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Austin Pets Alive! provides neonatal care for kittens in kitten season

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 by Sumaiya Malik, Reporting Texas

It’s kitten season, the time of year when the population of kittens explodes in communities across the country. Kitten season begins in the spring and peaks during the summer, lasting until the fall months. During this period, thousands of kittens are born, putting pressure on municipal shelters and animal rescue groups to keep up with the flood of kittens, provide neonatal care to fragile orphans and find homes for healthy kittens.

Austin Animal Center made preparations ahead of time. “We did expand our kitten nursery,” Don Bland, chief animal services officer, said at the Animal Advisory Commission meeting on April 12. He added that the center’s neonatal folks are setting up a meeting with Austin Pets Alive! to discuss a group plan.

A quarterly report from Austin Pets Alive! showed an uptick in the demand for neonatal care of kittens at the shelter. While intake of kittens at the AAC was down during the pandemic, the center and APA have been working together to prepare for neonatal kittens and move them to immediate foster care upon arrival. 

APA is under a license agreement to take in up to 3,000 animals a year from AAC, or 12 percent of the previous year’s intake, whichever is greater. Bland gave APA a 21-day waiver in 2020 when intake went down due to the pandemic. 

Once intake increases, all the partners will be ready to step up. 

“My understanding is that APA is taking a larger portion of a smaller number of intakes,” Commissioner Ryan Clinton said. Because intake is down, APA has shifted to cater for needs in the community, he said. This includes training volunteers to care for kittens and shift them to foster homes and providing educational materials.

Many people find kittens outdoors and think they are abandoned by the mother cat. APA and AAC are working to educate people to let the kittens be where they are, as the mothers are usually nearby. Once kittens are removed from their surroundings, there is almost no way to find the mothers, and orphaned, neonatal kittens have a high mortality rate.

In an animal shelter where there are a large number of animals to care for, it is difficult to provide individualized care for neonatal kittens, which need to be fed every two to three hours. Kittens are fragile and shelters are unable to do much, Dr. Ellen Jefferson, the CEO of Austin Pets Alive!, told the Austin Monitor. Kittens develop diarrhea when switched from mother’s milk to formula. They hide symptoms of illness and tend to die quickly, a phenomenon called fading syndrome in wild animals, she said. 

“Wild animals don’t just get sick, they just drop dead,” she said. 

“We have a nursery in place where volunteers and staff treat them,” Jefferson said. The kittens receive prophylactic injections to prevent diarrhea and are moved to foster homes as quickly as possible.

Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive! set up a protocol for transferring kittens to APA as soon as they arrive at AAC. Initially, the data did not differentiate kittens from grown cats. After the protocol was changed, care for the kittens went up. 

“During Covid, we didn’t have enough volunteers coming in because of Covid restrictions so they pushed kittens to foster care 100 percent,” Jefferson said. APA hired a full-time coordinator to fill the gap.

“We are working really hard to make sure that the animals that are most at risk of euthanasia have a safety net within the community as we continue to work to make sure that no animal was euthanized unnecessarily,” she told the Monitor.

Austin Pets Alive! is in need of supplies and welcomes donations to its nursery. Austinites are encouraged to sign up for fostering a baby kitten, Jefferson said. 

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