Kitten Season is about to start here in Albufeira, Algarve, Portugal -
Kitten season, runs from April to October in the Algarve.
During this time of year, sadly, we are overwhelmed with cats and kittens. So despite an active TNR Programme we have a mountain of a task ahead of us.
Many people don’t realise cats are almost as prolific as rabbits when it comes to reproducing. An intact female cat can become pregnant at 5 months of age, and can have multiple litters a year. Each litter is typically 4 to 6 kittens, so just one mother cat can bring 12 to 18 kittens into the world every year of her life.
During this time of year, it’s not unusual to encounter either a nest of kittens or a single kitten, and no mother cat in sight. Upon seeing such a tiny, defenseless creature, your first instinct may be to scoop him up and take him somewhere safe. However, that’s not the best course of action in every case.
Where Is the Mother Cat?
It’s possible you’ve come across the kitten(s) while mom is off hunting. Or perhaps she’s moving her litter, kitten by kitten, to another location. So the first thing you should do is try to determine if the mother cat is coming back.
You’ll need to get far enough away from the kittens that mom can’t sense your presence. Since it could be several hours before she returns, you might want to leave and come back later if you’re reasonably sure the kittens are healthy and there are no immediate threats in the area (cold weather, off-leash dogs, wildlife, etc.).
Healthy kittens can survive while mom is away as long as they’re warm. In fact, hypothermia is a much greater immediate risk for very young kittens than lack of food. In addition, the mother cat’s milk is the best nutrition by far for her kittens, so it’s best to try to wait her out as long as the babies aren’t in immediate danger.
If the mother cat returns and seems friendly or at least approachable, you can take her and her litter indoors until the kittens are weaned. The best location to shelter a semi-feral or socialized mother and kittens in your home is in a small room or enclosure in a quiet area.
However, if mom is feral (more about that shortly) and the area is relatively safe, leave the kittens where they are and let her care for them.
You can certainly offer food and shelter to the mother cat during this time. For the best results, the shelter needs to be a safe distance from the spot where you leave her food. This is because the food is likely to attract other cats or predators, and the mother cat will want to keep her kittens out of harm’s way.
Once the kittens are 6 weeks of age, they can be removed from the mother cat to be socialized and put up for adoption. If the mother is feral and the kittens will be TNR’d (Trapped-Neutered-Returned), they can be taken from mom once they turn 8 weeks old.
It’s important to also insure the mother cat is spayed, whether she’ll be put up for adoption or returned to her feral colony.
Is Mom Stray or Feral? – How to Tell the Difference
Stray cats have at some point lived with people. They’ve been separated from their owners somehow, but if they haven’t been on the loose for too long, they can still be approached and handled.
Feral cats, on the other hand, are what we term “wild.” Technically they are domesticated cats that have reverted to an untamed or free-living state. Most feral cats are born in the wild, though a small percentage are probably strays that for whatever reason reverted to wildness over time.
Unlike strays, feral cats don’t trust people and will not allow you to get close to them. They won’t eat if you’re nearby, and their eating behavior tends to be hurried and furtive.
Feral kitties typically hide during daylight hours and roam around at night. They find out-of-the-way places to rest and sleep – hiding places where they won’t be disturbed. Feral cats often live in colonies in areas that provide shelter, food and water, like around garbage dumpsters.
The central difference between stray and feral cats is that as a general rule, stray cats can be re-socialized and placed in new forever homes, whereas feral cats older than about 8 weeks are considered unsuitable for adoption.