of kittens:

If you see the mother around:

If the kittens look like they are under 2 pounds or younger than eight weeks and mom is around, leave them alone. Let mom care for them!

Once the kittens are big enough (2 pounds or eight weeks old), bring them with mom (so she doesn't have any more litters) to PRC or a local rescue to be spayed/neutered. Spaying and neutering is the most important way to curb cat overpopulation. When bringing them to PRC or a rescue, keep in mind that they must be in a humane cat trap or enclosed carrier.

If you don't see the mother around: 

Don't assume that she has abandoned the kittens. Moms leave kittens at times to search for food and water, and will hide nearby if they see or hear you coming. Remember, mom can run from you but the kittens cannot.

Give the kittens space if you don't see mom. Check on the kittens at least two to four hours later, and if they look worse than when you last saw them, bring them inside to keep them safe.

Kittens that aren't 2 pounds or eight weeks old are too young to be adopted and will need to be fostered.

When you remove the kittens you are taking responsibility for their safety. Want to take care of the kittens? Check out PRC's Wait Until 8 program. If you can't foster the litter, reach out to friends to do so or bring them to PRC during regular business hours.

Neonatal kittens need around-the-clock care to survive and that cannot be provided without fosters. During "kitten season," there is a high probably that neonatal kittens may not find a foster at PRC due to the high volume of kittens entering the shelter. Unfortunately if no foster can be found, kittens will have to be humanely euthanized so they do not suffer.

If they are more than 2 pounds or eight weeks old, they can be brought to PRC or another local shelter to start the adoption process, which includes spaying/neutering and vaccinations.

LINK: For more information on the Pet Resource Center's Wait Until 8 program, head over to the shelter's website