What To Do If You Find A Kitten

You guys!

What do you do if you find a kitten on the street? Do you leave it alone? Do you take it? What’s the best protocol?

When doing my post a few weeks ago on kitten rescue kits, I got some excellent pieces of advice from Tammy at Feral Fixers. I would like to share it with you now. Please welcome Tammy! ::applause::

feral fixers logo

C: Tell us, Tammy. What do you do if you see kittens on the street?

.T: If you find kittens, unless they are in danger – predators, exposed, frantic with hunger, LEAVE THEM ALONE and watch.  Do not disturb.  Moms leave their kittens for 10 hours at a time.  When moving kittens, they might do it in stages, moving from A to B, getting them all to B, then moving to C, their ultimate destination.  That can take time.

C: How long do mother cats leave their kittens unattended?
T: We have had kittens alone for 72 hours and they have survived – they tend to go into a comatose state and conserve their energy til mom comes back.  But if you disturb them, they wake up and start using their reserves.
C: What if I want to check on the kitten nest?
T: If you keep physically going up to the nest and bothering and the mom observes, she will move the kittens at the first opportunity – where you cannot find them later or may only take one or two because that’s all the alternate living arrangements she has found while she has been gone.
A grumpy little kitten who was rescued along with his mama. This kitten does not like kisses.
A grumpy little kitten who was rescued along with his mama. This kitten does not like kisses.
C: Is the ultimate goal to trap both the kittens and the mother?
T: Yes, that is the ideal: mom doing as much of the work of caring for the kittens as is safe.  Mom is best equipped to care for the kittens.  It’s possible that bringing them into a dog crate can be stressful and result in illness in mom and kittens and moms can up and decide not to continue to care for the kittens if she is stressed, too, but leaving the mom unspayed to make more is completely irresponsible, so if this is the only opportunity to trap her (she only shows up when she has a litter of kittens), take that opportunity.
C: Which kittens are good candidates for abduction, I mean, rescue?
T: If they are out and walking about with no supervision, and seem to be 5+ weeks old and capable of eating on their own, it may be that mom has cut her losses, decided she can only care for a portion of her litter and abandoned these ones.  But, still, waiting to see if mom comes back is ideal.
C: What if I think they really need help. Then what?
T: If you MUST “rescue” the kittens, if they seem weak or lethargic or at their end of energy – DO NOT FEED!  No matter what the age, if the kittens are not bouncy healthy, first make sure they are warm.  Mom cats are warmer than humans.  Give them a heating pad on low setting, fill an Ice Mountain water bottle with hot water and wrap in a towel and set next to them, but your body heat is not enough.  Cover and seal in the heat.  If you feed a kitten when its cold, you will kill it.
C: We have personally used the method of putting a heating pad on half of their bed so they can avoid getting over heated and move, if necessary. Is that appropriate in this case?
T: Absolutely, Set the heating pad on low and give them enough area that they can move off of it, should it become too warm.  Be sure to sandwich the heating pad between two soft pieces of material to preserve the heating pad cover.  Kittens are gross and not in control of themselves until they understand litter boxes!
A messy kitten.
A messy kitten.
C: Yes, they are a bit yucky. What happens when they’re warm?
T: Once they are warm, the first step is to give them sugar water – doesn’t even have to be Karo syrup.  One part sugar to 3 parts water, even 3 mls will help tremendously to get their reserves replenished.  Plain water if you have no sugar, just to get their systems going again.  THEN you can give them kitten formula (never cow’s milk) or human meat baby food if they are old enough in tiny amounts.  Again, its okay to wait a whole day to feed, as long as they are first warm and then hydrated.
C: Any further tips on the kitten housing?
T: Kittens can be housed in small crates,2’x2′ will do until they need room to play.  A plastic shoe box type container can be used for litter until they get too big for it, with at least 2″ of litter to keep it heavy enough not to be spilled.  Use heavy, crock-type food bowls unless you wish to do lots of laundry!

C: If there anything else you’d like to add?
T: In all, you have to make yourself as educated as possible in advance (why you are reading this now) so that you can make informed, gut decisions when this situation occurs in your yard!   Every situation is unique and this is a general protocol, a starting point so that you can make the best decisions for the cats you encounter!


Thanks to Tammy from Feral Fixers for this informative guide and for being out there every day helping homeless cats! It’s a tough job and she deserves a big round of applause!  She also suggested this link to Alley Cat Allies for more information on caring for neonatal kittens. Does anyone have any questions for Tammy?




  • Such good information! Definitely forwarding this!! Even for those who don’t do rescue themselves, it will help them to know when kittens are really in need and help should be called in. Thank you for all you do to help the little ones 🙂

  • Thank you Tammy for this valuable info. Knowing when to keep my paws to myself is great. Meaning well and actually hindering progress has been a big one for mom. Now she has a good idea when and when not to interfere.


