Tuesday, March 08, 2016

How to Foster Pregnant Feral Cats Safely

Fostering pregnant feral cats in a home setting can be done safely, following a few simple steps.
by Maggie Funkhouser

Spring is here, which means so is “kitten season.” When practicing trap-neuter-return (TNR), it is best to avoid trapping during spring and rather trap before or after this season to allow mother cats to nurse their young properly. You don’t want to separate mothers and babies and cause any added stress to these new families.

But what should you do if you accidentally trap a pregnant feral cat?

You basically have three options to consider:

1) Release the cat without sterilizing her and try to retrap once her kittens have been weaned; you may struggle to retrap her.

2) Keep the cat and have her spayed. If she is in the early stages of pregnancy, the pregnancy can be terminated. Note it is important to discuss these options with your veterinarian prior to trapping, so you can devise a plan. Your vet will determine what the safer option for the mother cat is.

3) Keep the cat and allow her to give birth in foster care. Once the kittens have been weaned, the mother can be spayed and the kittens sterilized. The mother should be released and the kittens socialized and placed into an adoption program.

So you’ve determined that fostering the pregnant feral cat is the best option for her, now what?

Feral cats may become stressed when they are held in captivity.  Stress can cause illness and a mother’s inability to properly care for her kittens, especially when giving birth. Providing a safe, quiet place for her, where she won’t be disturbed, will minimize any stress and reduce the risk of birthing complications. So it is vital that you make sure you are fully equipped to care for a feral mother and kittens prior to making this decision.

Cats feel safe in small boxes or dens.
To safely foster a feral mother cat (or any feral cat) you will need a large cage and a cat den for her to hide in to feel safe. It is highly recommended that you keep the cage in a spare bedroom or other room that has limited foot traffic. Line the cage with newspaper and provide plenty of fresh, clean blankets or towels. Cover the top of the cage with towels or sheets to give her a safe environment. Limit your access to the room and the cage; only disturb her when changing food/water, the litter box, and blankets. And always take caution when opening in the cage, feral cats are fast and she may try to bolt; always make sure the door to the spare room is closed in case she does escape from the cage.

Leave her alone to give birth in a quiet environment. Some of the kittens could die, either at birth or from viral infections. If the mother does not show any interest in caring for a particular kitten, it is usually because she instinctively knows the kitten is not going to survive. Try to encourage the mother to care for any kittens she is ignoring, but only do this safely — don’t stress her. If she clearly is not going to care for a particular kitten(s), you will need to remove the kitten and begin bottle feeding.

The mother cat should allow all kittens to nurse. She should be washing and grooming them regularly. Make sure the mother is also taking care of herself: eating/drinking, going to the bathroom, and cleaning herself.

To help with socialization, try to pet the kittens as early as possible; use caution and thick gloves if needed. If the mother is particularly wild and lashes out, don't stress her and wait until the kittens are around two to three weeks old, when they begin to crawl away from her to attempt to pet them. Mothers can be very protective of their young, so take extreme caution and gauge how agreeable she is to letting you handle her kittens. The easiest way to begin the taming process is to sneak pets when you are cleaning the cage. As you’re reaching into the cage to change the blankets or food, you can quickly and calmly give each kitten a few pets. The more you work with them and the mother cat (and the sooner), the easier and faster it will be for them to become socialized.

Fostering cats and kittens in a home environment can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, and it also frees up shelter space, so more cats can be assisted. However, it is important to keep in mind that being a foster parent means increased responsibility; most cats and kittens who need to be fostered require a lot of time and energy to prepare them for adoption. Prior to fostering, make sure you are fully aware of and fully equipped for what it means to be a foster parent.
Top: Katharine Brainard, used with permission
Middle 1: Alley Cat Rescue
Middle 2: Maggie Funkhouser, used with permission
Bottom: Maggie Funkhouser, used with permission

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