- Pets and Animals
Abandoned Kittens And How To Help Them
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 cats and abandoned kittens. 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.
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.
Love at First Sight
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 agressive 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 and we inquired with everyone we met, 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.
Getting to Know Our New Family
When the kittens first arrived they were just a few months old. We were unable to determine their gender but over time this became evident. Our new family members consisted of two strapping young males and a more petite female. They were obviously litter mates, looking very similar and clearly very accustomed to being together at all times.
Although a number of names came to mind, our little "culvert kitties" ultimately received their names based on my husband's near fanatic love of the Beatles. John, Paul, and George. (Poor Ringo, forgotten again) Later, when we learned "George" was in fact a girl, she became Georgie.
The Big Guy
John, pictured below, is the mesomorphic one. At 12 pounds, he is lean, muscular, and brave; often willing to go nose to nose with a dog, a horse, or whatever else comes along.
He is also very physically affectionate. He can always be counted on for a nearly ecstatic response to your presence; purring, rubbing, and rolling around although he's no lap kitty. He kindly announces his entrance into a room with a solemn "mrrrroww" so as not to suprise anyone.
John is still quite assertive. While his brother and sister peek in the windows and stare at us in their most endearing way at dinner time, he boldy saunters up to the back door and begins knocking.
John, like his siblings, can't be contained indoors. I am convinced he would wither and die. Therefore he, and the others, are truly outdoor cats, who spend time with us each day indoors. (With our allergies, this works for the best anyway.)
The Juvenile Delinquent
I think of Paul as the mischievious one. Even now at 3 years of age, he is very playful and gets bored if no one is willing to join in some type of adventure. He's also the endomorph however. He has a softer look and feel, fur like silk, and is more fond of the indoors and a leisure lifestyle than the others.
At only 8.5 to 9 pounds he is lighter and is extremely nimble; an accomplished jumper. Paul can sometimes be found high above your head and seldom exits the house without making the humans chase him down. He doesn't care, it's just a game.
Paul is also the best hiking partner you could ever find and he makes it clear he feels incomplete without a morning walk. Although my husband thinks I'm nuts, I also believe Paul has mastered some good communication skills; smacking his lips so to speak when he wants some milk as a treat.
Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice
Georgie girl is like liquid in your hands. She's an independent girl and probably the most accomplished hunter. She's patient beyond belief when waiting on prey, whether it's a small snake, a butterfly, a frog, field mouse, mole or something else; she's on duty. But when you pick her up, she flows out over your lap and the bliss is palpable.
Like many girls who grow up with brothers, Georgie has learned to be tougher than the guys. She's a prime playmate for Paul and his antics but she let's him know when enough is enough. Her hissing is pretty much limited to Paul though, and it's understandable! As you can see from her picture below (from a younger age), she is the ectomorph, long and lean which is only acentuated when she stands on her hind legs to look at things.
So What is it About 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.
The Problem with Abandoned Kittens and Stray Cats
It's estimated that there are well over 70 million feral cats in the US. The average life span 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 equipment to deal with life in the wild.
These animals present health problems that can be spread to domesticated pets and in some cases even people. Because most of these animals are not spayed or neutered, their proliferation is assured and the problem will continue to grow.
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. In short, they can be a nuisance at best.
What to Do About Abandoned Kittens and Stray Cats
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.
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.
A feral cat is a wild animal, it was probably born and has lived it's 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 it's outdoor home, you prevent other feral cats from replacing them and continuing to be a nuisance to you, the home owner. 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.
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.
You've Decided to Adopt: Care of Abandoned Kittens
Sometimes, as in our case, you fall in love and decide to keep an abandoned kitten 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 on line 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 into 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 tatoos 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