We’ve all been there, finding a litter of helpless kittens or a baby bird fallen from its nest. These are among the most frequent calls we get at San Diego Humane Society. When coming across these helpless infants, our first instinct is to save them—snatch them up and find help right away. In fact, this can actually do more harm than good. The best thing we can do is to first wait and monitor the presumably orphaned animals before intervening. The goal is to prevent the tragic unnecessary separation of nursing babies from their moms.
Last year, nearly 4,700 kittens arrived at our Kitten Nursery, and more than 10,000 wildlife came through Project Wildlife’s Care Center (a program of San Diego Humane Society), all in need of food, medicine and specialized care.
Sometimes that baby bird on the ground is simply learning how to fly or a litter of kittens is resting peacefully while mom is out finding food for herself. Rabbits actually only spend two hours a day with their young, so you’re more likely to find baby bunnies without their mom than with her. Most of the time, really well intentioned people bring these animals to us for care, but mom may later return only to find her babies gone. That’s the worst scenario since baby animals have the best chance of survival if kept with their mother until weaned. So unless animals are injured or truly orphaned, they should be left alone.
If you do find a baby animal:
Watch – Watch to assess whether the babies are injured or exposed to harsh elements.
Wait – Baby animals are fine to be left alone for a few hours, so wait to see if mom comes back. If she doesn’t return within six hours, it’s time to intervene.
Evaluate – Did mom return? There are things you can do to make life a little easier for her like provide food and water so she doesn’t have to leave her babies as often. If she didn’t return, you can either become a foster to care for orphaned animals or call San Diego Humane Society and schedule an appointment to relinquish them into our care. Same thing if that animal is wild: drop off or call us at Project Wildlife where we’ve got a 24 hour, heat lamp filled porch waiting for them.
We’re dedicated to all the nearly 30,000 animals who come through our doors, but nothing can replicate a mother’s care. It’s in the animal’s best interest to stay put until weaned. To help our animal loving community be advocates for the animals, we’ve developed a matrix of Orphaned Kitten Care and Wildlife Care Guidelines. Please consider sharing this important information. Together, we can ensure all of our animals, domestic and wild, are protected and the animals we love have the best start in life. Thank you so much for being the protectors, the voice and the friends they need.
Gary Weitzman, DVM, MPH, CAWA
President and CEO
San Diego Humane Society