By Gina Hardter
Pop quiz: You see a kitten, by itself, outside on a hot summer day. What do you do?
Answer: It depends.
When we see an animal in need, especially a baby animal, so many of us want to help. After all, they’re so cute with their big eyes and round cheeks, traits designed to evoke a parental instinct in animals and humans alike. Surely, that animal needs our help.
But many times, the solution that’s best for that animal is to leave it alone. This goes for baby squirrels, fledgling birds and, as the temperatures heat up, kittens found outdoors.
Now that the weather is warmer, we are in peak “kitten season,” so called because female cats across the region are birthing litters of kittens — indoors, outdoors and a lot of places in between. The best and safest place for those kittens, 90% of the time, is with that mother cat.
Mama cat is a busy lady, and she does so much for her newborn kittens. She feeds them regularly, every few hours, to make sure they get the nutrition a growing feline needs. She keeps them clean, because little kittens don’t know the first thing about personal hygiene. She teaches them how to be social but not overwhelming to other cats, how to go to the bathroom and just generally how to be a cat.
If that kitten you saw is looking healthy and happy, it’s likely that mom is somewhere, taking better care of her baby than a human could – even if you don’t see her at that moment. And that’s the way it should stay, at least until kittens are about eight weeks old and able to fend for themselves without mom.
What about the other 10% of kittens? There are certainly circumstances in which a kitten might need a human helping hand. When do you call in the experts to assist a kitten in need?
If a kitten is visibly sick or injured
Mama cat is good, but medicine is sometimes necessary, and that’s where the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria comes in. Sometimes an unwell kitten needs extra care through veterinary and foster programs.
If a kitten is trapped or in danger
Kittens are mischievous, and AWLA’s Animal Services have found them in storm drains, in walls of construction sites and so many other places. Mama cat isn’t going to be able to help those kittens, but animal service experts can.
If a kitten appears to be abandoned by its mother
This one can be harder to tell. Just because mama cat isn’t visible doesn’t mean she’s not around, hunting for dinner, checking out the area or just enjoying some well-deserved me-ow time. If the kitten you see appears healthy and clean, mom is likely still taking care of him or her. If the kitten appears dirty or undernourished, then it’s time to call for reinforcements.
But no matter what, please do not handle that kitten. We certainly don’t expect everyone to be cat experts, gauging kitten age, health and temperament, and that’s why we’re here to help. Call the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria at 703-746-4774 extension 2 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any kitten concerns. After all, we all love kittens. Together, we can help them live happy, healthy lives.
The writer is the director of marketing and communications for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization supporting Alexandria and beyond. More information is available at AlexandriaAnimals.org.