Before you touch or move the kittens, investigate whether they are really on their own.
It is very rare that kittens are truly abandoned. Their mother may be away temporarily to hunt for food. she may be hiding nearby because you are there. she may be moving the family, one by one, to a safer and more comfortable spot
If you find kittens, there are a few immediate things you can do to ensure their survival:
Assess the situation
Before you touch or move the kittens, investigate whether they are really on their own. It is very rare that kittens are truly abandoned. Their mother may be away temporarily to hunt for food, she may be hiding nearby because you are there, or she may be moving the family, one by one, to a safer and more comfortable spot (this can be blocks away from the original nest). Step back to at least 30 feet or more, stay still, and watch. If you stand too close, the mom will not approach her kittens, especially if she is feral. You might need to go away completely before the mother cat will return to her kittens. The mother cat offers her kittens the best chance for survival, so wait and watch as long as you can. The best food for the kittens is their mother’s milk. Remove the kittens only if they are in immediate, grave danger. The answer to these questions will help determine that: Is it raining? 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? If the kittens are not in immediate danger, leave them alone and give mom some time to return; it might be several hours. She will wait until she no longer senses the presence of humans near her litter. A good way to know that mom is around is by the activity or lack thereof of the kittens. If they are quiet, clean and sleeping soundly, then mom has most likely just fed them. If they are meowing frantically, dirty and scattered around, then they are hungry and mom hasn’t been around.
Have a plan of action - your plan of action depends on 3 factors: friendly/stray mom, feral mom, no mom
If mom returns and she is friendly, then enclose her and her babies in an area where they will be safe and comfortable (for example, a large dog cage, bathroom, etc.). Contact your local rescues to see if there is room for them to take the family in. If you are in San Diego County, you can try contacting us for further information about what we can do to help. Even if we don't take the kittens into the rescue, we will help you get everyone spayed/neutered - including mom!
If mom returns and she is feral, leave the kittens alone and immediately contact your local Trap-Neuter-Return rescue. You want to ensure a successful rescue of all kittens and the spaying/neutering of mom as well. If mom feels her nest is compromised, she will begin to move the babies to a different unknown location which will make their rescue more difficult. Keep in mind that kittens younger than eight weeks should stay with their mother if at all possible; if they are in a safe location, they are best off remaining there with her. Make sure to leave food and water for mom so she doesn’t have to leave her kittens to search for it. Six weeks is the optimal age to take the kittens from their mother for socialization and any time after eight to ten weeks for Trap-Neuter-Return (spay/neuter, vaccination, ear tip, and return to their colony). Female cats can become pregnant with a new litter even while they are still nursing, so don’t forget to make sure the mother cat gets spayed or you will have more kittens soon! Again, if you are in the San Diego County area, you can try contacting us for further information about what we can do to help.
If you discover that mom has been killed or it appears that she is not coming back for some reason, you should remove the kittens. This is crucial to the kittens’ survival. Neonatal kittens (under 4 weeks old) cannot regulate their body temperature and are much more at risk of hypothermia than they are of starvation. If you cannot immediately locate a rescue to take the kittens in or you decide to care for them yourself, here are a few things you need to do:
Kittens less than 4 weeks old: Click here to determine Age
Check to see if the kittens are warm. This is more important than feeding. Never feed a cold kitten! If the kittens are cold, you will need to warm them up slowly. You can tell a kitten is cold if the pads of his feet and/or ears feel cool or cold. Put your finger in the kitten’s mouth. If it feels cold, then the kitten’s temperature is too low. This is life-threatening and must be dealt with immediately. Warm up the kitten slowly over 20 minutes by wrapping him in a towel or baby blanket, holding him close to your body, and continually rubbing him with your warm hands (a blow dryer is helpful when on low and used as you are rubbing the kitten but do not leave it blowing directly on kitten as it can get too hot). A heating pad wrapped in a towel and SET ON LOW works great if you have one. Make sure they are away from any cold drafts.
Kittens must be warm before being fed. Feeding a cold kitten will kill it. You can purchase a kitten bottle at Petco, Walmart or just about any other store that sells cat supplies. Kittens under 4 weeks old cannot eat solid food and should be fed a kitten milk replacement formula like PetAg Petlac, Farnam Pet Products Just Born Highly Digestible Milk Replacer for Kittens or PetAg KMR. These brands are available in both canned and powdered formulas. We highly recommend the powdered type to prevent diarrhea. You can also feed goat's milk once they are older (DO NOT EVER GIVE A KITTEN COW'S MILK). Goat's milk is sold at Albertsons and most other grocery stores. If the kittens are very young or don't like the bottle, they may need to be fed with a syringe. Be VERY cautious when you feed young kittens. Do not turn them on their backs like a human baby. All four feet should be flat on a surface (like your lap) and make sure the milk does not come out of the bottle too quickly - they can easily aspirate and end up with aspiration pneumonia. Goat's milk or kitten formula must be pretty warm (not too hot) before feeding it to the kitten. Always test temperature on your wrist. Depending on age, feeding times vary. For example, if you have kittens less than one-week-old, they will need to be fed and stimulated (see below) every two-three hours. That means you will be caring for them eight to twelve times a day - for example, at midnight, 2:00 a.m, 4:00 a.m, etc. If the kittens are unusually small or sickly, they definitely need to be fed every two hours.
Just like human babies, kitten babies need to be burped! Wrap them in a washcloth and gently pat their backs while holding them upright.
Kittens under 4 weeks old cannot urinate or defecate by themselves - you have to help them! Using a warm, wet paper towel, soft cloth, cotton or toilet paper, stimulate them by gently rubbing their genitals. The idea is to emulate their mother’s tongue - mother cats drink and eat their kittens' urine and feces until they are about 3-4 weeks old or until they start to eat solid food. You should stimulate them at every feeding so they can eliminate.
Kittens over 4 weeks old Click here to determine age
They can be offered canned food (pate is best) and a small kibble dry food. We recommend Royal Canin BabyCat. Also, provide fresh water.
• Potty Time:
Make sure they have a litter box with CLAY LITTER. Do not give them clumping litter as they sometimes eat litter at this age and clumping litter can get stuck in their digestive tract. If they are very young, they may still need to be stimulated to go.
Between 4-6 weeks keeping kittens warm is still an issue. Offer them a heating pad, set on low and wrapped in a towel. If they are over 6 weeks, just ensure they have a warm, snuggly place to go that is free from drafts.
Once the kittens are old enough (8 weeks) and have hit the weight requirement (over 2 lbs), then the next step is to arrange for them to be fixed (mom too if she hasn’t been fixed already). This is the most important and the most responsible thing to do. People who disregard this priority are at the root of the overpopulation problem. Kittens are cute, but there aren't nearly enough homes for all of them. Every time a kitten is born, it means one less home for kitties who are desperately looking for homes. DO NOT EVER LET A KITTEN GO TO A NEW HOME WITHOUT SPAYING/NEUTERING THEM FIRST! Even if the new home promises to do it. If you can't afford it or need help, contact us.