Feral cats peeking out from behind a fence.
Feral cats peeking out from behind a fence. Photography ©ConstantinCornel | Thinkstock.

Found a Stray Kitten? Here’s What to Do

Do you know what to do if you find a stray kitten? And how do you determine if the kitten is in fact a stray in the first place?
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So, you found a stray kitten … but the next step isn’t simply taking him home with you. What do you feed a stray kitten? Where should you take stray kittens if you can’t care for them yourself? And how do you determine if the kitties are in fact strays in the first place?

Feral kittens outside.
So … you’ve found a stray kitten or kittens? Here’s what to do next. Photography by Sun_apple/Thinkstock.

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:

  1. Are the kittens sleeping comfortably? The mother is probably coming back.
  2. When you recheck on them, are any of them missing? The mother is moving them.
  3. If they’re often found sleeping, then the mother is caring for them.
  4. 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 stray 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 stray 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 formerly stray 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.

Feeding schedule for kittens by weight and age

Bottle feeding a kitten.
Very young kittens must be bottle fed. Photography ©Dobroslav Hadzhiev | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Determining the age of the stray kitten 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!

Thumbnail: Photography ©ConstantinCornel | Thinkstock. 

This article was originally published in 2017. 

Read Next: So a Stray Cat Has Adopted You — Now What?

71 thoughts on “Found a Stray Kitten? Here’s What to Do”

  1. Neutering Too Early was a contributing factor to my boy getting Urinary Crystals because he was not fully Developed – More Male cats are dying from UC and this may be the reason why

    8wks is TOO EARLY let their insides develop before spay or neuter. 6 mos old is better for the cat and a Costly Vet bill or loss.

  2. It took almost a year before my tabby girl would accept being petted..her sister, a food junkie less than a week…they are the high point of my day but were a labour of love…forgive that spelling ..I’m a canuk…ferals require time and patience…but totally worth it

  3. Seriously people, is it absolutely necessary to act like children? These always turn into debates about whose OPINION is right or wrong… if you state opinions on things like this, it will ALWAYS invite others to disagree and respond with their OPINIONS. Opinions are like a**holes, eveyone has one (and they usually stink)

    If some people believe that 8 weeks is too young for spay/neutering then please, by all means, wait til they are 6 months.

    If others believe that 8 weeks is old enough, then go ahead and get them fixed.

    Do what you feel is best for YOUR pet, thats why its YOUR pet. Honestly, the fact that you are getting your pet spayed/neutered at all is a sign of being a good/better pet-parent than alot of others in the world, so good job to you!

    1. And to get back on topic, i rescued a kitten late last night, trying to cross a major highway alone, its tiny, im thinking maybe 5 weeks old or so, it bit the h*ll out of me when i first picked it up and held it while trying to locate its mother, but after i found a supersoft microfiber towel in my car, wrapped him in it and held him close to my chest as i drove home, he has accepted me but not yet my husband. All i had at home was dry cat food and regular whole milk which i poured over the dry food and let it soften. He didnt know what go do with it at first but i dipped my finger in the milk then let him lick the milk off my finger and led him to the bowl, which he lapped up and even ate some of the moistened cat food too. Im going to petsmart as soon as they open to get kitten milk but he hasnt pooped yet, only peed. Not sure what that means…

  4. I am sure that many indiscriminate people who adopted kittens and puppies never followed thru with the certificate to be brought in when the baby was 6 months and was to be spayed or neutered.

  5. I found a kitten on the side of the road. Took it in for the night. Been feeding it kitten food and giving it water. I’m afraid I will wake up with a “mess” everywhere. I also bought cat litter. I don’t have a cage or cat carrier. Will “Lucky” be okay for the night?

    1. Lucky should be fine, depending on the age, you might have to wake up every 1-3 hours to feed it. If the kitten is basically newborn, it won’t move too much, therefore you won’t have to worry about the mess (there might be a mess in the area of the kitten, but that’s about it.) If the kitten is older, I recommend keeping private things locked away and doors closed. Keep it in a closed area using things like cardboard to make a barrier around Lucky’s area. Hope this was helpful!

