When you see a kitten alone on the streets, it's natural to want to take care of it. But before you scoop up the cuteness and bring it home, you should know a few things about caring for a stray kitten.
Caring for a feral kitten may be overwhelming if you have never owned a cat. However, with patience and work, you can socialize and take care of a feral kitten until it's ready to be adopted. This stray kitten care guide will walk you through the process of trapping, socializing, and ultimately homing a feral kitten.
Rescuing The Kitten
Check If The Mother Cat is Nearby or If They Stay in a Dangerous Place or Situation
The first step is to check if the kitten has a mother cat nearby. If the mother cat is healthy and caring for her kitten, it's best to leave them be. The mother cats know how to care for their kittens better than you do, and they usually care for their offspring for about 5 to 6 weeks, as stated in a Quora answer.
If the female cat is not around or if she is in a dangerous place, you can try to rescue the kitten. Kittens should not be away from their mother for too long as they need their milk to survive. If the kitten is old enough to eat solid food, then it may be okay to be away from the mother cat for a little longer.
Things to know before rescuing the young kittens
- If the kittens seem healthy and whole, their mother still cares for them. Don't rescue them immediately and wait for the momma cat to return.
- Feral cats leave their babies behind to hunt (or find food) and will only come back to check on them every few hours. So, if you remove the kittens too early, the mother cat may not be able to find them.
- Feral mums are known to shift their babies about to protect their babies from predators, as stated in Quora. She could be gone because she's bringing the next kitten to a new nest.
- Because a person (that is you) is nearby, the mother cat might be hidden but unwilling to appear.
A good rule of thumb is to wait for about an hour or two to see if the mother cat returns before you make a decision to rescue the kittens.
If the kittens are in immediate danger (for example, if they are in the middle of the road), then you can go ahead and rescue them. Just be sure to place them in a safe place away from danger until their mother can return.
When is it appropriate to rescue feral kittens right away?
- If the kittens are visibly wet, cold, and shivering, it is essential to rescue them right away.
- If the kittens are cold but not wet, it is still essential to rescue them as soon as possible, as cold weather can be deadly to young kittens.
- If they are in danger from the elements (such as vehicles and machines), people, or other animals.
- If they look untidy, restless, and highly distressed.
- If the mother cat is deceased, it is essential to rescue the kittens right away to prevent them from dying from exposure or being preyed upon.
Rescue the Stray Kittens
When you're ready to rescue the kitten, wear gloves to protect yourself from scratches. Having a carrier or box ready to put the kitten in is also a good idea.
If the kitten is hiding, you may need to lure it out with food. Once the kitten is out in the open, you can try to pick it up. If the kitten is too scared or wild to be picked up, you can place the carrier or box over the top and then slide a piece of cardboard under the carrier to trap the kitten inside.
If you can't get the kitten into a carrier or box, you can try to scoop it up in a blanket and then place it in the carrier or box. Once the kitten is inside, you can put the lid on and take it to a safe place.
If you can't catch the kitten, don't worry. Just leave some food and water out for it and check back later. The kitten may come out to eat when it feels safe.
Tip: As stated in a Wikipedia article about Feral Cats, feral cats lives outdoors and avoid human contact. They don't allow themselves to be handled and touched and may become aggressive if you try to do so. So, please take caution when approaching and rescuing them, as there might be adult feral cats around too.
When you have the kitten in a carrier or box, you can take it to a local animal shelter or rescue group. They will be able to provide the kitten with the care it needs and find it a good home.
You can take care of the kittens independently if you want. It might not be easy for you at first. But as long as you are compassionate, gentle, and generous with your love, you will be fine. Keep reading the next step to find out what to do next.
Warm Up The Kitten
Once you bring the feral kittens home, you may instinctively try to feed them with a bottle or syringe full of milk. However, it is very important to warm up the kitten first, as cold can be deadly to young kittens, as stated in Miami Dade County Animal Services. Feel the ears, inside of the mouth, and paw pads of the kitten. If they are cold to the touch, it is essential to warm them up before doing anything else.
The best way to warm up a kitten is to place it in a box lined with a towel. Fill a hot water bottle halfway with warm (but not hot) water and wrap it in a towel. Place this next to the kitten in the box, allowing the kitten to move away from the heat if it becomes too hot.
To warm up the kitten, you may also use a heating pad covered in a towel on the lowest setting. Ensure that the kitten can move away from the heat if it gets too warm.
