We all (hopefully) know how babies are made, but when it comes to understanding how orphaned newborn kittens end up at shelters the answer is a bit more complicated.
Almost all newborn kittens who enter the shelter system were born to community cats. Community cats (sometimes called feral cats) are those outdoor cats you may see lurking around your home or business. They don't have human families and, in fact, may not be comfortable around humans at all. Most community cats didn't grow up having positive relationships with humans so they aren't socialized and may scatter if you try to touch them.
Community cats are generally happiest and healthiest when they are allowed to continue living in their outdoor homes... but a colony of community cats will grow rapidly if they aren't spayed and neutered. Did you know that a cat can give birth three times per year if she isn't spayed?! Yikes! That's why organizations who do trap-neuter-return (TNR) work are so critical in communities with large populations of outdoor cats, and so important to the work we're doing to save newborn kittens!
Some newborn kittens do end up in shelters after being born to owned cats. This can happen if someone's owned cat isn't spayed, becomes pregnant, gives birth, and for some reason can't care for her kittens. Maybe she passed away or became injured shortly after giving birth. Maybe she isn't producing milk. Or maybe she's a very young mother who just isn't interested in being a mom. Out of the hundreds of kittens we have cared for though, I can remember only two litters that came from an owned cat.
When community cats give birth, it's often outdoors or in indoor places (like a basement, garage, or shed) that the cat has determined to be relatively safe from predators. These places aren't necessarily well hidden from human traffic though, so they're often found while people are doing yard work or walking their dogs.
And while people almost always have good intentions when they gather up the kittens and bring them to a shelter, they are often accidentally orphaning kittens -- oops!
Just because kittens are found all alone doesn't necessarily mean they don't have a mama taking good care of them (mamas have to leave every once in a while to find food, right?) It's always best for unweaned kittens to stay with their mom is at all possible.
Do you know how to tell whether or not kittens have truly been orphaned?
Stay tuned for next week's blog where we'll talk about how to tell whether or not kittens have truly been orphaned and what to do in either case!