If You Find Kittens

You hear meowing in your garden, and find a litter of kittens. What do you do? Learn what to look for and what decisions to make in order to save them.

The time between late spring and early autumn is known as “kitten season”. During this time of year, feral and unaltered stray cats reproduce prolifically. As many as 50 cats might be brought into the shelter in a single day. If you encounter a litter of kittens in need of rescue in Multnomah County, use this page to learn how to help them.


Things to Consider if You Find Kittens

Wait for the mother to return

A mother cat will periodically leave her nest to hunt for food. If you see young kittens without their mother, it is likely she will return. The mother should return to the nest within a few hours if you watch quietly from a distance.  

It is always better for young kittens to remain with their mother than for people to intervene. Pre-weaned kittens (under 4 weeks) without a mother are very difficult to care for and have a high mortality rate.  They require frequent feedings of kitten milk replacer formula day and night, and many simply "fail to thrive" without the care of their mother. 

Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon also has some information regarding stray and/or feral kittens.

 

When the mother returns

When you do see the mother cat, approach her slowly to see if she is social and friendly.  If she is comfortable with people, she may in fact be someone's lost pet.  You can bring her (with her litter of kittens) to a local veterinarian or to MCAS to scan for a microchip to locate a possible owner.  If a microchip isn't present, you can report the cat and her litter as "found" on the MCAS found pet directory, and follow other tips and instructions of how to care for the cats or find an owner.  If you choose to care for the mother and her kittens, you can bring them into your home to shelter and feed them until the kittens are old enough to be spayed or neutered.

If the mother doesn't appear to be comfortable around people, please contact the MCAS Action Cat Team (ACT) for assistance in caring for the unsocial strays and arranging for spay or neuter surgery.

If the mother doesn't return

It is important that you do not take pre-weaned kittens away from their mother. Only take them in if, after watching for several hours, you are 100% certain the mother is not returning.  If you watch and a mother doesn't return, the kittens will need immediate care in order to survive.

You will need to keep the kittens warm.  Put hot water in a plastic bottle and wrap it in a towel.  Place the kittens in a box with bedding next to the warm bottle for warmth.

You will need to keep the kittens fed every few hours. They will need to be fed with a kitten milk replacer (KMR) formula.  Learn about caring for bottle-fed kittens.

If you are unable to care for the kittens yourself, please contact a shelter immediately for help.  You can call MCAS at 503-988-7387 to ask about resources available to care for stray kittens.

 


Determine Age

Before you do anything with a litter of kittens you've found, you'll want to figure out their age. Alley Cat Allies has a web page to help you determine kitten age. They should remain with their mother for at least 5 weeks.

The best age to begin socializing kittens is at about 5 weeks of age. At 5 weeks, kittens will weigh between 3/4 to 1 pound. They will be curious and playful and will be able to eat cat food.

If possible, the kittens should be socialized by people and still remain with their mother until they are 8 weeks of age. This may mean taking in the mother cat and kittens together. This may not be possible if the kittens are from a feral mother. In this case, the kittens should be taken in without mom at 5 weeks for socialization so that they can become adoptable. Never attempt to confine or house a feral mother cat, as this can be dangerous.


What To Do

If under 5 weeks:

Leave kittens under 5 weeks of age with their mom. If you have watched for several hours from a distance and you are 100% certain that a kitten has been abandoned, you may either:

  • care for the kitten yourself for a few weeks (see resources below)  -OR-
  • bring the kitten into our shelter

If 5-6 weeks:

If the kittens are friendly, you may take them in and provide care and socialization until they are 8 weeks of age. At 8 weeks, you may rehome them or bring them in to our shelter to be adopted out. If you can not care for the kittens yourself, bring them to our shelter and we will place them into foster care.

If the kittens are feral and unfriendly, you may either:

  • bring them inside to care for them. You will need to spend a good deal of time socializing them (see video below) to make them friendly and adoptable. -OR-
  • bring them into our shelter so they can be placed with a special foster home for socialization.

If 6-8 weeks:

If the kittens are friendly, you may bring them to our shelter. We will either place them in a foster home or put them up for adoption.

If the kittens are feral (unfriendly), you may either:

  • bring them inside to care for them. You will need to spend a good deal of time socializing them (see video below) to make them friendly and adoptable. -OR-
  • bring them into our shelter so they can be placed with a special foster home for socialization.

If over 8 weeks:

If the kittens are friendly, bring them in to our shelter. We will place them up for adoption.

If the kittens are feral (unfriendly), bring them in to our shelter. We will assess them and attempt to socialize them so they can be placed up for adoption. However, it is very difficult to socialize older feral kittens, so we may opt to trap-neuter-return (TNR) the kitten and return it to its environment.


Resources

Here are links you may find helpful:

Other agencies that may accept kittens (please check with them directly for space availability):

Our friends at Urban Cat League put together these videos to show you how to socialize ("tame") feral kittens: