What to do if you find a litter of kittens

The first temptation is to pick up a litter of kittens and bring them inside. However, there are many concerns that you need to address before removing kittens from their environment. Rescues are inundated in kitten season with calls about abandoned litters and in a hope to address this situation here is a simple guide on what to do if you find a litter of kittens.

First, we need to establish whether they are abandoned or not. Refrain from touching kittens and leave them where they are. You may find that mum is in the process of relocating her kittens and if you move them she won’t be able to find them. If there is a mum, GREAT! Call a rescue group and see if they can assist in helping you catch and rehome the kittens and their mum It may also be that the Queen is from a neighbouring house and may already have an owner in which case she and her kittens can be returned. Aren’t you glad you didn’t touch the kittens first?

If there is no mum cat present once again refrain from touching the kittens. Watch and wait, a recommended time frame to keep an eye on kittens is 1-2 hours depending on circumstances. An attentive mother won’t be far away and knows that the kittens need regular feeding. So she will be back if she is able to do so. What do you need to do? Nothing. Go inside and watch from a window. A mum is not going to return to her kittens while you are standing over them – you are pretty scary after all. So the mum cat has returned and is taking care of her kittens now what should you do? Call a rescue group, possibly take a photo for reference of what mum looks like and they can assist in catching mum and her babies. The goal here is to keep mum and her litter together, if we jump in and remove the kittens their chances of survival drop dramatically without a mother.

It’s been a few hours and no mum has returned. These are now abandoned kittens and you may touch them. Depending on age this may be difficult or very easy. Kittens over the age of 4 weeks will be able to run away from you and may not be easy to catch – this is the time you call a rescue group and ask for assistance. They may come prepared with all sorts of different tactics from trapping and nets to catch the kittens. You can, of course, assist if possible and get as many inside as you possibly can.

Kittens under four weeks will be much easier to catch but now have some very specific needs. Most importantly – heat. Bring the kittens inside and warm them up with a heat pack or even a towel that has been warmed in the dryer. Get the kittens warm first and then keep them warm. You can now contact a rescue group and accurately say that you have found a litter of abandoned kittens. They will advise on the next step in the process of getting kittens into care.

We do not recommend anyone who has no experience caring for orphaned kittens taking on the task of trying to rear them. Here are some basic kitten care tips until you find assistance to help the kittens stay strong. Kittens over four weeks (any kitten walking around well on it’s own) can be offered wet food or kitten formula to see if they lap. If they do excellent! You can offer this as much as they can eat throughout the day and there is no more you need to do.

Kittens under four weeks either cannot walk at all or are very unsteady on their feet and need specialized care. They often won’t lap at food and need to be bottle-fed. If you are unable to do this yourself please get them to a vet or straight into the care of a rescue group. If you are unable to do this for any circumstance (i.e. late at night and nothing open) here are some tips to assist you in keeping them hydrated overnight. You will need a syringe and kitten formula or you can make some water with glucose syrup or sugar. Please make sure all water is sterile before use (boil the kettle and wait for it to cool). A kitten can’t digest if it is cold so please remember to keep the kitten warm.

Tips for hand-rearing a kitten

  • Make sure their food is body temperature
  • Make sure the kitten is warm
  • Always hold a kitten with it’s feet on the floor – DO NOT feed upside down or on it’s back this will asphyxiate the kitten
  • If using a syringe then slowly let the milk come out. Do not force as this will also asphyxiate the kitten

Kittens are unable to toilet on their own until about three weeks. You will need to gently rub their bottom to stimulate them to toilet. This can be done with a moist towel or tissue. Mother cats generally lick the area to do this so it is preferred to be something warm and wet to help the process. This needs to be done before and after a bottle-feed.

Remember the best outcome for kittens is to stay with their mothers. These steps should ensure that everything has done not to separate kittens from their mothers. Only intervene if you believe that the mother is not coming back for them. Never assume that because they are in a strange place that someone has dumped them either. Mother cats have been known to transport their kitten’s large distances if they believe they are unsafe and often do this in small rounds taking one after the other slowly to their destination.

Some more advice on catching kittens and queens. Do not chase or be intimidating in any way. This will scare off most cats. Cats do not trust easy. Leave out some food for mum and see if she comes in to eat it. Try to keep her in the area if she is not easily handled. Keep food and plenty of water out and try to sit and talk soothingly to her. She may just be a little scared and need some reassurance and you may be able to pick her up with a little time. If the cat has been a street cat for some time you probably won’t be able to get close to her at all. Keep food in the area to encourage her to stay around the food supply. Rescue groups use a variety of different trapping methods and often try to trap kittens and their mum together and bring them all in to care. This process may take a few days and as long as mum is still caring for the kittens it’s not going to be an issue.

A basic box trap if available is a great tool for catching younger kittens. Use something that smells irresistible – Tuna, roast chicken, salmon or even KFC – and lure them into the box trap. You may have to catch kittens one at a time using this process and rescue groups will happily guide you through this process or assist if they have the available resources. This method takes patience and perseverance. Keep at it and don’t give up until you have caught all of the kittens. If they kittens are young you need to ensure that mum hasn’t stashed kittens everywhere. You need to keep an eye on the queen and see where she is going. The worse outcome is trapping a mum and taking in two small kittens only to find two kittens were left behind in another location. There are many factors to take into consideration and it is a big effort to ensure the family stays together but an important one.

Tips for using a box trap:

  • Line the trap with paper
  • Cover the trap with a large blanket
  • Create a trail of food from around the area and into the trap with a jackpot of food at the end.
  • Always monitor the trap from a safe distance, cats can injure themselves if left for a prolonged period inside a trap.
  • Never try to remove a cat from a trap outside, always move to a contained area and open the trap in a small room like a laundry or bathroom or ideally into a dog crate.
  • Keep in touch with the rescue as they will let you know exactly what to do once you have trapped a cat. Best to keep the cat in the trap and covered until you have been given advice for the next step.