Feral Cat Colony Filter
July 25, 2013 7:57 PM   Subscribe

We're wondering whether there's any chance that the mother of the 10-12 week-old kittens is still alive, given the circumstances below. Extra points for ideas on how to catch kittens who won't go near the traps.

About five weeks ago a mother feral cat brought her three kittens, 6-8 weeks old, to us for help with feeding. We'd fed her most of the winter with plans to TNR. She was so slight and smart, though, that she managed to take food from both sizes of cage without tripping the latch. When the traps were out she kept the kittens away, coming for the food herself and carrying it back to them, even finely ground cat food. She ate almost nothing herself and looked emaciated.

About three weeks ago we noticed that she was pregnant again. Then, last week she disappeared. There is no trace of her around the brush pile where we think she had the first litter nor anywhere else. The kittens are on our deck all day and night, so she's not just gone to make a den nearby. We're going to get the smaller traps again tomorrow (they've been out) and try to catch the kittens over the weekend. They may just be two pounds now so we can take them straight for neutering. Our question is whether you think there's any chance the mother might have gone far off to have the other litter, severing all contact with this one and with us, for now? Even while she nursed the first litter (we didn't know about) she fed here. It sounds as I write this that we must face the likelihood that she was taken by a coyote or otherwise killed. We're grieving because she was very unique and a remarkable mother.

MeFites who think this is stupid please don't respond; we're on different wavelengths. She is/was a being, made by God. I don't make fun of people who are afraid of cats. Kindly show me the same courtesy.
posted by R2WeTwo to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
While a cat can go into heat and be impregnated while nursing a litter, cat gestation averages 63 days. Kittens usually reach 2 pounds at 8 weeks old (assuming they were getting adequate food, if they were underfed they would reach 2 pounds at slightly older age), which means your current litter is ~56 days old...I think the likelihood of the mother cat is off taking care of a second, younger litter is very small and it is more likely she's still pregnant.

Perhaps she found a cat trap that she wasn't able to escape, perhaps check at your local shelter?
posted by jamaro at 8:22 PM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

If she was close to giving birth (though that seems like a really short time), she may have gone elsewhere to find a different nest, and she'd be giving the new litter priority. Or another kind soul could have somehow taken her in. There's also a possibility that she just wandered off on her own; mother cats will sometimes forget about their kittens if they're separated for too long, plus twelve weeks is about the time for kittens to go off on their own.

The sad thing about strays and ferals is you just can't know. You see them around until you don't. And sometimes, after they've disappeared and you've given up hope, they show up again. You may never know what happened to her.

I don't think any decent person would belittle you for caring about her. I hope the mama cat and all her kittens turn out okay. Thanks for trying to TNR them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:24 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I forgot to include that at least one of the current kittens is female (calico). Don't the females stay with mom to help with the new kittens while the males are sent away?
posted by R2WeTwo at 9:19 PM on July 25, 2013

Have you talked to the neighbor you mentioned here? Given his fear of feral cats and past track record of trapping a kitten and vowing to shoot the others, I'm concerned. When you do talk to him, maybe it will help if you mention concrete plans for reforming the family; it might buy more time.
posted by carmicha at 9:21 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've never seen a female kitten stay with a mother to help with a new litter, and I've been around a lot of feral cat colonies (I live in the countryside where TNR is just now getting started, but we've been doing it for years).
posted by sarahgrace at 9:28 PM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

We have a set of kittens about the same age & their mother seemed to hit the "ok kids, you're on your own now" phase a few weeks ago. (FWIW, their mother pretty much disappeared the entire time she was pregnant, then reappeared at our house just in time to give birth. We live in the country & I was afraid the coyote got her, but she turned up & was just fine. I wouldn't worry too much about your mother cat until another month or two has passed.)
posted by belladonna at 5:44 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Call the local animal shelter and ask them about the best way to catch the kittens for neutering. Also, you may want to foster them indoors for awhile to socialize them so that they can be adopted.

If Mom-cat shows up with a new litter, work on getting her neutered first, and then any subsequent kittens.

The best gift you can give these kitties is to get them to a point where they can be adoped into a loving home.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:35 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're an awesome person for helping out mama cat and her babies!

We've had to resort to drop traps to catch some of the more clever ferals in our neighborhood, so you might want to touch base with your local humane society or similar organizations to borrow one. The sooner you can grab hold of the kittens on your deck, the better; fostering them as soon as possible will make socialization a breeze.

Don't hesitate to MeMail me if you have any questions.
posted by evoque at 8:38 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Friends of mine with a feral colony in their yard enlisted the help of Alley Cat Allies in trapping and neuter/spaying the cats. ACA provided traps and advice. Try contacting Alley Cat Allies for help; I think the least they can do is lend you humane traps or tell you where you can get them lent to you.

(One mom cat in my friends' colony was especially wily and hard to trap; that is why I have four cats now - I adopted Jack the kitten from that litter.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:29 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The drop trap may be your answer for trapping the kittens and maybe the Mummy cat too when she turns up again


Very good instructions and guidance on how to build, use etc.

In feral colonies, adult females will sometimes act as midwives helping an inexperienced female whilst she gives birth, nippng umbilical cords, cleaning the babies. I have seen this. It's well documented by ethologists such as Jeremy Angel.

I would definitely contact all of your local shelters, also the local vets, write out a description of her, so that they have something to go on, even better if you have pictures of her. Too often in shelters, ferals are just marked up to be killed as so few people have the will to help them

Don't give up on the Mummy cat. They can often turn up again. She may have been chased off by a dog or a particularly aggressive tom cat and holed up somewhere a way away, knowing her babies were now in relative safety with a food source.

Huge props to you for doing the right thing and helping this mini colony. The world needs more like you. Feral cats are just as deserving of our help as any other creature in need.

Best of luck :)
posted by Arqa at 2:09 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone. Your thoughtful remarks are as helpful as your practical suggestions. As you know, it can be hard to serve these critters when the human creatures around them are not yet very humane.
posted by R2WeTwo at 12:13 PM on July 27, 2013

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