There truly is no surprise more delightful than finding a kitten. Can you imagine the joy of stepping out of your house, then bam! small, helpless, ridiculously adorable ball of fluff on your doorstep? But all rapture aside, if you find a stray kitten, you must be very mindful of your next steps. In this article, we discuss what you need to do if you run into a furry foundling.
Be Patient and Vigilant
Your first instinct when discovering a stray kitten will almost invariably be to scoop it up and take it home. Unfortunately, this isn't the best place to start. From time to time, kittens wander away from their litter, get lost when their mama decides to move house, or – most frequently – are simply waiting for their mother to return from hunting. Although you would undoubtedly provide a wonderful home for the little lost feline, the best place for it truly is with its mother. So what do you do?
For starters, unless the kitten is in a potentially dangerous situation – say, precariously perched somewhere or left exposed on an exceptionally hot or cold day – just allow it to stay where it is. If nothing seems amiss, take a moment to assess the current situation: is the kitten in a relatively sheltered spot? Is it resting or sleeping? If it looks largely comfortable, chances are it is just waiting where its mother left it.
At this point, you can do one of a few things. One, stay and wait for its mother's return. Two, leave, but check in throughout the day. Or three, surround the kitten in a ring of harmless powder – say, flour – and check to see if the powder was disturbed at the end of the day. If you see the mother or notice adult-sized paw prints, you can feel fairly secure that the kitten is safe and where it ought to be.
Handle the Situation
Now that you know whether or not the abandoned kitten truly was abandoned, you can figure out how to handle the situation. At this point, you will be faced with one of two scenarios: a motherless stray kitten, or a stray mother and child.
Helping a Stray Kitten and Mama Cat
Let's start with the latter. If your stray kitten actually has a mother, you can do a couple of things. The first is to simply leave the situation alone. You may want to set out some water and food for the mother, but otherwise, allow her and her baby to go about their business. Helping is always recommended, but the reality is that it may not be possible given your own personal situation. If you simply cannot stand leaving the pair without assistance, but you are also not equipped to help for whatever reason, calling a local rescue or shelter is always a good idea, and is actually preferable, as by alerting a rescue group, you can help prevent further litters in the future.
Alternatively, if you are able to help your kitten and its mother, you can always take them in. In this instance, be sure to keep them separated from your other pets or small children until they have been seen by a vet; provide them a safe, comfortable spot to rest; and finally, be patient, as some stray cats will be fearful – especially if there are kittens involved.
If the mother has been a stray her whole life – or even just for an extended period – she may very well be feral. In that case, you might not be able to offer her an immediate spot in your home – especially if you already have pets. If this is the case, then you might want to offer the pair shelter in a well-insulated garage, shed, or barn until you can find a professional who is better able to assist them.
Helping an Abandoned Kitten
If, after keeping vigil, you have determined that your stray kitten is all alone, you can then safely take it in. This whole process can be a tad tricky, but is well worth the effort – after all, you are potentially saving the life of a marvelous little creature.
You may very well be excited at this point, but calm yourself! Take a moment and get prepared. Gather up a carrier – or failing that, a roomy, breathable box – a towel and, if you have them, some thick gloves. Why the gloves and the towel? Well, remember that although your stray kitten may be a teeny ball of adorable, it is still pretty well armed with sharp nails and possibly teeth. Furthermore, frightened kittens will lash out with as much fury as their adult counterparts. It is also wise to be prepared at home. Do you have a spot to put your kitty once you catch it – a spot that is safe, comfortable, and a reasonable distance from other household creatures? If not, be sure to get it ready as soon as possible.
Ways to Catch Your Stray:
Catch the Kitten Yourself
Now that you're ready, speak gently to your stray kitten. Move toward it slowly, making as little noise as possible – other than the quiet cooing, of course. If it isn't showing signs of stress or fear, offer a hand for it to sniff. You might get swatted, so be careful and go slowly.
