Found a nest of unattended kittens or a single kitten seemingly abandoned? Don't jump to the rescue just yet, momma cat may have just gone out for a bite to eat.
What do you do when you find a litter of kittens?
To ensure the best chances of survival for "found" newborn kittens, Animal Services advises residents to consider the following recommendations:
- Watch from a distance
- Don't touch or move them. Instead, watch them from a distance to see if the mother is there. The mother stays continually with her litter for the first day or two after giving birth, she will need to leave them for short periods of time to find food.
- It is common for a mother to move her kittens to a new location. This is because establishing a new nest is part of the cat's instinctual behavior to safeguard her young by not remaining in one place too long.
- Do not interfere with the kittens or their nest since this may stress the mother and cause her to abandon her family. If you really want to help, provide food and water dishes for the mother far enough away from the nest so you do not disturb her or the kittens, or draw predators, such as raccoons, to the nest area.
Are they in immediate danger?
- If the kittens are in immediate danger such as underneath a car, or one that is flooded, find the nearest safe area to which you can move them that will still allow the mother to find them. Place them in a sheltered area, away from direct sun, rain or traffic and continue to watch for the mother.
When to intervene
- If you determine that the mother is friendly, the best approach is to take her and the kittens indoors until the kittens are old enough to be weaned, sterilized and adopted.
- After you have observed the kittens for 12 to 24 hours and are sure the mother is not likely to return, or if the kittens are clearly in poor health or injured, then by all means pick them up and care for them. Alleycat.org offers great tips on caring for newborn kittens.
- Be aware that sometimes, no matter what you do, some neonatal kittens do not survive and can fade very fast. You can only try to be the best surrogate guardian possible and hope for the best.
Kitten Care & Bottle-Feeding
- Prepare for bottle-feeding and proper care before you take the kittens off the street.
- If you feel you must take the kittens in, wrap the carrier you will transport them in a towel for warmth, but make sure you leave air holes uncovered so the kittens won't suffocate.
- 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 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 one to two hours by wrapping him in a polar fleece towel, holding him close to your body, and continually rubbing him with your warm hands.
- Determine the age of the kittens by comparing them to the photos and descriptions on the Kitten Progression: Week-by-Week. Newborn kittens need to be fed and stimulated for elimination every three hours around-the-clock.
Feeding & Elimination
Neonatal kittens (under four weeks of age) cannot eat solid food (canned nor dry) and cannot urinate or defecate on their own, so you must bottle-feed them around-the-clock and stimulate their genitals after every feeding so they can eliminate. For example, if you have kittens less than one week old, they will need to be fed and stimulated every three hours. That means you will be caring for them eight times a day — for example, at midnight, 3 a.m., 6 a.m., etc. If the kittens are unusually small or sickly, they might need to be fed every two hours.
Skipping feedings or overfeeding can cause diarrhea, which results in dehydration, a condition that can be fatal for small kittens. Diarrhea requires a visit to the veterinarian. As the kittens age, the number of feedings they need per day goes down. You can start weaning at four weeks of age.
Milk Replacement Formula
Powdered kitten milk replacement formula is better for kittens than the canned liquid formula. We recommend that you use only powdered kitten milk replacement formula from the start, or as soon as possible, to prevent diarrhea. Two major brands of formula are available: PetAg KMR® Powder and Farnam Pet Products Just Born® Highly Digestible Milk Replacer for Kittens. Both brands are available in both canned and powdered formulas. We highly recommend the powdered type to prevent diarrhea. It can be purchased at pet food stores, veterinarians' offices, or online.
Make sure that the powdered formula you are using is fresh by opening the pop-top and smelling it. It should smell slightly sweet, like powdered milk. If it has a sharp smell like bad cooking oil, cheese, or chemicals, it is rancid, and dangerous to give to the kittens. Do not use any type of formula past the expiration date. Once opened, kitten milk replacement formula (canned or powdered) must be refrigerated promptly and stored in the refrigerator. You cannot keep opened kitten milk replacement formula out of the refrigerator for very long before it spoils. Think of it as fresh milk.
Tip: Using unflavored Pedialyte electrolyte solution instead of water when mixing the powdered formula for the first 24 hours of feeding helps prevents diarrhea and eases the transition from mom's milk to commercial kitten milk replacement formula.
Alley Cat Allies website: How to care for neonatal kittens