What To Do If You Find A Kitten

Kitten season starts in the early spring, it's not unusual to find a litter seemingly abandoned by the mother. Most people want to help but aren't sure of the right thing to do. Before you spring into action, here are some recommendations for how to assess the situation and determine if you need to intervene.

Wait and watch...

First, try to determine if the mother is coming back or if the kittens are truly orphaned. You might have come across them while their mother is off searching for food or is in the process of moving them to a different location. If you haven't spotted her, she may be hiding and waiting for you to leave. 

Stand far away from the kittens (at least 35 feet). If you stand too close, the mom will not approach her kittens. You might need to go away completely and it may take several hours before the mother cat will return when 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. Time is critical for a young kitten and if they are under the age of two weeks (and especially within the first week), they need their mom to stay warm. If the mom does not come back within one and half hours, bring the kitten inside to keep it warm and place on bedding at least three inches thick with a blanket to keep them warm. 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 newborn kittens their best chance for survival, so wait and watch as long as you safely can for her to return before removing them. 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 her until they are weaned (about five to six weeks old). You can offer a shelter and regular food and clean water, but keep them at a safe distance from each other so it won't attract other cats or wildlife near her nest.

Six weeks is the optimal age to take the kittens from the mother for socialization and adoption placement. After eight weeks they can be spayed/neutered through our TNR program where they are spayed/neutered, vaccinated, micro-chipped, and ear tipped.

Female cats can become pregnant with a new litter even while they are still nursing, so it's important to spay the mother cat as soon as possible. Learn how to successfully trap a mom and her kittens at one of our "Saving Community Cats" workshops.

If the mother cat does not return…

If for any reason it appears that she is not coming back, then you should remove the kittens, but be prepared to make a commitment to see them through to weaning. If you do take them in and have questions or need assistance, please contact us or call our partner, Loudoun County Animal Services at 703-777-0406. We're here to help you find the resources you need to save the lives of community cats!

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