SAN DIEGO — Although taking an unattended kitten to a shelter is a caring thought, it may result in a mother cat losing her offspring.

Unaltered outdoor cats usually give birth to litters of kittens during this time through September every year, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The San Diego County Department is advising the public to not “kitnap” as mother cats typically leave litters alone for stretches of time; neonatal kittens are four weeks and under and cannot survive on their own.

If you find a kitten litter, first observe the kittens from a distance to not scare the mother off, according to animal experts. Those who want to help can step in only if the kittens are in immediate danger from such things as traffic or predators, if they are visibly sick or injured or if the mother cat doesn’t return after six hours and feel the kittens need care.

The County of San Diego recommends to take care of the kittens yourself and said that bringing the kittens in to your jurisdictional animal shelter should be your last resort.

“If kittens are healthy and strong, shelter staff make every effort to immediately find a partner shelter, foster caregiver or rescue organization to properly care for neonatal kittens that are brought to a shelter. This is done because the County shelters do not have overnight staff to care for them. Underage kittens also cannot be vaccinated yet and are susceptible to illnesses in a shelter environment,” the county said.

To help reduce the number of unwanted kittens, the county urges the importance of spaying and neutering your cats, the stray cats in your neighborhood and encouraging your neighbors to alter their cats.