One of a few things will happen at this point. If you're lucky, you will be able to carefully caress your kitty, then eventually pick it up. More often, though, you will need to be a little more decisive. Again, small abandoned kittens are notoriously fearful, so at this stage, you will have to be quick and deliberate. Take your fluffy towel and make a burrito of that stray kitten. Be gentle, of course, but make sure its paws are well-swaddled so as to prevent the kitten from wriggling away or causing injury to either of you. Next, secure your anxious little feline in its container, and continue on to the next step.
Call in Reinforcements
There are times when you simply cannot catch a kitten yourself – they are wily little creatures! In this instance, you will have to call a shelter or rescue group, as these folks will be better equipped to handle the situation. Just be sure to let them know your intentions – that is, whether or not you want to keep your found kitten – so that they can help you with your next steps.
Check Your Kitten Out
Now that you have your stray kitten safe and contained, it's a good idea to give it the once over. If possible – or at least with those sturdy gloves we mentioned earlier – give its fur a thorough combing over. Can you see anything moving? Are there visible cuts or sores? And while you're looking into its coat, carefully compress its limbs, back, and belly, to see if there seem to be any painful spots. Also, if you can, give its eyes, ears, and nose a good look. Check if there are any bugs, weeping, oozing, scratches, or other potential issues.
Get Your Kitty Professional Help
If you can, the first thing you should do once you have your lost feline in hand, is take it to the vet – especially if your initial inspection revealed any problems. Again, if you have any critters already living in your home, it's important to be especially cautious when bringing in a stray kitten. Even though your sweet little foundling may look to be in good shape, there are plenty of things that may be lurking under the surface – so be certain to get it to a doctor as soon as possible.
If you can't get your kitten to the vet right away, there are still a few things you can do to keep everyone safe. If you have a larger crate in your home – one that is big enough to house food, water, and a litter box – then get your stray kitten set up there. If not, you can also create a secure space in a bathroom or garage – just make sure to limit potential hiding spots to disposable cardboard boxes or cleanable cat caves so as to avoid misplacing your frightened new friend.
Finally, whether you have made your vet appointment or not, be sure to sanitize everything before you even step into your front door – that means hands, carrying case, and the bottoms of your shoes. That way, you can help avoid spreading any unknown disease in to your current furry friends.
Look After Your New Friend
If you plan to keep your new companion, it's important to remember that a stray kitten can be a lot of work. Actually, kittens can be a lot of work in general, but if your stray feline is especially young, sick, or injured, the workload can double.
How you [care for your kitten] will depend on its age. For instance, if a kitten is under four weeks, it will need to be bottle fed with a cat milk formula; while an older kitty may do well with soft cat food or kitten kibble, with a bit of formula to supplement. Tiny newborn felines will need stimulation with a warm cloth in order to urinate and defecate, while a more mature baby will likely only require regular litter box training.
Regardless of its age, there are some things that are vital for all tiny felines. In the early stages – even after you have the all-clear from the vet – it's a good idea to keep your stray in a safe, solitary spot. I know this may sound harsh, but coming into a new home can be scary – and if you already have pets, they may not be overly thrilled having a new critter in the fold. So make your kitty's space especially warm and cozy – offer plenty of blankets or towels, cat caves or beds, lots of toys, and access to essentials. Be sure to visit and play frequently so as to get your kitten used to people. And finally, when the time comes, make a slow introduction – whether that be to other animals, people, or just to its new, expanded territory.
What if I Cannot Keep My Stray Kitten?
Although your heart may have plenty of room for a stray kitten, your home may not. So what can you do in that circumstance? If you have followed all the steps above, cheers! You are a marvelous person who offered some much needed aid to a helpless creature. Now for the hard part. The first thing you might do is contact your local Humane Society or some nearby rescues. In some instances, they may have spots open to take in your lost kitten – though, do keep in mind that some organizations cannot accept new admissions either without a donation, or at all due to space constraints.
If those organizations are not an option, you can always try adopting out the kitten yourself. The process can take a little time, and there are simply a ton of ways to go about it. This guide from the Best Friends Animal Society can help take you through the process, so I would definitely encourage you giving it a thorough read.
