If the mother and kittens have turned up in your garden or nearby, ask around the neighbourhood first to determine whether they are owned or if others are aware of them. If this is unsuccessful then contacting a pet charity or a rehoming centre can help to get the relevant advice.
Everything you need to know about kitten season, including what to do if you find a litter of abandoned kittens.
What is Kitten Season?
Kitten season is the term used to describe the time of year when cats predominantly breed and give birth – usually from April to late autumn when the weather gets warmer. During this time, we tend to see a higher number of pregnant cats and kittens arriving at our gates in need of new homes.
Because of this, new owners may consider timing their visits for around this period if they are keen to offer a kitten a home.
During the winter months we usually experience a brief respite with fewer 'out of season' litters being born. However, during the winter months there are still plenty of adult cats looking for a home.
Meet the cats, find out about rehoming and start your search for your perfect feline friend.
Cat or Kitten? Which one is right for me?
There’s no doubt kittens are irresistibly cute bundles of joy. Things will never be the same again once a furry little ball of energy enters your life. Watching them grow up with you and your family is an absolute delight.
What people sometimes don’t realise, however, is that for all those big eyes and playful paws, kittens can be a lot of work. They don’t come with an off-switch! Just like babies, kittens are hugely demanding of your time. They need four feeds a day, countless litter changes and constant entertainment.
Having a kitten is also a bit of a leap into the unknown because their characters and social skills are still developing, a kitten’s personality can change with time.
It’s worth thinking carefully whether an adult cat might suit your needs better. Not only are they more self-reliant (and so can be left alone for longer), but they’re also more likely to respect your home rather than climb up the curtains!
You can get a proper sense of an adult cat’s personality and so decide whether they’ll fit your family – Certainly, if it’s a homely, lap cat you’re after, you’re much better off with an adult.MEET THE CATS
How do cats come into season?
Cats can become sexually mature from just 4 months old which is why it is so important to get them neutered at this age, to prevent them from becoming pregnant with unwanted litters. From 4 months, cats will experience heat cycles with active signs such as restlessness and calling, lasting a couple of days and reoccurring every few weeks during the breeding season.
A cat coming into season can vary depending on the region and the climate of that given year. Cats coming into heat is often due to the increased daylight hours of the spring and summer. This signals warmer weather thus more availability of food for the mother to provide for herself and her kittens.
Females in season will seek out a mate during this period, with unneutered males already on the search! If there is more than one male in the vicinity, the female can mate more than once in a day. This gives her a higher chance of reproductive success and can mean her litter has several different fathers.
A cat’s short reproduction cycle, with pregnancy only lasting for nine weeks, and females coming back into season just six weeks after giving birth, means there is the potential for a vast number of kittens being born in a brief period. And, as cats can have litters of up to nine kittens at one time (with an average of 4-6 kittens), the number of cats and kittens needing homes can reach crisis levels in the summer months.
What happens to kittens when they arrive at Battersea?
Just like every animal that arrives at Battersea, they are given a thorough health check by our Veterinary team. As well as treating any medical conditions, we make sure all kittens are vaccinated, microchipped and neutered.
The kittens will then be settled into their temporary home, either at Battersea or with a dedicated foster carer, so they can receive the round-the-clock care they need until they are ready to be rehomed.
Our expert foster carers play a vital role in helping kittens get used to domestic life by ensuring they get all the food, cuddles and playtime they need. Then, at nine weeks old, if they’re healthy and ready to move on, we’ll spend time matching them up with the perfect family for their individual needs.
Whilst many pregnant mums will stay on-site in our special cattery maternity ward, pregnant mums will also sometimes stay in foster homes, to give them the quiet space they need to give birth and a social home environment to nurse their young. Newborn kittens are incredibly vulnerable, so our foster carers will always remain close at hand should anything not go to plan.
The socialisation of kittens is vital.
The close ancestors of the domestic cat are solitary living predators that don’t have any need for social companionship (and in most cases will actively avoid it). If a domestic cat does not receive the right type of human interaction and handling during the cat’s ‘sensitive’ period for socialisation (around 2-7/8 weeks of age), which is then also followed up with positive social experiences as the cat matures, a cat is unlikely to develop the capacity to be sociable towards people later in life.
