Found Kittens? Don’t Kit-nap Them!
Newborn and young kittens under 6 weeks of age are not able to care for themselves and require round-the-clock care from mom in order to survive. If you find a litter of kittens outdoors, follow the tips below to determine whether they actually need help or not:
Do they seem healthy and happy?
If the kittens look well (i.e. their coat is clean and they are chunky), then mom is most likely nearby and has been caring for them. Observe them at intervals from a distance for 6 to 8 hours to ensure mom has returned and is able to continue caring for them. And unless you stake out the nest without any breaks, there’s a good chance you could miss her. Placing a ring of flour around the nest would be useful in these situations. Mom is less likely to return for her babies if she detects a predator around them (i.e. humans), so if they continue looking healthy and happy after the observation period, then be assured she is caring for them.
If the kittens are in a dangerous location, move them to a safe area nearby where mom could still find them once she returns.
How old are these kittens?
Newborn (or neonatal) kittens are born blind, deaf, and can’t regulate their own temperature for the first few weeks of their lives. Therefore, if they truly are orphaned or their mom is unable to care for them, they will require specialized around-the-clock care. This usually involves bottle-feeding and helping them go to the bathroom every 2-4 hours, as well as constantly keeping them warm. By the time they reach 4-6 weeks of age, they will generally be able to eat solid food on their own and will then require less intensive care.
The survival rate for neonatal kittens improves significantly when they remain with mom, but bringing the family (or orphaned kittens) to the shelter should always be a last resort unless they are sick or injured. The shelter environment can be extremely stressful for a lactating mom trying to nurse her babies in peace, so it is best to keep the family where they are to avoid mom possibly rejecting her babies or being unable to produce milk due to stress.
What should I do if I find kittens?
It depends on if their mom returns! Refer to the information below for examples on what to look for when you find kittens:
- If mom is around and seems to be caring for the kittens well, you can keep monitoring the entire family as the kittens grow so they can all be trapped once the kittens are around 8 weeks of age. Please visit our Community Cats Program page for Trap Neuter Return (TNR) services.
- If mom seems to be struggling to care for the kittens, you can routinely offer her food and water in an accessible area that is not too close to the nest to prevent possible predators from finding the kittens.
- Be sure to maintain a safe distance between yourself and the family to prevent spooking mom and abandoning the kittens if she considers you a threat. Not all outdoor cats appreciate close interactions with humans, and it is crucial to keep the babies with mom to increase their survival rate.
Although neonatal kittens require specialized care to survive, bottle-feeding can be easy to learn and we can help! If you are willing and able to care for the kittens you found, TAF can provide the knowledge (and most of the supplies needed).
If the kittens are already eating on their own, even better! Socialization with humans is critical for kittens between 4-8 weeks of age in order to make good indoor pets, and this is where the true fun begins.
Neonatal Kitten Care 101
Heat and Bedding:
Newborn kittens are not able to regulate their own temperature, so be sure to keep them constantly warm from the moment you find them.
- If the kittens are cold, warm them up immediately (and gradually) since they cannot digest their food when they are cold.
- Provide the kittens with a soft nest (like a box or carrier with blankets) with a heating pad or other warming device with enough space for them to move away from the heat if they get too warm.
All newborn kittens must eat around-the-clock depending on their age. Be sure to only use powdered or canned kitten formula to feed them and to refrigerate the product after it is opened. Never use cow’s milk or other home recipes as this will likely cause them to have diarrhea. Kitten formula (such as KMR or Breeder’s Edge) and the appropriate bottle for feeding can be purchased at any major pet supply store or online. They must always be facing down (lying on their stomachs) during all feeding sessions and never on their backs to prevent aspiration of the formula into their lungs.
- Kittens under 2 weeks of age should be fed every 2-3 hours
- Kittens 2 to 3 weeks old should be fed every 3-4 hours
- Kittens 4 to 5 weeks old should be fed every 4-5 hours
They may start to get weaned at around 4 weeks of age by mixing incremental amounts of kitten canned food into their formula and transitioning them to a shallow plate once the “gruel” gets too thick for the bottle. Once they are able to eat canned food on their own, kitten dry food can also be introduced into their diet. Remember never to feed a cold kitten since they cannot digest their food with low body temperatures.
Kittens under 4 weeks of age must be stimulated to go to the bathroom after each feeding since they cannot urinate or defecate on their own yet.
- Use toilet paper or a damp paper towel to gently rub their genital area as their mother would when she licks them.
- Due to their liquid diet, kittens will not always have solid feces and they will not defecate every time they are stimulated; however, they will always urinate.
- You may start litter training them at around 4 weeks of age by placing the used toilet paper or paper towel into a shallow litter box that is easily accessible to them.
For more information, please visit Kitten Lady's website for instructional videos and more!
If you or someone else you know is unable to care for a found orphaned kitten, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.