Editor’s Note: For assistance with an abandoned kitten, please contact your local veterinarian or animal rescue organization.
Kitten season is around the corner, and if you’re anything like me, you might soon find yourself crossing paths with a little mewing orphan or two (or six!) I’m Hannah Shaw, founder of a rescue and advocacy project called Kitten Lady – and I’m here to give you my top 10 tips for what to do if you find kittens outside!
1. Assess the situation.
Don’t assume that a litter of kittens is orphaned just because you don’t see the mom. It’s common for the mother to leave her babies, so give the kittens a bit of distance and see if the mom returns. If she does – great! The mom is the best suited to care for them, so leave them with her (unless you’re able to take the whole family in and care for them.) If the mom does not return within an hour or two, it is time for you to step in and help.
2. Don’t take the kittens to a shelter.
Unless your local shelter specifically has a program for neonatal kittens, bringing an orphaned kitten to a shelter is a death sentence. The majority of shelters do not provide care to unweaned kittens, so if you want them to have a shot, it’s going to be your responsibility to help them yourself, or to find someone who can.
3. Don’t panic – but do act quickly.
When it comes to orphaned kittens, time is of the essence. Panic never helped anyone, but you do need to treat this as a situation that cannot wait. Gather the kittens and quickly make a plan for the next 24 hours of care – you can always change your plans later on, but right now you just need to think about their immediate needs. If you observe any serious health concerns such as gasping for air or bleeding, take the kitten to a veterinarian.
4. Gather the appropriate supplies.
You’re going to need to quickly gather supplies so you can get them warm, stable, hydrated, and fed. Check out my “Preparing for Fostering” supply checklist to find out what supplies you’ll need. Set up a cozy, safe space for the kittens away from any potential hazards.
5. Get them stable.
Before you can do anything else, you want to make sure the kitten is not hypothermic or hyperthermic. Kittens cannot control their body temperature, so help them regulate their body temperature before trying to feed them – especially if they have been exposed to cold temperatures. A heating pad on low, a warm water bottle, or even a sock filled with rice and put in the microwave can all provide a steady but mild heat source to a cold kitten.
6. Feed the kittens.
If it’s your first time bottle feeding, don’t panic! You can do it, but you’ll want to know some tricks so you don’t hurt them. Watch my YouTube video on How to Bottle Feed a Kitten for tips on proper preparation and feeding posture. And please, never feed cow’s milk to a kitten, as this is extremely dangerous to their health and can lead to death. Instead, you will need to purchase kitten milk replacer, sold at most pet stores or feed stores.
7. Stimulate the kittens to go to the bathroom.
It comes as a surprise to some people that newborn kittens actually do not go to the bathroom on their own – their mother licks them to stimulate elimination and urination, and to keep them nice and clean. You will need to mimic this behavior by stimulating the kittens with a warm, wet cloth at each feeding. Watch my video on How to Stimulate Kittens to see how it’s done.
8. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Orphaned neonatal kittens require around-the-clock care, so you’ll want to establish a routine of care every 2-4 hours (the younger they are, the more frequent the intervals.) Between feedings, it’s normal for the kittens to sleep, just make sure they are in a safe and confined space.
9. Foster for success!
Fostering kittens is fun, rewarding, and lightning-fast if you do it right! Plan on caring for them until they are old enough to be neutered – right around eight weeks old. In the meantime, search for the perfect forever home, get them all their standard veterinary care, and enjoy watching them grow. It’ll be over before you know it!
10. Spay and neuter any cats in the area.
Don’t forget – if you found kittens in an alley, that means there are unsterilized cats around the corner. Search for a local TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) group to help you get what you need to sterilize any free-roaming cats so that you can prevent the next round of kittens!
Thank you for being a neonatal kitten warrior! Please follow me and my kitten adventures on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to keep up with the latest in my rescue and advocacy efforts. And if you’d like to support Kitten Lady, you can purchase an item from my shop or make a tax-deductible donation to help me continue this important work.
Happy Kitten Season, everyone!