  6. But now this practice has replaced the healthy one and now we have a whole new generation of pets with health issues caused by their hormones being tampered with when they were babies.

  7. Pingback: Found a Stray Kitten? Here’s What to Do – Info Body

  8. Pingback: Found a Stray Kitten? Here’s What to Do | PetTraining.org

  9. TNR is a really bad policy. Yes, trap and neuter but then find them a home, an indoor home where they will be safe.

    1. Unfortunately, placing these cats in homes is often not possible. Many shelters are over crowded and unable to take in any more cats. And if cats living in colonies are taken to an overcrowded shelter, there is a large chance they will be euthanized to make room for animals are more likely to be adopted. TNR is sometimes the best thing we can do to improve life for these cats that are content living outdoors and not particularly friendly towards humans.

    2. Unfortunatly cats that are born feral are VERY difficult to socialize. They are not friendly towards humans and most people don’t want them as pets. I have 2 ferals, one at a year old that we’re still working with, and one from 9 weeks old. The older girl accepts pets and love but will not tolerate 2 hands near her and very rarely comes up on the sofa or bed. I love her dearly and I feel she loves us but she’s still beyond skittish after 5 months. The kitten didn’t eat for nearly 2 days. I have scratches and a bite but finally swaddled and fed her with my husband’s help and after 3 days she’s starting to come around. most people don’t have the patience for this and want instant gratification. If they go to a typical shelter they get euthanized within a week. TNR keeps cats alive, living there best lives and also prevents more unwanted feral cats.

      1. I rescued a mama and 5 kittens that were feral. I took them to the vet, boarded them for a month along with having them “N” and shots. Found homes for 4 babies and kept the mama and one boy. They turned out to be the best pets ever. That was 2014. I was heart broken when my mama died last week. Her son misses her. So you can make wonderful pets of them. While at the vets, they were able to socialize.

        1. Wonderful story! It all depends on the individual cats’ personality and how much care and time the rescuer is willing to put in, I suppose.

    3. I found a kitten on the side of the road. Took it in for the night. Been asking friends if they or somebody they know wants it. (Not sure if it’s a boy or girl)

      1. If you can’t find a home for it and can’t care for it yourself, I recommend taking it to a no-kill shelter. Gender can be found out by a trip to your friendly neighborhood veterinary office.

  10. Did you ever read the ingredients in Dawn dish soap? I would never wash my cat with that junk. How about an organic pet shampoo? And I do not think cats should be spayed/neutered early when their bones and brains haven’t fully developed yet.
    I was told a vet can tell if an animal has been spayed or neutered ,just by looking at its bones.

    1. dawn dishsoap is used by persian cat people for washing their show cats but there are directions to the process and I believe (I dont know for sure) they use the original.

  11. Pingback: Waning a Kitten ? At what age ? | The Vets Care

  12. I saw a kitten drop out of the car in front of me. The wheel missed it by only a inch. I saw it run up into the woods on a very busy road and in the pouring rain. The police were behind me and stopped to find the poor kitten. He said he found it but could not get her. In the pouring rain after 34 hrs i went to search for her. I prayed as I walked through the woods, saying her kitty kitty. I said to myself that I would never find such a small creature the size of a softball. BUT, all of a sudden I heard her tiny cries from down under a fallen tree root, as the rain poured down I could here her but she would not show herself and during those 3 hours in the rain sometimes she wouldnt reply. I knew she was weak, alone, scared and needing her family. I have rescued alot of animals through my life but this was the saddest. Kittens often find shelter under warm car hoods. I can only imagine how often this happens, and the horror of what happens to them. :( As I was about to leave she ran out and into the thicker bush. I layed down and began to cry like a Momma cat, and she finally came to me. I ran with her wet body against mine back through the woods to my car. She was thin cold and scared. Its been 9 days and she is thriving!! My guess is she 6 weeks, eating on her own now, but still drinking KMR, and using the litter box like a pro. At first she had to be stimulated to urinate. Im a happy Mommy

    1. Im so glad you were able to get the kitten. I had a similar incident when I came upon a kitten pacing a 2 lane road in a remote wooded area. When I realized upon 2nd sighting that he was a kitten, I had to stop. We could not get him on the first try, but we came back later and it took me 45 minutes to coax him out of the woods but I finally got him. He was so hungry.

