Frequently asked Questions
- There are lots of cats in my neighborhood, they don’t belong to anyone. They use my yard as a litter box and keep me up at night fighting and yowling. How can I get rid of them?
- There are cats getting into my trash, and making a mess. How can I stop this from happening?
- There are cats using my yard as a litter box, and digging in my garden. How can I stop this from happening?
- A cat had kittens in my yard/under my house. What do I do?
- When can a cat get pregnant?
A: In the past, animal control organizations have advocated the policy of trapping and euthanizing free-roaming/unowned cats. However, studies have shown that the most effective way to reduce the number of cats in an area, and to stop annoying behaviors associated mating (yowling, fighting and spraying) is through Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). Cats are trapped, spayed or neutered so that they will stop reproducing, and given vaccines so that the overall health of the population is improved.
Trapping and removing the cats does not work as a long-term solution, because as soon as a cat is removed, a new (unfixed) one will move in to take over the food source. Cats are territorial in nature and will keep out other cats from the surrounding areas. Once they have been neutered, the population will decrease naturally. They will stop annoying mating behaviors, but will continue to keep the neighborhood free of rodents.
A: The cats are hungry and looking for food. They are opportunistic scavengers and will feed on rodents, insects or trash, etc. if no regular food source is available. To deter cats from your property, trash should be properly covered and secured, or you will attract raccoons and possums in addition to cats.
You can find more tips on keeping cats away from your yard and garden here.
A: A cat’s natural instinct is to eliminate in soft, loose, soil-like mulch, sand or peat moss. To discourage them from digging in your garden try:
- Place irregular shaped rocks or pine cones firmly in the soil.
- Chicken wire can be set into the dirt with the sharp edges rolled under.
- Heavy plastic carpet runner (pointed side up).
- Use one of the widely available cat repellents that can be bought at most pet supply stores.
- Keep trash cans properly covered and secured, or you will attract raccoons and possums in addition to cats.
You can find more tips on keeping cats away from your yard and garden here.
A: The first thing you need to do is determine whether their mother is around, and the age and health of the kittens. Kittens born in the wild can be socialized and adopted if they are captured when they are between 4–10 weeks old. If they are too young, they will need extra care, so if possible, it is best that they stay with their mother during this period.
Do not take them to your local shelter if they are too young. Shelters do not have the resources to take care of kittens that are too young to be weaned (before 4–5 weeks old). During “kitten season” (March-September), rescue groups and shelters are filled with kittens and it can be difficult to find foster homes for the kittens. If possible, consider fostering the kittens yourself. For more information on caring for, socializing, and finding homes for kittens see the Island Cat Resources & Adoptions (ICRA).
If the kittens are too old (over 10–12 weeks), there is a chance they will never become fully socialized, in which case it would be best to trap and neuter them before they get old enough to start reproducing. Fix Our Ferals has low cost spay/neuter clinics for feral cats and other resources available to help with this.
Determine if there is a mother cat:
- Resist your instinct to scoop up abandoned kittens right away, even though they are adorable and helpless! It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best thing to do for the kittens is not to move them.
- Keep an eye on them and see if a mother cat comes for them. Feral mom cats move their kittens a lot, and she might be in the middle of changing location and on her way back to these seemingly abandoned kittens. If you move the kittens, she won’t be able to find them and continue to care for them when she returns for them.
- If there is, indeed, a mother cat, is she nursing them and caring for them? It’s best to leave them with mom until they’re weaned. Kittens begin to nibble at wet food at age 4 weeks and are fully capable of eating on their own at 6 weeks. (See below for how to determine the age of a kitten)
Although ideally mom and the kittens could be trapped and live indoors in a safer environment (a garage or cage or bathroom- if the mom is feral the whole family can live in a large cage) until the kittens can eat on their own, trapping mom and all the un-weaned kittens can be difficult, since she moves the kittens around so much. It would be easy to trap mom and then realize that her kittens aren’t where you thought they were! The kittens would not only be lost, but also vulnerable, since if they are under 4 weeks, they cannot eat on their own—they either need to nurse or be bottle-fed.
If you see no visible health problems, go ahead and leave food out for the mom and just monitor her as she cares for her kittens until the babies are eating solid food and are 5–6 weeks old.
What to do if there isn’t a mother cat:
- If there isn’t a mother cat and the kittens are not yet eating solid food, they will need to be bottle-fed every 2–3 hours.
- It’s important not to offer them cow’s milk (this will make them sick). Buy Kitten Milk Replacement (KMR), a product either in liquid or dry form that you prepare for the kittens and that is available at pet stores.
- A veterinarian or the East Bay SPCA Foster Department at 510-563-4632 can help you with more information on bottle-feeding kittens.
- After each feeding, kittens need to be stimulated (rubbing their bottoms, underneath their tails, with a warm washcloth) to go to the bathroom, since they cannot do this on their own, either. If the kittens are eating on the own and if you’re able to socialize them until they’re 8 weeks old and weigh 2 lbs, then they can be neutered and put up for adoption.
- More information on raising kittens is available online at the Kitten Rescue web site.
What to do if there IS a mother cat:
- Mom should be trapped and spayed (help make this litter her last!), but not until her kittens are able to eat on their own.
- She should also be returned after her spay recovery. An adult feral cat cannot be placed for adoption and made a pet. It’s unlikely that she could ever be tamed.
- If surrendered to the animal shelter, she will be euthanized because she cannot be handled by people and wouldn’t be a safe pet to have in a home. If someone attempted to handle her, she might injure them.
- Fix Our Ferals has low cost spay/neuter clinics for feral cats and other resources available to help people effectively and humanely reduce the homeless cat population in their neighborhood.
Determining a Kitten’s Age
- Under 1 week: Eyes shut, ears flat to head, skin pinkish. Part of umbilical cord may be attached. Scooting on belly.
- 10–14 days: Eyes begin to open, ears flat. Smaller than your hand. Still scoot.
- 3 weeks: Eyes fully open—blue in color, ears erect, tooth buds visible. Walking but wobbly.
- 4 weeks: Teeth erupt. Possible interest in canned food. Walking.
- 5–6 weeks: Eyes changing from blue to adult color. Playful—begin to pounce and leap.
- 8–9 weeks: Weigh about two pounds.
Determining a Kitten’s Health
- Immediately identify obviously life-threatening health problems. Injuries aside, the top four things to check for are hypothermia, flea infestation, Upper Respiratory Infection (URI), and diarrhea—all potentially fatal.
- Hypothermia: Critical for kittens under two weeks old. If cold and listless, warm them up immediately with a towel-covered heating pad set on low. Ensure kittens can move off the pad if it becomes too warm.
- Fleas: If fleas and/or flea dirt are present, use a flea comb or a very small drop of Advantage as soon as possible. Flea anemia can be fatal. Pale gums are a good indicator that anemia has set in. Seek advice if you are uncertain how to proceed.
- URI: Eye/nasal discharge, sneezing, congestion, and a visible third eyelid are all signs of URI. Seek veterinary treatment quickly to avoid permanent damage. Gently clean eyes and nose with a cotton ball and warm water.
- Diarrhea: Leads to severe dehydration. Could indicate presence of intestinal infection and/or parasites or other illness. Seek veterinary treatment.
- More information about kitten care is available here.
A: Cats can get pregnant as early as four months of age, but six months is more common. They will mate with siblings or parents if that is who is available when they go into heat. The best age to have a cat fixed is around three months, by that time they should have reached at least three pounds and can be spayed/neutered and receive their first rabies shot but still avoiding the risk of them reproducing.