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7 Things To Do If You Find Stray Kittens

7 Things To Do If You Find Stray Kittens

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on June 29, 2013. Enjoy!

It’s kitten season! For cat lovers this means pictures of friends’ newly adopted bundles of joy on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and whatever hip new social media sites I haven’t even heard of. But it also means stray fur babies who need help.

What should you do if you come upon kittens outdoors?

1. Assess the situation.

First investigate whether the young ‘uns are on their own. Their mother may be away temporarily to hunt for food, she may be hiding because you are there, or she may be moving the family, one by one, to cushier digs. Back a ways off, stay still, and watch. Give her some time — at least a few hours. If no mom appears, move on to #2 below.

If the mother shows up your action plan depends on whether she is a stray (a pet who has lost her home) or feral (a wild animal who wants nothing to do with you). It’s easy to tell the difference: try to pet her. If she won’t let you close enough for petting, try bribing her with food to get her within arms’ reach. To catch a stray mom, see #5 below.

If she is feral you’re looking at a TNR (trap-neuter-return) situation. Alley Cat Allies has a helpful guide to performing TNR. Keep in mind that kittens younger than eight weeks (here are some tips on determining a kitten’s age) should stay with their mother if at all possible; if they are in a safe location, they are best off remaining there with her. Bring them food, water and shelter (click here for a ton of shelter options).

If the kittens are more than four months old, don’t scoop them up and carry them off — they probably won’t take kindly to it. Treat them like feral cats (meaning they need TNR and not adoption) unless and until they prove otherwise.

2. Do you have time to do it right?

If you have decided they need to be taken in, consider how much time you have to give them. Stray kittens need more than food, litter and  toys — they also need you. Without a lot of positive human interaction the kittens won’t be adoptable and will have to go back outside when they are old enough and have been spayed or neutered.

Kittens younger than four weeks require special round-the-clock care. Do a gut check and make sure you are up to the task before committing to take them on.

3. Can you get the kittens spayed or neutered?

If you take them in, you will need to have your little charges spayed or neutered when they are old enough to prevent them from producing yet more kittens who need homes. They will also need vaccinations and possibly other veterinary services too. Can you afford all of that?

If you can’t, do you have access to veterinarians or organizations that can help? Some vets will reduce their fees when the patient is a rescue, and there are groups that will subsidize the costs or even pay them in full. Find out whether there is one near you.

4. Can you get the kittens adopted?

Unless you plan to keep all the kittens you take in you will have to find adoptive families. Here are some tips on how to do that. Are you willing and able to put in the time and legwork it will take?

If you have considered all these questions and decided that you can’t or don’t want to do what it takes, alert a rescue group to the kittens’ location. Petfinder has a tool to find an organization near you.

If you are up for the challenge, here are your next steps.

5. Catching strays, including the shy ones.

If you’re lucky the kittens will be friendly. See #1 above on how to tell whether a cat likes people. If they let you pet them you can pick them up and pop them into a cat carrier to take them home.

For kittens you can’t touch you will need a humane or “no-kill” trap, which is a cage with a door that shuts when an animal is inside. Before buying one look for a rescue organization that loans them out. Read Alley Cat Allies’ instructions for trapping cats.

6. Make them feel at home.

Prepare a somewhat small, quiet space for the feline family. It should have no hidey-holes that you can’t reach into — you will need to touch the kittens to socialize them, administer any medications, take them to the vet, etc. Create a cozy spot in their room or enclosure where they can retreat and feel sheltered, but make sure you can get a hand in there.

Supply food bowls, water bowls, bedding and litter. The litter box must be shallow enough for stubby little legs to climb in. Fill it with a non-clumping litter — kittens can ingest litter, and you don’t want it clumping up in their tummies.

Keep the tots warm, especially if they are orphaned. Wrap a towel around a heating pad (set it to the lowest temperature) or a hot water bottle. Kittens must also have space to get away from the warmth so they don’t get too hot.

