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How To Help Abandoned Cats and Kittens

Updated on October 29, 2018
RuthCoffee profile image

I've owned pets most of my life and volunteered many hours to help others. I've written on topics regarding their welfare for over 10 years.

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Abandoned Kittens and the Problems They Create

Cats rival dogs as the most popular pets. Small, relatively clean, and rather independent they make for a lower maintenance companion.

Unfortunately, there is a growing problem with cats and kittens. It's the problem of stray and abandoned animals. This large and growing problem causes a significant amount of suffering.

Learn more about it here, find out how you can help, and hear the story of my own abandoned kittens. For those of you who are trying to decide how to care for a found kitten, keep reading, there are resources below to help you out.

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My Road to Kitten "Motherhood"

I grew up in rural Indiana. My mother disliked animals. She was fearful and couldn't stand the thought of touching their fur. I believe it must have been some traumatic childhood experience but she recalls none.

Anyway, despite her misgivings, we were allowed as children to have pets. I recall three dogs, three or four parakeets, a rabbit or two, and some cats. How many cats? I can't say for sure.

Like many people, our experience with cats was sporadic. While most people seem to be committed to taking their dog to the vet, getting it tags, and going to the ends of the earth to find them when lost, the same seems to be less true with cats.

Living in the country, quite some distance from most of my friends from school, pets figured highly in my social circle. They were both playmates and confidantes.

For most of my adult life, I lived in urban areas, however, and I didn't have pets. I loved the thought of having a dog, but didn't feel I had the right environment for one; little space for it to roam and my frequent absence from home. I'm allergic to cats and some other small animals making that an unattractive option.

However, early in 2006, I returned to living a rural lifestyle and fate brought changes to my life.

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For those who don't live in a rural area, I can tell you that it's not uncommon for strays to show up with some degree of regularity. Certainly, pets can wander off and be unable to find their way home, but a less traveled country road seems to be a perfect spot to abandon an unwanted pet.

My husband and I take a walk every evening. Having moved to the country, this means that we stroll along country roads in more sparsely populated areas. One evening we saw what appeared to be three white rabbits hopping across a barren cornfield. As we got closer, we realized it was three kittens bounding toward a small culvert by the roadside.

There was a larger one that was bold but the other two were obviously somewhat frightened by us. After petting them we went on our way, convinced that such beautiful little kittens belonged to someone nearby. Unfortunately, the next night we noticed they were still there; and in fact, they were there again on the third night. The larger one was clearly getting more aggressive in following us and clinging to our legs; in retrospect, I realize he was trying to get us to understand that he and his smaller siblings needed help. What we had come across were three abandoned kittens left to fend for themselves when obviously they were unable to do so.

My husband and I never discussed these kittens, but on the fourth day, we both decided separately that we were going to go pick them up. Once home, they dove into the cat food like piranha and we knew we'd done the right thing.

Signs were posted to see if an "owner" would step up. We inquired with everyone we met and put an ad in the newspaper, but all to no avail. We were now "parents" for the first time. A shelter, no-kill or not, was never a consideration. These siblings had to stay together. Within seconds, we realized the three abandoned kittens had found their forever home.

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So Why Are There So Many Stray Cats?

I'm certain that dogs are sometimes abandoned, that some dog owners don't get their dog fixed, take it to the vet, and so forth. In my experience, however, the general, overall level of care and concern devoted to a cat is less. It's the only way I can account for the number of stray felines and abandoned kittens that I encounter.

It seems a vicious cycle to me. Someone is given an unwanted kitten as a gift; unwanted because it was born due to a pet not being fixed. The unwanted kitten grows up, wanders away at some point and no one looks for it too hard because it's a relief from having to deal with giving away all of those kittens it keeps having.

I also think people imagine that cats, being so "independent", don't need "looking after"; we assume they can take care of themselves. They're great hunters. I think people merely misunderstand.

I've seen stray cats and abandoned kittens. They aren't thriving. They're starving. They get infected scratches, infected eyes, and other problems that make life miserable and result in a very short lifespan. I know of many rural dwellers who feed anywhere from 3 or 4 to 12-15 cats at a time just to help them survive. They show up on your doorstep at night, prowling, frightened, and desperate. I assume the younger ones don't make it that far.

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The Problem with Abandoned Kittens and Stray Cats

There are a number of problems that result when there is a population of stray and feral cats.

