It’s a very good thing that most of our days doing TNR work (trap/neuter/return) are successful ones. The colony we tackled in February was incredibly gratifying, knowing that we got to the group in time to prevent 13 cats from turning into 50 or 60 or more by year’s end. Successes like that help keep us going when we have days like we had this last Saturday.
One of the things we never, never, ever want to do in TNR work is take a lactating mom from her kitten. Ever. Unless you can get mom and all the kittens (and you better be sure you actually have every one of the little ones) you wait and trap later.
I’m working on a colony of six cats now. One cat had kittens about three weeks ago, and we will trap her and the kittens when she starts bringing them around to the food area. Another of the cats was pregnant, and so we wanted to trap her before the kittens came. If she wasn’t close, she would get spayed anyway. We simply don’t have a way to hold a feral cat for weeks to let her give birth, and there are so many cats and kittens without homes already. It is one of those awful things that we don’t like at all, but need to live with. Once you have a cat the chances of re-trapping are much reduced. Many times we don’t even know that a cat is pregnant until they have her on the surgery table anyway. But if this cat was really close, we would put her in a dog crate and let her give birth, and work to socialize the kittens, depending on whether momma cat would cooperate.
When I went to trap last Thursday the caretaker wasn’t sure if she’d had kittens or not yet. So when I trapped her a colleague and I spend a good 20 minutes looking at her as best we could, checking to see if she was leaking milk, if she was engorged…any of the signs we know so well that indicate a lactating mom. We saw none of them, and two days later she went to the clinic to be spayed.
Where they discovered she was a lactating mom after all. We were devastated when they emailed and said to return her ASAP when she got back from the clinic. Which we did.
While we kicked ourselves and contemplated never doing TNR again. The idea that we’d pulled a momma cat from her less-than-a-week old kittens for TWO DAYS…unforgivable. My colleague and I are both experienced at this and we’ve only had one other lactating mom in five years. We’d really hoped that first one would be the last.
We discovered later that day that the momma cat wasn’t displaying any of the signs of lactation. It was only when they got her on the table and opened her and discovered that her uterus was stretched out that they knew she’d had kittens not long ago. Even when they got her under she was not engorged and they had to squeeze the nipples a good bit to get milk from her.
For a cat to have given birth within days and not be leaking milk like crazy suggests only one thing, which is that perhaps the kittens were stillborn or died quickly on birth. If they had been nursing the momma cat would not have been milk-less after being separated from the kittens for two days.
It’s good to know that we didn’t miss something we obviously should have seen, though it doesn’t help that much. We are still very sad that we might have taken a momma from her kittens. There was no way we could have known…we understand that…but we can still try to do better. We will start looking at any questionable cats four or five hours after first examination from now on. Generally a lactating mom will start filling up in that time. It wouldn’t have helped in this case, but it might help in another.
We will lick our wounds a bit longer, and mourn for the momma and whatever happened to the kittens. I’m not sure we will ever know, since she comes from a very wooded area. I will trap the remaining four cats later this week and you can be sure we will look at any females many times. And keep the poor momma cat in our thoughts and prayers for many days to come.