You’re out on a nice Spring day when you suddenly hear a faint, but recognizable sound. Congratulations! You just found a tiny kitten or even possibly a litter of kittens. At first, you think “aww” they are so cute, but you quickly realize that they might be abandoned or in danger. What do you do now?
We've compiled a helpful guideline on what to do if you find an abandoned kitten (or kittens). For a more thorough, in-depth guide to kitten rescue, we recommend Kitten Lady's Tiny but Mighty book, a guide to saving the most vulnerable felines by the "Kitten Lady" Hannah Shaw!
First, Keep Your Distance
If you don’t see the mother, it doesn’t mean she’s not there or near and not going to come back. You will need to observe for a few hours from a distance to see if mom is returning to her kittens. Newly born kittens will have a better chance of surviving with their mom because feeding and going to the bathroom is a round-the-clock job with kittens for the first few weeks. If the mother does return, you can help them by supplying some water and fresh cat food. If you want to regularly check on the litter, still keep your distance so you don’t scare the mother away from her kittens. Note the date, so you can accurately know the age of the kittens to help with the stage transitions for food and health reasons.
Mom Returns And Wants Your Help
If the mother cat is friendly to humans, you can help by bringing the mom and kittens into a safe and isolated area of your home or garage. You can supply the family with everything a cat needs – fresh water and food, warm bed and a litter box. Make sure this area is far enough away from your other pets for the mother cat to feel safe. Around 4-6 weeks old, kittens can be weaned from their mom. They begin eating solid foods or wet foods mixed with some water about this time. Once the kittens are weaned, please have mom fixed and ready to be adopted. For socialization, on a regular basis handle the kittens, have them fixed and ready to be adopted about 8-10 weeks old. If you see any signs of injury, illness or other problems, please see a veterinarian right away.
Mom Returns And Doesn’t Want Your Help
If the mother cat is not friendly to humans, you can still help by supplying food, water and a safe place for her to shelter her kittens. Around 4-5 weeks old, if the kittens are eating on their own, they can be taken away from their mother to be fostered and socialized with humans. But only do this if you can fully commit to getting them socialized and adopted. If not, leave them with the feral mother so she can teach them the skills they will need to be outdoor feral cats and survive. Also, please contact your local TNR cat rescue to get the mother fixed. For socialization, on a regular basis handle the kittens, have them fixed and ready to be adopted about 8-10 weeks old. If you see any signs of injury, illness or other problems, please see a veterinarian right away.
Mom Doesn’t Return. What Now?
Now it’s time for you to rescue some kittens! If this is your first time caring for newborn kittens, or kittens that require bottle feeding, you may want to contact your local vet to make sure you are equipped for kitten care. Since they are not weaned from their mother they will need round-the-clock monitoring and care.
For kittens 1-2 weeks old, they need to be kept warm in a room that’s near 90 degrees without drafts or humidity. Kittens this age cannot regulate their own body temperature, so first thing upon rescuing you want to make sure they are not hyperthermic or hypothermic, especially if they've been exposed to temperature extremes. The kittens will need a clean box with soft towels - a heating pad set on low, a hot water bottle, or even even a rice-filled sock heated in the microwave placed under the towels will help keep them warm.
At 3 weeks of age, you can lower the room temperature to 80 degrees. Without their mother, the kittens will need to be bottle-fed with a kitten-appropriate replacement milk every 2-3 hours (continuously), kept warm and dry, and will need stimulation to defecate.
Feeding The Kittens
You can find kitten formula and nursing kits at most pet stores or by checking with your veterinarian. Follow the formula instructions carefully for the correct way to clean and prepare the bottles, nipples, and the ratio to mix the kitten formula. And please wash your hands before and after giving the kittens formula. Place the bottle in a pan of hot water to warm the formula instead of directly heating the formula and test it on your wrist like you would for a human baby.
KITTENS CANNOT BE FED ON THEIR BACKS. You will need to carefully put them on their stomachs and tenderly lift their chins. So they don’t suck in air while feeding, tilt the formula bottle up. To get the kittens to suckle, gently rub the bottle’s nipple back and forth across their lips and gums until they taste the formula and latch onto it. For the first week or two, an eyedropper may be necessary for feeding.
When they are full, kittens will usually stop suckling. The kittens consuming formula will also need to be burped. Just like during feeding, they will need to be placed on their stomachs, on your lap or your shoulder, and gently pat their backs like a baby. Don’t force or feed them too fast, and every third feeding offer the kittens some water in the bottle to start. Kittens should be drinking kitten formula, not cow’s milk, rice, or soy milk.
You have to feed the kittens all through the night and on time. If you don’t, they might go into hypoglycemic shock, which is dangerous and a potentially fatal condition.
· Newborns up to 1 week old - At this age kittens must be bottle-fed kitten formula round the clock (every 2 hours). Please clean their faces after each feeding
· 1-2 weeks old – Feed every 3-4 hours around the clock.
· 3 weeks old – Feed every 4-5 hours around the clock.
· 4 weeks old – Feed every 5-6 hours around the clock.
· 5 weeks old – By this age some kittens are ready to eat canned food, although some may still need to be bottle-fed. Wet food only, no dry food. The canned food should not be chunky or have large pieces. It should be similar in texture to baby food since the throats are still tiny and a large piece could become lodged in their throat. Check with your veterinarian for the best canned kitten food. By this time the kittens should be able to be fed using a flat or shallow dish and will need access to clean drinking water.
Kittens will need help urinating and defecating until about 3 weeks old. You will need to stimulate the kittens with a wet cotton ball and warm water. To help them relieve themselves, carefully rub the genital and anal area with the wet cotton ball after each meal. This should work within 1-2 minutes. Their urine and stool will indicate their needed intake of food and water. Clear or pale yellow urine is good, if the urine is darker in color the kitten might need more formula.
After defecating, the kitten’s stool should be partially formed and pale to dark brown. If the stool is very firm it could indicate not enough formula or dehydration. If more formula is needed, please increase the number of feedings instead of increasing the amount of food at each feeding. Too much food can be dangerous for the kitten. It can potentially cause aspiration in the lungs, gas, bloating, and regurgitation.
If the kitten has diarrhea it could be caused by too much formula, intestinal parasites or a change in their diet. An infection can result in green stool. Please clean their genitals and rear end after defecation.
Clay litter should be used in their litterbox, so the kittens don’t ingest any that might stick to their paws and then be licked off. Please see a veterinarian if you see any signs of illness or weakness in a kitten. Dehydration and other conditions, if untreated, can quickly lead to death for kittens.
Fostering to Forever Homes!
Caring for newborn kittens is not an easy task - but it is an extremely rewarding them. Plan to care for your little kittens until they are old enough to get spayed or neutered and eventually adopted out to forever homes. If you can adopt them, wonderful! But not everyone has room for an entire litter! Check with your local shelter or TNR rescue to find affordable spay/neuter and vaccination clinics or near you. And enjoy fostering while it lasts - kittens grow up quicker than you think!