About the author
Hannah Shaw (also known as Kitten Lady) is an award-winning kitten rescuer and humane educator who provides advocates across the globe with educational resources about the protection and care of neonatal kittens. She is the author of two bestselling books, Tiny But Mighty and Kitten Lady’s Big Book of Little Kittens, and founder of 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Orphan Kitten Club. She currently lives with two wonderful cats and a revolving door of orphaned bottle baby animals.
Taking care of rescue kittens is a daunting task as they need a lot of care and love. You must know what to do in order to be able to keep these fragile pets in good health.
Get Milk Fit for a Kitten
A mother cat generally starts weaning her young when they are 4 weeks of age. The weaning is completed by 8 weeks, by which time the kittens can eat solid food. If the rescue kitten you’ve acquired is less than 4 weeks of age, you need to take special care of him. Cow’s milk should never be given to a young kitten as it isn’t nutritious enough. Moreover, the kitten may get diarrhea after consuming cow’s milk.
It’s therefore best to find a female cat with a litter and get her to feed the rescue kitten. If this isn’t possible, you can purchase mother’s milk replacer and a bottle kit at a pet store.
Keeping out Fresh Water
Clean, fresh water in a bowl should always be accessible to the kitten. Ensure that the edge of the bowl low so that the kitten can drink easily from it. The bowl should also be heavy so that it can’t be tipped over by your playful pet. You should ascertain that you keep your pet’s food and water bowls in a place where they won’t get contaminated.
Feeding Quality Kitten Food
Buy enhanced food that’s fit for consumption by kittens instead of adult cat food as the latter may lack some of the essential nutrients that are required by young kittens. It can either be canned food or dry food. Ensure that the food you buy is rich in proteins, calcium and other nutrients. Since your kitten’s stomach is small, be sure to feed him every couple of hours or sooner. You can also keep a bowl of dry food within easy reach so that he can eat when he’s hungry.
Make Sure the Kitten is Warm
Kittens under 3 weeks of age can’t control their body temperature. Consider keeping your pet warm with a warm water bottle or a heating pad covered with a towel. Never feed your kitten if he’s cold as he won’t be able to digest his food properly. Keep a box or a carrier in a warm place and cover it with a warm blanket or towel and let your kitten sleep in it. Also be sure to change the bedding daily as young kittens don’t have proper bladder control.
Your kitten’s bed area should be dry, clean and safe so that he gets the required amount of sleep he needs to grow.
Maintain a Litterbox
- Train your kitten to use the litter box as he gets older
- Use a litter box that the kitten can easily climb into or out of
- The litter box should be filled with regular litter as the clumping variety can be ingested by your kitten during self grooming and this can cause a blockage in his digestive track
- Always keep the litter box clean to encourage good litter box habits.
Know When to Go to a Vet
Unless your kitten is ill and is suffering from diarrhea, loss of appetite or lethargy, you can delay the trip to the vet by a couple of days to give him time to become stronger. He should also be de-wormed as advised by the vet. Ensure that your kitten gets the required vaccinations for rabies and distemper and that he is tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus at the right age.
By taking proper care of your rescue kitten, you can train him to be a sociable and loving companion.
Raising an abandoned or orphaned 4 week old kitten may feel like an exhausting full-time job, more so in the beginning when they must be frequently fed throughout the day. However as the day goes by and now that they are in the fourth week of their lives, things may finally start to feel a tad bit easier for you.
Not only do they not need to be fed as often as in the first two weeks, they have also become stronger and more active. This is when the fun begins. However, your job of caring for them is far from over.
Taking care of orphaned or abandoned kittens may be exhausting, but we cannot deny the fact that it is also incredibly rewarding. Now that they are learning to properly balance themselves and walk more often, you may crack a smile every single time you catch their glimpse as they roam around.
3 Week Old Kitten, Everything You must Know
At this point their heads are larger than their entire body, which is the reason why they wobble their way around. As their curiosity and activity increase, so is your responsibility.
As soon as your kitten turn four weeks, they may start getting more active. This comes with a few additional tasks and responsibilities, learn how to properly do it here.
Caring for 4 week old kitten: what you should know
With the kitten start walking and roaming around their surrounding, one of the first things you must do is evaluate any harmful plants as well as items and chemical products around the house.
