Kittens are quite possibly the cutest, sweetest thing on the planet. Take a moment to appreciate how special it is to have found one. The little one is a ball of furry potential with a life full of exploration and discovery ahead. You are bearing witness to the innocence and beauty of nascent life … Emphasis on bearing witness.
You see, the best thing you can do when you find a stray kitten or litter is usually to wait and watch while you assess the situation.
Don’t handle a found kitten at first. Kittens don’t need to be with their mom 24/7, and it’s not unusual for mama cats to be gone for several hours in search of food. She has to eat well to produce milk for her kittens. She could also be in the process of relocating the litter.
Removing very young kittens from their mother greatly reduces chances of survival, even with round-the-clock care.
Assess whether the kittens are in immediate danger from:
- Rain, wet weather or flooding
- Cold temperatures (kittens can’t regulate body temperature on their own)
- Dogs or wild animals such as raccoons or coyotes
- People, including neighbors, pedestrians, bicycles and cars
Do not place food near the kittens, as this could lure other cats and predators.
Keep an eye on the kitten from a safe distance. Ensure that you’re not too close, or you might scare mom. She should be back within a few hours.
Assess the kitten’s health. If you find a kitten that fits any of the below descriptions, they are possibly abandoned and might need help from humans.
Are they dirty?
Mama cats put a good amount of effort into keeping their babies and nest clean. Kittens that need your help may have dirt, feces, or crusted urine on their bodies. They may be wet. Their genital areas may be red and inflamed.
Are they thin?
Kittens that haven’t been abandoned are typically well fed and have round bellies. Sunken stomachs and visible bones can indicate kittens need your intervention.
Are they sick or injured?
Look for discharge from the eyes and nose and check to see if the kitten’s eyes are crusted shut. Wounds, open sores, obvious limps and deformities can also indicate that human attention is required.
Kittens that don’t need your help immediately are warm, clean, quiet, plump, and dry. During typical kitten season in the spring and summer months, waiting a longer time to see if mama cat will come back is safe.
IF MOM DOES RETURN
Contact your local TNR program for advice on how to get the momma cat—and her babies, once they’re big enough—spayed and neutered! (If you’re in the Seattle area, try Community Cat Coalition, or South County Cats for the Renton area.)
IF MOM DOESN’T RETURN
Again, we emphasize that a kitten’s best chance for survival is with its mother, so wait and watch as long as you safely can. If you decide to intervene, be prepared to help the kitten for several days until you can get additional help. Shelters are inundated with kittens at this time of year: they will often give you advice and supplies but may ask you to care for the kitten until they have the capacity to help. (Learn more about caring for neonatal kittens.)
For more information about what to do if you find a cat, including a list of municipal shelters with the authority to take in stray animals, see “I Found a Cat.”