So we have covered a lot of ground in this article, but there are some points that may need a bit of clarification, and that's what this section is all about! Whether you plan on keeping your stray kitten, or simply fostering it – even for just a night – these bits of information are super important. So let's get on with it already!
How to Tell Your Stray Kitten's Approximate Age
Your best bet, of course, is to speak with a vet. However, if you can't get to a veterinarian right away, here is a good way to make a rough guess:
- If your kitten's skin is on the pinkish side, ears are flat against its head, eyes totally shut, and belly boasts a bit of umbilical cord, it is likely under one week
- Kittens that are smaller than your hand, but with eyes that are beginning to open, are likely to be between one week and ten days
- If your kitten is walking but a little wobbly, has fully opened eyes and erect ears, and also has teensy, tiny teeth, then it's roughly three weeks old
- A bouncy, bubbly, mostly-coordinated kitten with eyes that are changing from blue to a more adult hue will almost certainly be around four to five weeks old
When you bring your new stray feline home, there are a few things you need to have on hand, including:
- Age-appropriate food (for example: cat milk replacement formula for the newborns; kitten chow and formula for the little ones; kitten chow for the mature kittens)
- Feeding supplies (bottles and nipples for the tiny fellas, or a syringe or eye dropper if it won't take the bottle; shallow dishes for the older ones)
- Old bath or dish towels
- Easy access to your current vet or an emergency veterinarian's contact information
Your kitten is a baby, and just like human babies, needs plenty of food to thrive and flourish. To keep kitty growing, here is a basic feeding schedule*:
- Under one week old, your kitten will need to eat every two to three hours
- At one to two weeks, every three to four hours
- By three weeks, kitty can eat every four to five hours
- At the four week mark, every five to six hours
- By the end of the first month, your kitten will likely be ready for a gruel of kitten formula-softened kibble, and can now eat about four times per day
- Finally, at the end of the second month, your found kitty should be fully weaned and ready to eat on a regular, though less rigorous, schedule
*As we said, this is just a basic schedule. Be sure to speak with a professional to get the best advice for your unique found feline.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
Keeping an abandoned kitten can be profoundly rewarding; however, it can be demanding on both your time and your resources. Before you decide on what to do when you find a stray kitten, keep these points in mind:
- Very young kittens require around-the-clock care. That two to three hour feeding schedule doesn't stop when you go to bed. You need to be around to nourish your new little friend, as well as ensure that all of its other needs are taken care of.
- That said, let's look at point two: babies are kind of... well... gross. Sure, your little ball of fluff is relentlessly adorable, but you have to take on the role of “mama cat,” meaning stimulating it in order to keep its little bowels and urinary tract functioning, cleaning wounds, delousing, etc. If you're squeamish, this might be a little tricky.
- New kittens – especially found ones – can be expensive. Ever wonder why philanthropic organizations actually charge you to adopt their foundlings? The answer is simple: they take on the cost of keeping these little darlings alive, and absolutely none of those fees are actual profit. When you choose to help out a lost kitten, you are responsible for covering vet bills, food costs, and so on.
- Very young kittens are fragile, and especially so if they have been out in the elements during their most delicate periods. The unfortunate reality of this point is that, from time to time, found kittens can die in your care – no matter how much care you give them.
- More mature kittens may have already developed some bad habits, so you have to be prepared to invest plenty of time in teaching them the rules of your house, and acclimating them to life with human beings and, possibly, other animals.
There really is no surprise quite as delightful as finding a furry little fluff ball when you don't expect it. But if you find a stray kitten, you need to reign in your natural instinct to pick it up and smother it with kisses. Instead, follow the steps you found here, take things slowly, and enjoy the process of saving a precious new life!
June is cat adoption month! To help celebrate, we will be discussing all things cat adoption. If you already know you want to bring a special new friend into your home, but you're not sure how to go about it, check out our guide to cat adoption by clicking here!
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