Consider relocating the plants and storing the aforementioned products and items in a compartment or somewhere they cannot reach in order to eliminate the risk of harming them during their exploration. Other than that, you must also evaluate the house for small openings to avoid their accidental escape.
Another aspect worth noting is, while four week old kittens are still nursing, the weaning process must be started at this stage.
This is important as they need to eventually make the move to solid food, and four weeks is the ideal age for you to introduce them to kitten food.
Mother cats typically start the weaning process by the end of their third week, but at four weeks they are still allowed formula as long as it is in addition to kitten food or homemade gruel.
Other than starting the weaning process, another task you have at hand is introducing them to their litter box. While cats do not need to be trained to use their litter box, they must still be introduced to their litter box from early age. That way they will understand the appropriate place to urinate and defecate.
Caring for 4 week old kitten: how to wean the kitten
Encouraging your kitten to start eating and stop suckling come with quite a few challenges. However, as challenging as it may be, it can definitely be done. If there is one thing you should never do, it’s to abruptly change their diet.
Slow and steady always wins the race when it comes to these lovely creatures. The fact that they are still nursing may make you wonder how often you should give them formula, in that case a good rule of thumb is to give them 8cc for every ounce of their bodyweight.
Alternatively you may give them 104cc (13oz) of milk, given to them 3 times a day. This is of course aside the obligatory introduction to food (also referred to as “gruel”).
Homemade gruel is essentially a mixture of either high-quality dry kitten food or wet kitten food and their formula with a little bit of warm water.
To make the gruel using high-quality dry kitten food, you must let the kitten food sit in warm water for a while. Once softened, mix it with milk replacement formula.
To get them to try, place a small amount on your fingertip and let them smell it. Once they come closer, slowly move your finger toward the food bowl. Your kitten will follow you and will soon start lapping up the gruel. Gradually over the next few weeks, thicken the homemade gruel until the kitten is finally starting to eat plain kitten food.
Caring for 4 week old kitten: how to introduce litter box
When it comes to using the litter box, cat owners really hit the jackpot as cats do not require a proper litter-training unlike their canine counterpart.
However, a little introduction is needed. Fortunately, this introduction process is as easy as taking the kittens and placing them inside their litter box in order to let them smell the box and get used to it. Your kitten may dig around the litter box for a while or shun the litter box by hopping out of it.
If your kitten is among those that hop out, simply take them and place them back in the litter box in an hour. Continue to introduce them to it after meals and in the morning, and every time you think they are about to urinate or defecate, gently place them in their litter box to do the job.
Parturition, or giving birth, usually proceeds normally in most queen cats. A healthy queen cat will deliver kittens at thirty- to sixty-minute intervals on her own. Some queens will know instinctively what is going on with her body; others will seem as if they do not understand. In either case, you should remain calm and reassuring to your queen cat, both during and after delivery.
Care of Your Cat After Delivery
Your cat will continue to need your undivided attention and dedicated care after she gives birth. Monitor the health status of your queen cat by doing the following:
Palpate your kitten’s pelvic area to make sure all kittens have been delivered. Your vet may need to take x-rays of the pelvic area, too.
Take your queen cat’s temperature, which should fluctuate only moderately in a healthy queen cat.
Check your queen cat’s vaginal discharge, called lochia. It should be heavy and look dark red to black for a few days after delivery.
Also monitor whether your cat takes the following steps after delivery:
- She removes the placenta and cord of each kitten.
- She stimulates breathing and movement with initial grooming of each kitten.
- She promptly begins nursing each kitten.
Be prepared if your queen cat rejects her kittens and abandons maternal duties, which can be due to behavioral or medical conditions, like internal infections. If this is the case, do not scold or punish your queen cat. Her lack of maternal instincts is not her fault. Do ask your veterinarian in advance of her delivery how you will feed and nurture the newborn kittens yourself, if necessary. After delivery, your vet will advise you on whether you should separate an inattentive queen cat from her kittens.
Postpartum Complications in Cats
First-time cats or those with underlying health conditions, like nutritional deficiencies, may need medical assistance in giving birth. Poor uterine contractions (inertia) and pelvic deformities are two other reasons your queen cat’s delivery may not go as smoothly as it should. Always seek medical advice if your queen cat appears to be in severe or protracted distress while giving birth.