7. Socialize the kittens.

Teaching kittens to love people is a gradual process. Some of them take to people quickly, but prepare to be patient with more reticent types. My favorite part of socialization is the last stage, which involves lots of petting, cuddling and playing, but you have to lay the ground work to get there. The Urban Cat League has a video and a written guide to socializing kittens. Alley Cat Allies offers a detailed how-to.

For more information on helping stray kittens, visit the ASPCA, Petfinder and Alley Cat Allies. The Humane Society has ideas about preventing overpopulation and reaching out to help stray kittens even if you don’t stumble upon any yourself.

Here’s to kittens and making sure they are all safe and sound!


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Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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10:24AM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

Merci pour les conseils. Quelle tristesse à la pensée de ces pauvres chats sans maison, sans famille et sans amour.

8:07AM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

Rosemary---"Stray's are abandoned animals...& even many "feral's" are too...too many ppl think they are "true feral's", but MANY are traumatized from being dumped to the road & are understandably freaked out &,then they have but no choice to go into "survival mode" & w/ no-one who cares enough to intervene on their behalf & foster & help.heal their emotional wounds, they wind up on the streets for life & then because of no other option become "community/feral cat's". I speak of this from 20+ yrs of cat rescue...& as long as I have been doing this...the HEARTBREAK never gets easier knowing the sad limitations of resources our communities have for the GAZILLION animals needing Foster's & re-homimg. If anyone feels sad reading this...then become a foster TODAY!!!! & "be the change you wish to see in the world"! Innocent animals are DEPENDING their VERY LIFE....LITERALLY RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!

7:48AM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

I wish it were all so "textbook" easy!, it so beyond that!!!! & if someone is overwhelmed w/ the intensity of the process...innocent kittens that COULD be adopted...will.remain in the streets to starve & slowly & die!, & MOST PPL could give a flying sh**!!!.. & almost EVERY shelter at this time of the ur say's... "Sorry we're full!", .so sad, but so true!!!...& this is coming from a 20+ yr veteran in cat rescue!

10:23AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

Instead of indicating...."Do you have time, it is a big commitment" you should have indicated IF you do not have time research your area for a rescue group willing to take in kittens. Ever city has at least one group that will ALWAYS take kittens.

Otherwise a nice article on what to expect and how to handle the situation.

2:21PM PDT on Aug 7, 2014

Great article!

10:18AM PDT on Jul 29, 2014

Thanks for the help!

8:03PM PDT on Jul 28, 2014

I got started with looking after strays a few years ago when a momma cat stray had 5 female kittens under our house. She wouldn't let us near her, and her kittens were just as reluctant to get near us. We captured them in a humane trap, along with momma and got them to our local "NO MORE HOMELESS PETS" organization to be spayed and get shots. They clipped their ears, one each kitten to identify them as having been spayed and we set them free on our land. We feed them, and several others that have shown up over the years and have had the same treatment. If we hadn't done that just imagine how many unwanted kitties those 5 female kittens and their mom would have had! We live in the country, lots of abandoned and stray cats here, most are not being cared for. We try to spread the word about how to deal with the situation, but some out here deal with it in less than satisfactory ways. We had one male cat we had nuetered come back with a bullet wound to the shoulder. We took him to the vet, he had to be euthanized because the shoulder was shattered. We have a nutty neighbor who lets his animals run free, including his pigs who have been digging up our place, who when we complained, said our cats were impregnating his cats. We tried to tell him no way, all ours are nuetered but he wouldn't listen. He thought he had a reason to complain because we did. He is a menace to everyone with his animals and tries to turn it around on others. He thinks it is ok to turn his loose.

3:14PM PDT on Jul 28, 2014

This has been the month for not strays but abandoned animals in my neighborhood. I have taken in a kitten, taken the mother and 3 other kittens to a shelter and taken a dog to a shelter...all from one person who left these animals while she went out of town for work. How can anyone do this?

8:35PM PDT on Jul 27, 2014

Thank you for the information

6:44PM PDT on Jul 27, 2014


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