Part of Ireland's TNR Manual
How to Help Community Cats
Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies.
You’ve got a decision to make. Your first instinct when you see kittens may be to swoop them up and take them home with you, but that is not always in the best interest of the kittens - or you. Socialising and caring for feral kittens is a time-consuming process which requires devotion, patience, attention and finances. The decision to bring feral kittens into your home should not be taken lightly.
Some kittens may need intervention if they are not doing well.
Remember that early weaning of kittens who seem to be doing well may lead to increased mortality or failure to thrive. Although kittens begin weaning prior to eight weeks of age, if it's safe they should remain with their mother until then to learn proper behaviour and socialisation. Ideally they should stay with their mum till they are twelve weeks old in order to complete the development and socialisation process within their family.
Ultimately, you have to use your own judgment depending on the kitten’s circumstances, and your time and resources. The best way to help all of the cats in the colony is to perform Trap Neuter Return - and not spend all your time socialising kittens. Read our TNR Manual for Ireland for help.
Before You Make Any Decisions
TNR Groups and individuals ideally should not get involved in fostering & rehoming felines. If you find rehoming is required (and you inevitably will!) it's best to team up with a rescue near you. Their funding is devoted to rescue and yours should be devoted to TNR to make positive change for the maximum number of felines.
Before you decide what you're going to do about the kittens you must consider the health of the kittens, the circumstances of your TNR project, the time you have available, your adoption expertise and connections and the age of the kittens.
In colonies with poor caregivers, kitten health can be appalling. Where kitten health is poor or worse, ethically you can't leave them with the colony and must take them for vet checks. If they need ongoing care, they are likely to socialise because of the handling - in which case, you have to consider if it is fair to return them to an outdoor environment.
Contact your local veterinarian right away if your kittens show these signs:
Signs of a sick kitten include:
- Thin stomachs and gaunt faces, visible ribs and spine
- Cold ears, bellies, and paws
- Pale gums and tongue
- Lethargy/almost no movement
- Excessively crusted eyes or nose
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Struggling to breathe
Signs of an injured kitten include:
- Visible wounds or sores
- Crying out in pain
Consider how easy it will be to trap the kittens when they are older. Do you have a good caregiver who will handle them while they grow - making it possible to simply pick them up to take them to the vets? Is the location safe for mum and babies? Is there anything else you need to consider about their location and available care?
Do you have the time it takes to socialise kittens? You will have to commit to caring for them one-on-one for at least a couple of hours each day, for a period of a few weeks to a month, or longer. If the kittens are neonatal, they will require even more specialised care, including round-the clock bottle-feeding. Make sure you know ahead of time what this entails. Sadly, people often bring feral kittens into their home and then do not take the time to work with them. Weeks, or months, later, they realise that they cannot touch the cats - they have feral cats in their home that cannot be adopted.
Adoption Expertise and Connections
After socialising the kittens, they will need adoptive homes. Do you have the network - friends, acquaintances, organizations - to help you find those homes? Finding and screening homes for kittens takes work. When deciding whether to socialise the kittens or not, consider the paperwork required - adoption fees, forms and contracts - as well as your ability to get the kittens neutered before adoption.
Healthy kittens four months of age or older can stay in their colony, and CATalyst does not recommend attempting to socialise kittens older than this. These kittens should be neutered, treated for parasites and returned to their outdoor home.
How to Estimate Kitten Age
Alley Cat Allies have excellent, very clear pages:
You can pop-out and download their At A Glance poster below:
- Ireland's TNR Manual
- Early Age Neutering
- Alley Cat Allies kitten progression week-by-week
- Alley Cat Allies kitten progression at-a-glance
- Our Kitten Development Gallery