Kittens are quite possibly the cutest, sweetest things on the planet. It can be difficult to know what to do if you find one. Here’s what to do if you find a kitten:
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.
First and foremost, don’t initially handle a found kitten. Kittens don’t need to be with their mom 24/7. It’s common for mom to be out looking for food or gathering resources. She has to eat well to produce milk for her kittens. Additionally, she could also be in the process of relocating the litter.
Removing very young kittens from their mother greatly reduces their 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 the mom. She should be back within a few hours.
Assess the kitten’s health. If a kitten first any of the descriptions below, they were possibly abandoned and may need human help:
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. Their genital areas may be red and inflamed.
Are they thin?
Typically, well-fed kittens with round bellies are not abandoned. Sunken stomachs and visible bones can indicate kittens need your intervention.
Are they sick or injured?
Look for discharge from the eyes and nose. Check to see if the kitten’s eyes are crusted shut. Other indicators that the kittens need attention are wounds, open sores, obvious limps and deformities.
Kittens that don’t need your help immediately are warm, clean, quiet, plump, and dry. During typical kitten season, you may need to wait longer to see if the mama cat will return.
IF MOM DOES RETURN
Contact your local TNR program for advice on how to get the momma cat and her babies spayed/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
It’s important to emphasize that a kitten’s best chance for survival is with its mother, so wait and watch for 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. Because 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.”