Rescue
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You Found a Stray Kitten — Here’s What to Do

So, you found a stray kitten… but the next step isn’t simply taking him home with you. Be sure to follow our guide!

Denise LeBeau  |  Jul 24th 2017


Summer coincides with the height of kitten season, which means that around the country, people are encountering stray kittens more than any other time of the year. Here’s what you should do if you find a stray kitten. 

Two kittens outdoors in straw.

Always check to see if there’s a mother cat around before rescuing stray kittens.

Investigate — does the stray kitten have a mother?

Helping orphaned kittens will first require some detective work. One of the biggest mistakes people make when finding stray kittens is taking them away from their mother. Neonatal kittens are still nursing and need to be fed frequently, so they should be kept with their mother, if possible.

Here’s how to assess the situation:

  • Are they sleeping comfortably? The mother is probably coming back.
  • When you recheck on them, are any of them missing? The mother is moving them.
  • If they’re often found sleeping, then the mother is caring for them.
  • To be absolutely sure, sprinkle some flour around where the kittens are located and look for paw prints upon your return. If the mother is in the picture, let them be. In approximately eight weeks, go back and TNR (trap/neuter/return) the whole family.

What to do if the stray kitten does not have a mother

If you have determined the stray kitten (or kittens!) does not have a mother, his greatest chance for survival begins with you. The first thing you’ll need to do is capture the kitten. For some kittens, this is as easy as reaching out and scooping them up. For others, you may need to contact a local animal society or shelter to obtain the humane traps often used in TNR. Simply place the trap out with some food inside, and wait nearby. The kitten should wander in and trigger the trap to close its door. Kittens do not get hurt in the process!

Next, get the stray kitten to a veterinarian for a checkup ASAP. If the vet’s office is closed, you’ll have to start his care right away. Even if you can’t foster a stray kitten long term, you’ll be a lifeline during this first phase of rescue.

If you cannot foster the kitten for any amount of time, find a no-kill animal shelter. The No Kill Network has a list of organizations by state, and Adopt-A-Pet lists cat rescues.

Containing and monitoring the kitten is key to his health and well-being. A dog crate is perfect. To keep him toasty, place a covered heating pad in his crate and keep the room temperature at 75 degrees.  The heating pad should cover only half the crate so he can get away from it. Watch for panting — you don’t want him to get overheated either. A cold or limp kitten indicates a medical emergency.

Bottle feeding a kitten.

Bottle feeding a kitten. Photography by Shutterstock.

Feeding schedule for kittens by weight and age

Determining the age of the youngster right away is imperative. His age will mandate what he’ll eat as well as how much and how often.

Using a postal scale, here’s a quick guide:

  • Under 1 week old: kitten weighs less than 4 ounces. Feed formula: every two to three hours.
  • 7 to 10 days old: kitten weighs 4 to 6 ounces. Feed formula: every two to three hours.
  • 10 to 14 days old: kitten weighs 6 to 8 ounces. Feed formula: every three hours.
  • 14 to 21 days old: kitten weighs 8 to 12 ounces. Feed formula: every four hours.
  • 4 to 5 weeks old: kitten weighs 12 ounces to 1 pound. Feed mix of gruel/formula/kitten kibble: every four hours.
  • 6 to 7 weeks old: kitten weighs 1 pound to 1 pound and 8 ounces. Feed mix of kitten kibble and wet food four times a day.
  • 8 weeks old: kitten weighs one and a half to 2 pounds. Fully weaned.

Pro tips for proper kitten care

Kitties start weaning at a month old. Until then, he’ll need to be bottle-fed kitten formula. In a pinch, you can use goat milk but only for a short time.

Pet supply stores and many grocery stores will have all you’ll need:

  • Kitten formula
  • Bottles
  • Rubber nipples
  • Cleaning supplies

Only bottle-feed the kitten with his belly touching the table (never while on his back). Experts recommend letting the kitten eat the warmed-up formula until he’s full. It usually takes less than 15 minutes.

Kittens will need help eliminating urine and feces until they are approximately a month old. After each feeding, use a warm, damp washcloth to gently rub his anus until he goes. You can introduce a litter box filled with non-clumping litter at 3 weeks old. 

Find a home for the stray kitten

At 8 weeks old, the kitten is ready to be spayed or neutered and placed into a loving home. There are many ways to find the stray kitten a home — check out bestfriends.org for a guide of best practices. Unless, of course, he or she is already home. Kittens are, after all, irresistible!

Read more about stray cats on Catster.com: