Feline Wellness

What to Do if you Find an Abandoned Kitten

June 25, 2024

It’s spring time, which means it is kitten season. During the spring and summer months, hundreds of thousands of kittens will be born outside to community cats who are not yet spayed or neutered. While the idea of a never ending supply of kittens may be incredibly cute, in reality, kitten season is full of sadness. There are simply not enough homes for the number of kittens being born. This is why spay/neuter and TNR (trap-neuter-return) is crucial to ending the cat crisis in the United States. 

Kittens born outside have the odds stacked against them, but their best chance of survival is staying with their mom. Even when they are outdoors, a kitten under five weeks old - at the minimum - really needs to stay with their mom. Kittens need their mother’s milk and the nutrients it provides. Newborn kittens also need to be fed every two hours. It is very difficult to find people willing and able to care for newborn kittens. It is much easier and more successful to have them stay with their mama cat. Nobody is more capable of raising newborn kittens than their own mother. 

If you find a kitten outside, here are some steps you can take to help ensure the kitten has the best chance of survival:

  1. Assess the Situation: Determine if the kitten is truly abandoned. Often, the mother is nearby and just temporarily away, resting or hunting. Mother cats do not stay with their kittens all the time. Monitor the situation and see if the mother returns. If the babies are newborn, the mom should return within 3 hours. If the kittens are bigger, the mom should return to feed them within 5 or 6 hours. If you have concerns about the kittens’ safety, move them to a safer location nearby. Keep in mind that once you touch kittens, the mother cat will know - the kittens will smell different - and she will likely move the kittens to a new hiding spot. 
  2. Approach with Caution: If the kitten appears to be abandoned or is suffering, approach slowly and calmly. Be cautious, as scared kittens might scratch or bite out of fear. 
  3. Check for Injuries: Inspect the kitten for any visible injuries. If the kitten is injured, they will require immediate veterinary attention. Kittens are prone to upper respiratory infections and eye issues. Since they are so small, they are also easy prey for larger animals. Check to see if the kitten’s belly feels full. If it does, their mother is likely nearby and will return. If their belly feels empty, they likely need help. 
  4. Provide Shelter: If the kitten seems healthy and its mother hasn’t returned after a few hours, provide temporary shelter. A cardboard box lined with soft blankets or towels is perfect. Kittens, especially newborns, need to be kept warm. Kittens under 4 weeks old are unable to regulate their body temperature. 
  5. Provide Food and Water: Offer the kitten some water and a small amount of kitten wet food. Do not feed them cow's milk. Kittens’ bodies cannot process it. If the kitten is very small, they will need to be bottle-fed with kitten milk replacement, which is available at pet stores. If the kitten has tiny teeth coming in, they may be able to eat wet food - or wet food mixed with warm water - on their own.
  6. Contact a Local Rescue: Reach out to local animal shelters or rescues. They often have resources to care for kittens and can provide guidance on what to do next. They may be able to teach you how to bottle feed or loan supplies or, if you’re lucky, provide financial assistance or take the kitten into their care. 
  7. Consider Fostering: If you're able to provide care for the kitten temporarily, consider fostering until a forever home can be found. Rescues and shelters are usually operating at capacity, meaning they do not have open cages for new animals. They may be willing to help with supplies or finding the kitten an adopter if you are willing to foster in the meantime.
  8. Schedule a Vet Visit: The kitten should be examined by a veterinarian even if they appear healthy. The vet can provide vaccinations, deworming, and flea treatment. The kitten will also need to be spayed or neutered once they are at least 8 weeks old. If you are fostering the kitten, some vet clinics will give discounts or you can search for a low cost clinic in your area.
  9. Find them a Home: If you're unable to keep the kitten, try to find a home for the kitten through adoption. Post on social media and neighborhood groups. Remember to charge an adoption fee to ensure the adopter is serious about committing to the kitten’s care. 
  10. Trap-Neuter-Return: The last step is getting the mother cat spayed so that she does not have more litters of kittens. Contact a local rescue or TNR group with the information of where the cat(s) live and volunteer, if possible, to help get her and any other cats in the area spayed or neutered. This will help make next year’s kitten season less overwhelming.

Finding and caring for a kitten involves a lot of hard work and dedication, but it’s incredibly fulfilling to make the difference in such a tiny life. If you find a kitten outside this kitten season, hopefully you will be prepared and know when to help them and when to leave them with their mom.

Love, Nala