You will probably want to save and protect those kittens, but it may not be the best thing for them.
Do not assume that the mother has abandoned her babies. Though it may go against your instincts, do not immediately scoop the kittens up and take them home or to the shelter.
Remember that kittens have a much better chance for survival with their mother. In most cases, mom is nearby or out hunting and will return. Therefore, first observe at a distance. If the kittens are clean, plump, and sleeping quietly, there is a good chance that they have an attentive mom. If they are dirty, crying continuously, and have a soiled nest, they may be orphans and need your assistance. Only remove them if you see that mom does not return in a few hours or they are in a life-threatening situation.
So, what do you do if you find a kitten?
#1 - Wait and Watch
Look for clues that reveal the health of the kitten(s). Look for signs that indicate that they may have been without care for a while:
Are they in a safe, clean, and dry environment? If they are exposed, this is cause for concern as they may not be able to stay warm.
Are they in any danger from predators, like dogs, raccoons, etc.?
Is the nest secluded or near a roadway where they might be hit if they wandered off?
#2 - Give Mom Time to Return
Once you have assessed the situation, walk away if there is no immediate danger. BUT, if you find the kittens are in need of medical attention, starving, or are vulnerable to predators, then remove them.
Most cats, especially if they are feral, may not return if they smell or see humans. While they do not want to abandon their litter, self-preservation can cause them to do so.
Leave for several hours to give Mom an opportunity to return. Go back and check on the situation in 4-6 hours.
#3- Return and Check
After 4-6 hours, return and check on the nest. If mom has not returned but the kittens still look well, give it a bit more time. Try again in another 4-6 hours.
You want to give the mother as much time as possible to return to her litter, which will give the kittens the best chance for survival. Not only do nursing kittens need nutrition from their mama, they also receive immune support from her milk. Therefore, it is not in their best interest to remove them unless it is absolutely necessary.
#4 – What happens now?
If you decide to care for the kittens yourself the following are good resources for information:
Cats are unregulated in Tehama County, therefore, typically Animal Control will not pick them up. However, if the animal is injured, they will.
Domestic baby animals (kittens, puppies, calves, kids, foals, piglets, etc.) found injured or abandoned on the road need to be taken to an appropriate facility. In Tehama county, start by contacting the above animal control agencies. In addition, contact the The Tehama Animal Care Center located at 1830 Walnut Street, Red Bluff (530-527-3439) for further advice.