  • Very informative post! We learned lots. We had no idea that you should feed kittens! We’ve never come across kittens outside before, but we will save this post for later in case we ever do!

  • What a great post! The mom wishes she had known some of this when they found a litter of kittens at the dad-guy’s business. She did call a rescue group that came and got the kits but we think the mom cat moved a couple of them. A few months later, we think the kits that got moved showed up and they got trapped. Unfortunately, mom cat disappeared.

  • Gweat posty. Altho’ mommy totally disagwees wiff da milk fing. She’s waised more than 500 kittens and a few doggies and piggies in hers time and all on vit. D Homo cow’s milk. Me and sis lexi awe in dat list of kitties too. Hae a pawsum day.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Lexi

    • http://www.quora.com/Can-kittens-drink-cows-milk

      Found this excellent blog with discussion of giving cow’s milk to kittens. Looks like an occasional sip can be tolerated but in general cats are lactose intolerant – do not have the necessary enzymes to process the different formula that makes up cow’s milk. For the most part, kittens in crisis – having been without mom for 24 – 48 hours – should have the closest to natural sustenance as soon as possible. A decision to use cow’s milk should only be made by someone with experience and the knowledge of what to look for should the kitten not be able to tolerate it.

      It is so wonderful that you were able to help so many cats!

  • crepes….what a totally awesum post !!! manee thanx to ewe tammy for sharin thiz info..N high paws & headbonx two ewe….ow……for all that ewe due in helpin de kittehz ♥♥

    Tammy; I’m sure I sound stupid in asking this question, but is there a way to “judge” roughly… an age of a kitten …….Barry as we called her …had, or moved her kittens ….under the neighbors deck….to an area where we couldn’t get to them

    we know they were eating mice as we watched her take mice to the kittens…..
    ….so we figured it was time to attempt to trap them and get them to the shelter….

    the trap became a play thing for the kittens until humans drew near …then it was back under the deck for them….this went on for three days…….day three then became …”moving day” ..

    we didn’t know if they were still too young TO trap or Barry was just too smart for us…. THANX !

    • http://members.petfinder.com/~PA16/kittenage.html has a great description of how to age a kitten. From handling hundreds in a year, by May we usually can just look and tell but in February when the new rush starts, we are a little uncertain. Size can vary just from parentage, some may take longer to eat on their own and new teeth come in over the course of three months it seems! but this is a great general source of information in aging kittens.

      Its also possible to use the mom to trap the kittens (trap her first and set a trap next to her so that the only way they can get to her is thru the trap) and vice versa, use the kittens as bait for the mom. This works very well when everyone is still closely bonded, harder when the kittens are older – 10 weeks+.

  • great interview….our rescue forever is getting one kitten (“we found it all by itself just now”) or tiny ones. Mom says she often wonders about those single kittens if there are mom cats out there thinking – I swear there was another one right here! 🙂 We get the urge to help, but don’t hurt first.

  • it is excellent information, but the issue I have is that if you don’t interfere then they become feral cats. If you take kittens in when they are young you can socialize them and turn them into house cats.


    In most communities there aren’t enough homes for all of the cats, so taking them in might not be doing a service for them. Finding out what support is in your area for baby kittens and what their chances of being adopted as house cats is something you should know before taking them in.

  • Stumps definitely up on this one, for sure! Our Humom and Hudad got a knock on the door and the kids from across the street saw my sis and me in the middle of the street. They knew where to come with us because Humom and Hudad have a rescue colony at their house, and several kitties inside. The kids didn’t see the mom anywhere. My sis and me are now 10 years old! Humom and Hudad took turns feeding us the Kitten Replacement Milk at first, and later, human baby food. One of the other cats helped us with weaning. He took us to the kibble and we were off to the races with that! Hudad thought I, Boriska, was a male, so he named me Boris, after the Bullwinkle character, the spy. My sis is Natasha, named after Boris’s wife. They changed my name when they discovered I was a girl kittie too! So that’s our story and we’re sticking to it!

    Thanks for this info — it’s great!


    Boriska & Natasha
    (we are Russian Blues, thus the names — from those funny Bullwinkle characters, Humom said)

  • This is awesome information. Our HuMom plans to file it in case she needs to refer to it ……or needs to convince someone else to leave kittens alone and observe for a while. Sometimes showing humans information in writing will convince them over simply stating the best course of action. Apparently other humans don’t think our HuMom’s too smart. But we like the fact she has opposable thumbs and is very soft in the middle. Soft humans are the best! Thanks again! M & H out!

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