Once the kitten is warm, you can offer it a small amount of milk. One effective method is to dip your finger in the milk and let the kitten lick the milk off your finger.
Once the kitten is warm and has had something to eat or drink, you can move on to the next step.
Setting Up a Safe Place At Home
Set Up a Safe Nursery
When setting up a nursery for kittens, you will want to ensure that the space is safe and quiet. This entails placing the nursery in a quieter room, such as a study or guest room, and keeping the door closed to reduce noise. Additionally, you will want to ensure the space is secure, with no places where the kittens could get trapped or hurt.
You will also want to ensure that the nursery is warm and comfortable. Kittens need plenty of warmth and security, and you can provide this by using a heating pad or blanket in the nursery. Additionally, ensure plenty of soft blankets and toys for the kittens to play with.
You can also use a heated cat bed or a heating pad on its lowest setting to provide warmth for the kittens. Check out the Best Heated Cat Beds.
Usually, older kittens do not socialize well with humans, according to Guilford County Animal Shelter. So, it is best to set up the nursery in a room where the kittens can have their own space and not be disturbed by humans too much.
Keep The Other Pets and Kids Away
If you own other home pets, such as dogs or cats, you want to ensure they cannot get into the nursery. This means keeping the door to the nursery closed at all times and making sure that there is no way for the other pets to get into the nursery. Additionally, you will want to keep the other pets away from the kittens as much as possible.
If you have young kids in the house, you'll want to ensure they can't get into the nursery. You should do this as a safety measure for both the pets and the children because you can never be sure that stray cats do not carry any diseases. Additionally, small children can be too rough with kittens, hurting them.
Do a Quick Check Up At Home
Once you settle down in a safe place for your kittens and they seem submissive to your touch, it is time to give them a quick checkup to ensure that they are in good health.
To do this, you will want to take a look at their fur. Make sure that there are no bald spots and that the fur is not matted. You will also want to look for fleas, ticks, and skin infections.
Next, you will want to take a look at their eyes. Make sure that they are clear and not discharged. You will also want to look for any crustiness around the eyes, which could signify an infection.
Check if the kittens sneeze a lot, which could be a sign of upper respiratory infections. Check for signs of diarrhea and vomiting as well.
Finally, you will want to check for any injuries. Check their paws, mouths, and noses for any cuts or bruises. If you notice any injuries, it is best to take the kitten to the vet as soon as possible.
Be Careful of Zoonotic Diseases
When handling kittens, you will want to be careful of zoonotic diseases. These are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans, and they can be very serious.
Cat scratch fever, rabies, and toxoplasmosis are some of the most common zoonotic diseases, and they can be found in feral cat populations. Learn more about zoonotic diseases from Dog Zoonotic Diseases (because these diseases spread from animal to human, they can affect any animal, not just dogs).
To avoid these diseases, wash your hands thoroughly after handling the kittens. You will also want to avoid letting them lick your face or hands. If you are worried about contracting a zoonotic disease, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Congratulations! You can now move to the next step, vaccinating your kittens, now that you have successfully established a safe place for them!
Go To The Vet
This is one of the most critical steps in caring for your kittens. You will want to take them to the vet as soon as possible to get the necessary vaccinations.
Some of the most important vaccinations for kittens include rabies, feline distemper, and feline leukemia. Your veterinarian will also be able to examine the kittens for any health issues and advise you regarding how to best care for them.
Taking your kittens to the vet is essential to taking care of them, so do not skip this!
Figure Out The Orphaned Kittens Age
Figuring out the feral kitten's age isn't hard if you are an experienced cat owner. If you've never raised a cat before, you should seek advice from your veterinarian. The best way to determine a kitten's age is by size and weight.
Here is a chart included in the Kitten Lady Orphan Kittens pdf shared on Burlington's Official Site that will help you figure out the age of your kittens:
- 1-2 weeks old: 50-250 grams
- 3-4 weeks old: 250-450 grams
- 5-6 weeks old: 450-550 grams
- 7-8 weeks old: 550-850 grams
According to the same pdf, the kittens' behavior will also help determine their age.
- 1-2 weeks old: The kittens will be very sleepy and won't move around much. They will also have their eyes closed.
- 3-4 weeks old: The kittens will be more active, and their eyes will be open. They might also start to crawl around.
- 5-6 weeks old: The kittens will be even more active and will start to explore their surroundings. They might also start to eat solid food.
- 7-8 weeks old: The kittens will be active and playful. They will also be eating solid food and using the litter box.
