Updated: Jul 28, 2020
If your wondering if you should rescue a kitten you find in the wild, make sure it doesn't have a mom who is nearby and will return. Kittens need their mommas to thrive. If the kitten is clean, looks fed, and is not in distress, chances are there is a momma cat coming back. If you have been handling the kitten, there is a chance the mother might reject it, so make sure you have evaluated the situation carefully before you remove the tiny kitten. According to a Tennessee group, Neonatal Kitten Rescue, "If you have found a kitten or a litter of kittens and they appear to be plump, clean and healthy, odds are the mom is taking care of them, even though you may not see her. Many of these mothers are feral and will not allow you to see her. She will also move her babies, so if you find a single kitten, please understand that mom very well may be in the process of relocating her litter."
But, if the kitten is crying, looks dirty, hungry and in distress, by all means, rescue it.
Hannah Shaw has been called the Kitten Lady because she has rescued kittens who are zero to eight weeks. Kittens this young need to be kept warm and need bottle feeding every two hours. In an interview on NPR with Terry Gross she is introduced as: "Shaw has rescued hundreds of neonatal kittens, often orphaned and unweaned, who are too small and vulnerable to be in an animal shelter. Kittens are a highly euthanized population in shelters because they require a level of care that most shelters cannot provide. That's where Shaw steps in."
According to The Kitten Coalition, 1.4 million cats are euthanized in shelters, most of them are very young kittens. Neo-natal kittens, less than eight weeks old, have the highest rate of euthanasia in shelters because shelters know they can't take care of them as they need. Some shelters have foster programs, where trained people can take a young kitten home and get them healthy, socialized and ready for adoption. If you are interested in becoming a foster parent for a young kitten, check with your local shelter, as they always need people who can get the kittens up to the two pounds needed to be ready to be adopted.
Hannah Shaw's book, Tiny But Mighty, the Kiten Lady's Guide to Saving the Most Vulnerable Felines tells you everything you need to know if you would like to help tiny kittens, which she says need to be kept warm until at least four weeks old.
One tip Hannah offered in her interview with Terry Gross was how she used a soft toothbrush to groom tiny kittens.
"I use a toothbrush a lot in my nursery for many different reasons. You know, one for grooming, but also for comfort. I'm talking a lot about simulating maternal behaviors for these kittens, and mom cats, they keep their kittens meticulously clean, and they also comfort them through licking, and so they have those barbed tongues. And a toothbrush is just about the right texture and size to help these kittens feel like they do have a mom who's licking them and comforting them and keeping them clean. And being able to simulate those behaviors for the kittens helps them become better at grooming themselves and helps them feel well-adjusted and cared for."
Below is a video from a couple of years ago with The Kitten Lady at a rescue.
According to Neonatal Kitten Rescue, each year, especially during the breeding season (which spans from March to October), shelters are overwhelmed with orphaned kittens. They are especially vulnerable and will likely perish without a mother or unless rescued by an individual able to provide help and safety. If you are able to help these tiny beings, consider becoming a kitten foster with your local rescue or shelter.
Genie Joseph, PhD
Director: The Human Animal Connection