Our hedge has kittens

A week ago my 5 yo came into the kitchen with great excitement telling us that we had to come outside to see something. We followed her and were very surprised to see a mother cat and 4 young kittens playing under the hedge at the front wall of the house. Based on what I could see, it appears that the mother probably gave birth to them inside the hedge, which is quite secure and sheltered from the elements. I am not at all an expert on cats, but it seems that the kittens are about a month old. They have all their fur and, despite being fairly small (torsos about 6 inches long), they are very active. The mother seems to be in good shape, although a bit on the thin side. I don’t see any signs of her nursing the kittens, and no sign of her teats. The second day we got some cat food from a neighbor and offered it to them. They all ate the food very eagerly. The initial food we gave was for adult cats, but we have since bought food for cats of 1 to 12 months old. I think that the mother had been taking the kittens out during the day (hunting?), but now that we are feeding them they seem quite happy to stay around the hedge. The kittens are very playful and curious, but the mother is distrustful of us, and hisses if we come too close. We managed to pick up one of the babies on the first day we saw them, but since then the mother will not let us get too close. It has been one week now.

So the question is what should we do. In some ways this is quite fortuitous as my daughters have been begging for a kitten and we were beginning to take the question seriously. Seems like destiny. But of course we need to find out if they belong to anyone in the area. My feeling is that there may not be an owner as the mother was not fixed (in these parts almost all cats are fixed) and I can’t imagine why a mother would leave a safe and comfortable home to give birth under a hedge. But on the other hand the mother doesn’t really look feral (very clean and no signs of fighting or injury).

I guess that I need to call the SPCA, but would kind of like to maintain the status quo for the next week or two before doing that. And as I mentioned, we might be interested in taking in one or two of them (but not all five!)

Any advice either on procedure or on kitty-care? Right now it is still summer weather, but the nights are already chilly and it will get cooler soon.

Many communities have groups that trap, spay, and release feral cats, since they rarely can be domesticated - you might see if there’s one in your area. They have the experience and equipment to deal with situations like this. And I’m sure they’d be thrilled that you’re interested in adopting a couple of the kittens. Good luck!

You want to trap them soonish( and get mom spayed if she’s not someone’s pet ). Kittens begin to wean at four weeks and though they can potentially continue to nurse until eight to ten weeks, it is usually better to trap them before then. Like say by 6 weeks.

Basically with feral kittens, the older they get the harder they are to tame. Six to eight weeks old it is usually a piece of cake. After twelve weeks it can be a rather more arduous process. These may not be “true” ferals, rather kittens of some stray pet. But socializing with people early is still important.

I would go ahead and get them trapped if you can. Unless you’re planning on having permanent hedge cats, mom needs to get spayed (they get pregnant again really fast) and the kittens need to get socialized. For now, continue with yummy bribes and fun times.

The kittens need to start socializing yesterday. Get your hands in them sooner rather than later. And then vet. You obviously not gonna get mom easily. Humane trapping is best. Like above said, call in the experts. Good luck on your new adventure.

I’d get them indoors and feed them food for weaning kittens. Mom and the kittens will be distraught but it’s better than leaving them outside. You don’t know what dangers they could be exposed to as they start to venture out from their nest. Hazards which are trivial or obvious for us may not be trivial or obvious for kittens. Expect them to have parasites like ear mites.

Having all 4 kittens in your home will allow you to assess which ones you think would be best to keep and which get along with each other. Keeping more than 1 would be best since the best cat toy is another cat.

It would be best to get the mother too although she may not be cooperative. She needs to end up with the SPCA in any case.

The kittens will reproduce sooner than most people realize; females can get pregnant around age 4 months, and males can impregnate females a little later.

Usually, if a cat is TNR’ed, they clip off the tip of the ear while they’re still under anesthesia so other people can immediate recognize that they’ve been fixed, whether they are male or female.

An update

I spoke with the SPCA yesterday. The first thing they told me is that I need to put up posters locally to rule out it being from one of the neighbors. Of course we will do this.

The second thing the guy said is that if the mother is feral, then they cannot do much to help. I was surprised to hear this as if they cannot help, then who can? I guess the issue is that there is no chance that they could place the cat if it is truly feral, and they would have to destroy it? (my words, not theirs)

I note that several of the responses to my OP said that I need to trap them (or at least the mother). How do I do that? It sounds difficult. I would have thought that you need a professional for that?

And once we trap the mother, what do we do then? Just take her away hissing and scratching?

And yes, we would definitely get them all spayed.

Sunny Daze. ‘Hedge cats’. Band name? :wink:

With the mom, yes placing them is essentially too difficult for a group like SPCA to bother with. They’d simply euthanize her and be done with it. Adult ferals can( occasionally )be rehabilitated, but it is usually a whole lot of work. More than an organization with a broad mandate can afford to deal with.

Typically with feral adults IF you don’t want to euthanize and IF you don’t want to spend the considerable effort to try and tame them yourself( which in many cases won’t work terribly well or even at all ), the preferred method is TNR. Trap, neuter, release. The idea behind that is removing the reproductive capacity so they don’t continue to pump out kittens and release them so they continue to maintain a territory, with the idea of gradually reducing the feral population through natural attrition.

The theory is sound, in practice it is a bit hit and miss because one missed queen and the whole area will fill up rapidly.

What you need a volunteer group in your area that does this kind of work, IF they exist. They do in many parts of the country. So for example in my area there is the Feral Cat Foundation, Fix Our Ferals and a bazillion others. They often have slightly different philosophies, but in general they’re the kind of folk that will help you trap your cats and get kittens fostered and adopted. In dense urban areas there might be a ton of resources available. Unfortunately in others there might be none.

By the way from the first group here’s a link about assessing kitten ages.

No, it is actually pretty easy most of the time. But it does help to have an experienced person help.

TNR or euthanize are probably the only viable options. Unless you’re lucky and she is just a stray pet that can be reunited with the owners.

Feral TNRs who cannot be homed (and an experienced rescuer will be able to tell) frequently go to farmers who need a mouser for the outbuildings.

Even if she is feral, if you trap her, spay her and release her, she may well stay near and be your hedge cat (band name ;)). I ended up with my cat Tarmac that way.