- 9-10 weeks old: The kittens will be like stray cats and fully independent.
If you are still unsure about the kitten's age, you can always ask your vet for help.
Caring for The Feral Kittens
Caring for The Very Young
If your kittens are younger than four weeks, they need extra TLC. This age group requires two vital things: warmth and elimination stimulation. In other words, they cannot go to the restroom alone. When neonates are with their mothers, the mother cats groom them, stimulating their bodies to go to the restroom. When they are without their mothers, you need to stimulate them after every feeding.
The best way to do this is to gently rub their bottoms with a warm, wet washcloth. This will help stimulate their bowels and cause them to go to the restroom.
You will also need to keep the kittens warm. Neonatal kittens cannot regulate their body temperature, so they must be kept in a warm environment. The best way to do this is to use a heating pad. Make sure to wrap the heating pad in a towel so the kittens cannot get too close to it and get burned.
Feeding The Feral Kittens
- 1 to 2 weeks of age
Kittens this age should be fed every 2-3 hours and should consume kitten formula. At this age, bottle feeding is necessary. Hold the kitten in one hand and support its head with your thumb and first two fingers. Fill the bottle with kitten formula, place the nipple on the bottle, and test the flow by letting a few drops fall on your wrist. The formula should be warm, not hot.
Do not keep them in a belly-up position while feeding.
Do not feed kittens cow's milk, as this can give them diarrhea.
- 3 to 4 weeks of age
Kittens this age should be fed every 3-4 hours and should consume kitten formula.
You can also introduce solid food to kittens this age, but make sure that the food is soft and easy to eat.
- 5 to 6 weeks of age
Kittens this age can be fed every 4-6 hours.
At this age, kittens can eat most types of kitten food, but you will still want to ensure that the food is soft and easy to eat.
- 7 to 10 weeks of age
Kittens this age can be fed every 6-8 hours.
Kittens this age can eat most types of cat food, including wet food and dry food.
- 11 to 12 weeks of age
Kittens this age are considered adults and can be fed twice a day. They should consume about 1/2 cup of food per meal.
Caring for The Older Kittens
Older kittens (4-8 weeks) are a bit easier to care for than younger kittens, but they still need your help. They should eat solid food and use the cat litter box at this age. You will still need to provide them with a warm environment, but you won't need to worry about stimulating their bowels after every meal.
You will also need to continue to socialize with them. Kittens at this age are still learning how to interact with other cats and humans. Handling them frequently and lavishing them with love and attention is the best way to socialize them.
Finally, you must ensure that they are getting enough exercise. Kittens this age are very active and need to burn off all that energy. Provide them with lots of toys and play with them often.
Tip: You may also want to teach them house rules. Check out this article, How To Stop Cat From Peeing On Couch, for more tips.
Caring for The Adult Kittens
Once your kittens reach eight weeks old, they act more like adults. If you rescue kittens at this age, it will be difficult for you to socialize with them as they are used to living with feral cats. At this point, it is better to leave them alone in the woods. You can, however, continue to feed them as you do with any other stray cat. If you attempt to touch them, they are likely to become aggressive. Capture and a vet appointment should be considered if one appears injured or ill.
Find A New Home For Your Kitten
Once your kitten is eight weeks old, it is time to find them a new home. If you've been caring for the kittens on your own, you might want to find them a new home so you can take care of more kittens. There are a few different ways that you can find a new home for your kitten.
The first way is to find a local animal shelter or rescue group that takes in kittens. A no-kill animal shelter is an excellent option because the kitten will go to a safer place to provide the care they need.
The second way is to find a local breeder or pet store that sells kittens. This is a good choice if you want to ensure the kitten goes to a good home.
The third way is to place an ad in the local newspaper or online. This is a good option if you want to find a specific home for the kitten.
Finally, you can keep the kitten yourself. This is a good choice if you have the resources and time to care for the kitten.
Whatever option you choose, make sure that you thoroughly screen potential owners. You want to ensure they will provide the kitten with a good home.
Once you've found a new home for the kitten, ensure the new owners have all the information they need to care for it. This includes the kitten's diet, litter box training, and vaccinations. In addition, you should give them a list of emergency phone numbers in case they need to contact you.
Raising stray kittens can be a lot of work, but it is also very rewarding. It will help reduce the stray cat population and give you the satisfaction of knowing that you have saved a life. You can turn a shy, scared kitten into a happy, healthy cat with patience and love.