Kitten season is a time of year when stray and feral cats give birth, and orphaned kittens flood shelters and rescues. It typically starts in the spring and can last into fall or winter in milder climates, such as here in Southern California.

The surge of kittens puts a huge strain on local animal organizations, says Teri Denning, who fosters neonatal kittens at the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA in Newport Beach. She’s seen the influx firsthand, with the number of tiny, hungry kittens growing each day.

When people see a litter of kittens in a yard or on the street, their instinct is to scoop them up. But that may not be what’s best for the kittens, Denning warns. “It can take several hours for mom to return after her babies are abandoned, so it’s important to evaluate their situation carefully before intervening,” she said. Ideally, good Samaritans will leave the kittens alone and try to determine their age by observing their behavior. Young kittens, especially those less than five weeks old, must be bottle fed and need a mother cat to be healthy and safe. You can check for the presence of a mom by sprinkling flour around a litter and looking for her paw prints after four or so hours.

If you want to help, volunteer to foster or adopt a kitten. It frees up space at a shelter and gets a new furry family member into a home where they can grow custom to life outside of a kennel. You can also get involved by spaying or neutering your own cat and encouraging neighbors to do the same.