Without bylaws governing cats in Trent Hills, there are many reasons why you might encounter a cat or kitten(s) in the community. Here are various circumstances, some common terminology, and what to do.
I found abandoned newborn kittens.
First: are they, in fact, abandoned?
Most of the time, they are not. Mother cats go off to hunt every few hours. If kittens are in a clean pile sleeping, they have not been abandoned. The mother is likely very nearby and watching you. Even if friendly, she likely will not return while you’re there with her kittens.
What to do: leave them alone!
We understand people want to help, but by removing kittens from their mother, you are condemning most of the litter to die slowly and painfully. Newborn kittens need to be fed every hour or two, kept warm, and even with an experienced human caregiver they have a very low chance of survival. They are commonly euthanized when turned over to shelters because many cannot provide the specialized care they require.
Observe from a distance for a few hours. Hungry kittens will start screaming, and that is the last thing a mother cat wants because it will attract predators. If kittens are screaming and there is no sign of their mother, then bring them inside and speak to an experienced rescue for further help. Kittens require Kitten Milk Replacement (KMR) and cannot have cow’s milk as they cannot digest it, and must be stimulated to go to the bathroom. They also must be fed a certain way or they can aspirate, they cannot be fed when cold or they can die, cannot be warmed too quickly or they can die, and have many other requirements to give them a chance to survive.
We cannot stress this enough: if you take newborns from their mother, you are responsible when they die. Please, please do not do this.
I found a nursing mother cat with her kittens.
If the mother is feral: the best thing to do is leave food nearby to keep her in the area, and try to catch the kittens when they’re six or so weeks of age (weaned, eyes still blue, and able to be socialized).
If the mother is friendly: contact Northumberland Humane Society about surrendering her if you’re in Trent Hills. You can also contact us about our waiting list. Both mother and kittens will need to be collected at once to get them to safety. If you remove the kittens from the mother, they will likely die. If you remove the mother from her kittens, those kittens will die. They must be kept together until they’re big enough to ween.
I found older kittens (able to walk on their own).
Figuring out the age of the kittens is critical to determine what the best course of action is.
Kittens should be socialized between two and seven weeks of age; after that, there is a 50/50 chance of them ever becoming adoptable. Even as young as 10-12 weeks is already too far outside the window and require a massive commitment from someone experienced to socialize. “Socialized” means more than just being used to seeing people–they must be handled regularly and taught to accept humans.
A general rule of thumb is to go by eye color. Kittens are born with blue eyes and that colour changes by the time they’re 7-8 weeks old. If their eyes are still blue, kittens born outside can still be socialized, but there is a very small window. They need to be caught, confined to a small room (like a bathroom), and handled regularly to get used to people.
Outside of this window, it is very difficult to socialize them. Without socialization, they cannot be adopted. Their best chance then is to wait until they’re four to six months old to be spayed/neutered and released back to the area.
If the kittens are socialized and you’re in Trent Hills, your first call should be to Northumberland Humane Society. They’re the shelter that covers this area. You’ll be asked for a small surrender fee if the kittens are under four months old, which is worth it to know that they’ll be spayed/neutered and found forever homes.
CCI does have a waiting list to bring in kittens. Sometimes it can be several weeks before we have a foster home available, and it’s a big help to us if you can get them inside and start working on socialization yourself.
All kittens must be vaccinated, treated for parasites, showing no signs of ill health, and eating solid food before they can be brought into our store environment: if you show up at our store expecting to drop off a kitten without making arrangements, you will be turned away. This is for the safety of all the animals whose health will be at risk by bringing in an unvaccinated kitten into our store.
I found an adult cat.
The first question is: is the cat friendly or feral?
The term for an unsocialized cat is “feral”–it means they are fearful and avoid human interaction, and will act aggressively toward people if cornered. This poses a huge risk for anyone directly interacting with the cat, and it means being with people is hugely stressful for the animal. Cats have not been domesticated the same way other species have–they’ve been pets for far fewer years and retain a lot of traits that wild animals do. While we 100% would like to see all pet cats live healthy, happy lives indoors, realistically this is not an option for feral cats.
In the instance of feral cats in Trent Hills, we can provide TNR–trap-neuter-return–services, but we need an agreement in place with someone feeding the cat(s). We have traps to lend out and provide instructions for doing so, but appointments must be made with a vet prior to trapping. Trapping and then releasing without vetting makes it more difficult to catch the cat to spay later. Please do not trap without making arrangements with us.
If the cat is friendly: it can be eligible for adoption, but we’re unable to immediately remove animals from the area. We rely on foster homes, which are very few in the community. If your attempts at finding the owner are unsuccessful, your first call should be to Northumberland Humane Society, which is the shelter that covers Trent Hills.
If you aren’t sure: sometimes cats are friendly but scared outside. It can take some time to evaluate them for adoptability. In the meantime, we can work towards getting them spayed/neutered.
If the cat is pregnant it is vital to prioritize trapping the cat to be spayed immediately, so please get in touch. While we understand this thought can be upsetting to some, ultimately it is kinder than having more unwanted kittens born on the street to a painful death of parasites, the jaws of predators, the elements, and vehicles on the road. Cats can also get pregnant very young–between four and six months old–and give birth the first time as young as six to seven months, when they’re still kittens themselves. Pregnancy can be very risky for a young cat, and the ensuing offspring face a huge uphill battle when born malnourished to a kitten struggling to survive herself.
Unless you are prepared to adopt, vaccinate, spay/neuter, and care for all of the unwanted kittens in the world, this is the most humane option earlier in a pregnancy and done in accordance with veterinary guidance.
I would like to keep the friendly stray cat/kitten I found–if CCI will spay/neuter it.
We do not spay/neuter other people’s pets. That undercuts our veterinarians and it would put our entire spay/neuter program in jeopardy.
If you’re low income, you might qualify for Northumberland Humane Society’s Pet Aid Program–they will spay up to two pets a year for those who meet the provincial standard for low income.
Another low-cost option is High St Animal Hospital in Peterborough. Their regular rates for spay/neuter is extremely reasonable.
We understand spaying in particular can be very costly depending on the veterinarian, but it is the very least any pet owner can offer their cat. If this is not something you can or are willing to provide your cat, please get in touch with the Humane Society to surrender. Unaltered animals contribute to pet overpopulation which leads to the suffering and death of thousands of kittens in our community, and puts cats at risk for various cancers and many preventable illnesses.