Guidelines for Found Kittens
Found kittens - now what?
It is not uncommon for citizens to find a nest of unattended kittens or a single kitten seemingly abandoned by the mother cat. Your instincts are to scoop them up and seek help. But first, consider these recommendations that can save the kittens’ lives.
First: Wait and watch
You might have discovered the kittens while their mother is off searching for food, taking a break of even hiding from you. Or she may be in the process of moving her babies to a different location. Try to determine if the mother is coming back for them, or if they are truly orphaned.
To do this, stand far away from the kittens - 35 feet or more. If you stand too close, the mom will not approach her kittens. You might need to go away completely before the mother cat will return to attend to the kittens. It might be several hours before the mother cat returns - until she no longer senses the presence of humans hovering near her litter.
If you need to leave before the mother cat comes back, carefully evaluate whether the kittens are in immediate danger: Is it raining or snowing? Are dogs or wild animals that might harm the kittens running loose in the neighborhood? Does the neighborhood have kids or adults who are likely to harm the kittens? Are the kittens located in an area with heavy foot or car traffic?
To help with your decision, it is important to know that it might take several hours for the mother cat to return, and healthy kittens can survive this period without food as long as they are warm. Neonatal kittens are much more at risk of hypothermia than they are of starvation. During spring and summer months, waiting a longer time to see if mom will come back is much safer than during frigid winter months.
The mother cat offers her kittens’ best chance for survival, so wait and watch as long as you can. The best food for the kittens is their mother’s milk. Remove the kittens only if they are in immediate, grave danger.
If the mother cat returns
If mom returns and the area is relatively safe, leave the kittens alone with mom until they are weaned. If mom is friendly, you can bring the mom and kittens indoors and isolate them from your pets. If mom is unsocialized, leave the family outside. You can offer a shelter, regular food and fresh water to mom. It is best not to continue to check on them more than once a day so as not to disturb the nest. Six weeks is the optimal age to take the kittens from the mother for socialization and adoption placement. The kittens can be spayed or neutered once they weigh two pounds, which usually occurs by eight weeks of age. Female cats can become pregnant with a new litter even while they are still nursing, so don’t forget to get the mother cat spayed or you will have more kittens soon!
If the mother cat does not return
If you discover that mom has been hit by a car or she does not appear to return to the kittens, then you must remove them to ensure their survival. Make sure to keep the kittens warm.
Learn more about neonatal kitten care