  • It's a growing problem. It's estimated that there are well over 70 million feral cats in the US. Cats become sexually active at 6 months of age and can continue to conceive throughout their lifespan. They can have several kittens per litter and may give birth to 2-3 litters per year. If we assume half of all feral cats are female (35 million) and each could potentially have 20+ kittens per year, you can see how the number of feral cats grows immensely every single year.
  • Strays and ferals die young. The average lifespan of such animals is said to be only 3 years. For those cats that were once pets, their fate is even more doubtful. Not raised to fend for themselves they are ill-equipped to deal with life in the wild.
  • Strays can spread diseases to pets such as the feline leukemia virus which is deadly for cats. Of course, there is the risk for rabies and other diseases.
  • Strays suffer. The get frostbite, hypothermia, untreated infections, injuries, fleas, and ticks.
  • In addition, feral cats can be fearful and sometimes aggressive. They can be loud and disruptive.
  • They can kill small animals that are desirable for most homeowners.

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What to Do About Abandoned Kittens and Stray Cats

The first step is prevention.

  • Cat owners should assure their cat has some form of identification and keep any necessary shots up to date. Then if found, the cat can be returned to the owner.
  • All cats should be spayed or neutered to avoid having unwanted kittens.

However, if you do find a stray cat there are things to do.

  • Anyone who finds a lost cat or abandoned kitten should realize that if it was once a pet it can probably return to that role. When such a cat is discovered, the finder can place ads in papers, post signs, have it checked for a microchip, or take the animal to a no-kill shelter for possible adoption if they don't choose to keep it themselves.

    Any animal that is friendly should be brought indoors immediately to eliminate the risk of injury or death due to attack by wild animals, dogs, etc. or being hit by a car. If a mother cat is involved it is best to interact with the kittens as much as possible to begin the socialization process. This won't prevent you from eventually turning them over to a shelter in the coming days.
  • A feral cat is a wild animal, it was probably born and has lived its life without human contact. These animals are often best trapped, neutered, and returned to their outdoor home. Such programs end the cycle by preventing the birth of more feral cats. Then by returning the cat to its outdoor home, you prevent other feral cats from replacing them and continuing to be a nuisance to you, the homeowner. Feeding a stray cat may help it survive, but TNR programs help to fight the broader issue of stray cats. The AlleyCat.org site offers tips on how to trap a stray cat.

    If you are unable to find a TNR program in your area, you can usually find a low fee spay and neuter clinic by searching online, calling the local shelter, or local veterinarians.

    Obviously, it's not wrong to help provide shelter even to a feral cat that has been returned to the area. There is very little expense required to provide an insulated shelter, water, and food when you know there is an animal in need. I'll explain in more detail below.

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Sheltering a Stray Cat Without Adopting

Even if you don't want to adopt, you can help a stray cat.

  • If a cat is tame, willing to allow you to pet it, it is often best to take it to a no-kill shelter if you can't find the owner and aren't going to adopt it yourself. If shelters are full, call a veterinarian to see if he knows a rescue or shelter that could help.
  • If a cat is not tame and is too fearful to allow you to approach very closely, it is better to just provide some food, water, and shelter once you assure it is neutered.
  • A shelter can be built using large styrofoam coolers or Rubbermaid containers with a lid. Doors need to be cut and insulation provided. Inserting a styrofoam cooler inside a Rubbermaid container or cutting and using foam insulation board inside of the container will provide some protection from cold weather. A doorway will need to be cut out and some type of bedding provided. (Any bedding needs to be cleaned periodically)
  • There are heated pads, light bulb heaters, and so forth that can be added if you wish.
  • Many cats feel safer when they are higher up, so a raised platform is a possibility when locating the shelter.
  • Providing a bowl of food and some water is also important. Heated bowls are available.
  • If a stray in your area has kittens, it is best to try to get them rescued so that they can begin to be socialized and become available for adoption as a pet.

Taking Care of Abandoned Kittens or Strays You've Decided to Adopt

Sometimes, as in our case, you fall in love and decide to keep an abandoned kitten or cat you have found. Of course, you want to do what you can to find the original owner in case it has just wandered off. However, if you find yourself in the position of kitten mom or dad, there is plenty to learn to become a good caretaker.

Luckily I found many resources online to help me out.

  • FeralCat.com has this article which covers many of the basics that you need to know for kittens that are orphaned at birth or an early age.
  • For a bit of information about some of the developmental milestones, check out this article on kitten growth and how to care for kittens at the various stages.
  • This CatHelp article covers information about developing kittens and even provides a vaccination schedule.
  • Certainly taking young cats and kittens to the vet is good to assure any problems with worms or other health problems are addressed. Shots and getting them spayed or neutered generally comes a bit later but needs to happen on time.
  • Even indoor cats should have some form of identification. Microchips are great for this as are tattoos but even a tag will help as long as the collar can release in an "emergency". With identification, a pet that wanders off can potentially be guided home by anyone who finds them.

© 2008 Ruth Coffee

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