In essence, cats are not born liking people but must learn to see them as something positive and non-threatening, and this can only happen if they are appropriately socialised at the right time.
If kittens are exposed to more than one person and have positive experiences in terms of interactions and handling, the more likely they are to become sociable adult cats that enjoy being around people. The more positive experiences a kitten has (with people, other animals and their physical environment) at the right time, the more likely they are to develop into a content, relaxed and confident cat around people.
Here at Battersea, we ensure all kittens in our care receive the positive socialisation they need before going to their new home.
When is the right age to adopt a kitten?
Kittens shouldn’t be rehomed until they’re at least 8 weeks old (Battersea rehomes at 9 weeks). The mother-kitten relationship is vital to a kitten’s development; and it’s partly thanks to mum that kittens grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults.
Although kittens start eating solids at 4 to 5 weeks, they’re still dependent on their mother for food and warmth until they’re around 8 weeks old. Mum will still also be helping them toilet – not only stimulating their motions through licking but also showing them how to do it on their own. Kittens learn from their littermates too - growing up around their brothers and sisters develops their social skills. Without it they can grow up fearful, skittish or even aggressive.
If you plan on getting a kitten, always make sure you know exactly how old it is and how long it spent with its mum and siblings.
What do I do if I find a litter of abandoned kittens?
It can be easy to intervene at the first sight of an unattended kitten or litter of kittens; however, it is important to not rush into the situation. Here are some tips on what to do if you find unattended kittens:
It may seem that the mother is not around however she may be roaming nearby or seeking out food. Often the mother will return within a couple of hours. In this instance, all attempts should be made to leave the kittens undisturbed, avoiding any contact or handling as this could deter the mother. A safe distance should be given from the kittens, enough to observe them, but not too close that the mother feels she cannot return. If the kittens are in imminent danger, then they can be carefully moved to an outside sheltered area.
Try to avoid feeding the kittens unless consulted to do otherwise. Cats are lactose intolerant so in no circumstances should they be provided with cow’s milk. Instead, water should be provided, ensuring levels are not too high that they could fall in. Kitten food can also be placed in front of them but please do not attempt to feed them personally, they need to be able to do this on their own.
If the mother has not returned after a couple of hours, and the kittens are very young they may still be reliant on their mother’s milk and will need hand rearing. In this circumstance, seek out a vet or pet charity as a matter of urgency.
If the mother has returned and all are in a safe place away from danger, then consult with a rehoming centre on what to do. By giving the rehoming centre as much information as possible (such as how old/big the kittens are, where they were found and the temperament of the mother) means experts can provide better advice on how to manage the situation and steps going forward.
If a kitten(s) has clearly been abandoned/dumped then contacting a local pet charity would be the first port of call. If the kittens are in urgent need of medical attention then they should be taken to a local vet where they can receive the subsequent care needed.
However much it may be tempting, if you find a litter of kittens, it is important not to keep them. They will need vital care through worming, vaccinations and neutering before being rehomed. Pet charities and animal rescue centres are well equipped for these situations to provide them with everything they need.
The importance of neutering
Neutering has lots of benefits from both the cat’s perspective and their owners. It can not only prevent unwanted litters but also unwanted behaviours such as spraying in the home. The best time to neuter your kitten is at 4 months of age as they start to reach sexual maturity. The Kitten Neutering Database (KIND) provides further information and veterinary centres who offer this service.
To obtain more advice on neutering and to answer any questions you may have, access our Cat Neutering pet advice page.
Buttercup was found by a dog walker who on passing heard Buttercup’s cries from a closed storage container in a field. She was found alone and hiding under some old furniture after which she was brought to Battersea at Old Windsor.
Although in a good condition, Buttercup was obviously shaken by the ordeal. She was estimated at being 5 weeks old, which is far too young to be separated from her mother and litter. From her behaviour, it was evident that she had been socialised by people and with no route for her to enter or leave the container, it is believed she was abandoned.
Due to her being so young and on her own, Buttercup was placed into a foster home to benefit from consistent positive handling and to gain confidence with sights, sounds, smells and activities in a home environment. Buttercup grew in confidence, with her affectionate and playful temperament coming out. At around 9 weeks of age, after being neutered, microchipped and vaccinated she passed all her medical checks and was successfully rehomed.
Now called Pebbles, she is enjoying her life with her new family.