So what to do about this tiny kitten. We knew the answer, but leaving a teeny baby outside in the cold is not easy. Would Mom take care of him and keep him warm enough? Well, yes, she did. Sometimes we have to trust our cats and Mother Nature to do what's right.
This is the time of year when cats who have been living outside for months or even years flood into the shelters. The feral moms and their babies will be arriving soon. But a shelter is no place for any cat, and that's especially true of outside cats and feral moms and their kittens. Feral cats belong outside, even when the temperature plummets and the snow starts to fall.
When we help cats, we need to think about what the cats want, not what we want for them. Outside cats with kittens just want to be left alone. They don't want to be "rescued" and brought indoors, and they certainly don't want to live in a cage with their babies at a noisy, scary shelter.
So what should you do if you find a mother cat and litter of kittens outside? Feed Mom well (kitten food is best) because she needs the nourishment to stay warm and feed her babies. And give her a shelter so she and the kittens will be cozy and warm if she chooses to use it. She probably will. And don't be alarmed if you find just one kitten all alone. Chances are, Mom is moving her babies, and she'll be back for the straggler.
If you must bring the kittens inside, bring the mother, too. Her kittens need her, not just for nourishment but to learn how to be cats. Neonatal kittens rarely thrive without their mothers, and bottle babies usually grow up to be a bit neurotic because they were raised by humans and aren't sure how to be cats. Despite your good intentions, you're not doing tiny kittens a favor by separating them from their mother.
Inside, set your cat family up in a large dog crate. You'll need room for Mom to be able to move around even when you put a litter box, dishes and a comfy cat bed inside. Cover about half of the crate with a sheet or blanket so Mom will feel protected and less vulnerable.
If you're hoping to tame and socialize the kittens and adopt them out, handle them as much as possible when they're old enough. Invite your friends to visit them and handle them, too. I give this advice begrudgingly because I believe with all my heart that feral kittens live happier, healthier lives when they neutered/spayed and left outside. And be aware that not all feral kittens turn. If yours still seem fearful of humans by the time they're six weeks old, they belong outside.
Whether you leave your cat family outside or bring everyone indoors, the entire family can be neutered/spayed and vaccinated when the kittens weigh at least two pounds or are two months old. Cats who are going back out should be ear tipped, too. If you've brought the cats inside, please have that done before you put the mother back outside and adopt out the kittens. And remember, the kittens should go in pairs. Kittens need to grow up with other kittens to be healthy and well-socialized.
Whatever you do, don't take them to a shelter. When the shelters are so full, there's a good chance they won't come out alive.
The kitten and mom in our neighborhood were trapped/neutered/returned and are living happily ever after. On this cold winter night, they're snuggled together in their cozy shelter. They're warm, well-fed, much-loved and living their lifestyle of choice. They're happy and healthy, and that's really all we want for any of our cats.