    2. Praise God you are the best. In my neighborhood someone moved and left an adult cat, she eventually met up with some other strays and they mated my neighbor took care of her and her babies, she had a baby that was the runt of the litter I started to care for that lil baby, at the time I couldn’t bring her in the house because I had a grown spoiled dog ???? but I went out and brought her food, a bed, toys. She has been with me for two years now, since my dog has gone on to doggie heaven, I name the kitten MaMa she got pregnant by her brother I have ran all the strays away of course they come back from time to time. MaMa had her babies on Mother’s Day 2019 she had them in hiding and soon as they started to open their eyes she started bringing them to me one at a time, we had five babies three boys and two girls. I still haven’t brought them in the house yet but I do take care of them the hardest part for me is finding a free organization so I can get them all including MaMa spayed and neutered. One of the baby boys is missing and I can’t find him I do think a fox may have got him, I looked all over for him as of today I’m still holding hope that he will return. I need help on getting them their shots and a PE I have been able to keep flea and tick collars on them all and I also bathe them. I live in Maryland and the health department will not help at all, and I’m upset because I worked for the HD for 8 years. Any help I would be more than grateful!!

      1. Hi. Arent there any animal rescues or organizations where you live that will help you at least cover the cost of spaying and neutering the kitties? Sometimes veterinarian offices have phone numbers for these places if you call and ask the vets offices. I work at a vets office in Missouri and we have 3 phone numbers to pet rescues that will pay for the spays and neuters gladly if someone is willing to take them in and care for them. Good luck you are much appreciated for what you are doing. God bless you.

    3. You are a true blessing and hero. Thank you for the love and commitment in saving this beautiful creature. I am hoping you keep her for the rest of her life.. I am so happy for this story, you are a wonderful human being. Thank God for people like you… The kitten has a new mom and you deserve to have a medal of honor for what you did for her..

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  14. I have trapped and castrated more than 15 stray but very loving kittens, and they do not scratch unfortunately I have to move out of town and I can not take them with me. They are used to eating twice a day and I am afraid they can not survive without me.

    1. Hi Ruth,
      We suggest contacting local rescue organizations for the best next steps. Thank you for caring for these kitties!

  15. Any tips for feeding a feral kitten?
    It is in a nice big cage with hay and food (kibble, roll and cooked chicken) and water and milk but isn’t interested in them.
    I think it is too terrified to eat because it was rescued from a dogs jaw.
    It is also in a dark cool and quiet room.

    From pictures of other kittens it looks no younger than 5 weeks old, we are on a farm and have lamb bottle teet feeders but haven’t tried these yet as the kitten can’t be handled easily and I guess it won’t drink from them readily either.

    1. Hi Ginger,
      We suggest you take this kitten to the vet for a checkup and for some advice on what / how to feed this kitten.
      Here are some articles that might provide some insight as well:
      https://www.catster.com/kittens/how-much-to-feed-a-kitten
      https://www.catster.com/kittens/what-to-feed-kittens
      https://www.catster.com/kittens/guide-to-bottle-feeding-kittens

      1. Thank-you very much. It turns out the poor thing had an abscess under it’s jaw that made it hard to swallow.
        It was hard to see but was quite big once I felt it after 2 days in the cage.

        The vet lanced it and it recovered and has a good appetite now.

        It is a very happy and friendly kitten already!

        1. jocelynn canzoneri

          Absests I have used apple cider vinegar then dry in area and use super nail glue. It closed up in a week.
          Jocelynn Canzoneri

  16. Hi,

    I have just gotten a feral kitten that is somewhere between 5-7 weeks old. It will let me pet it when I am feeding it, but I can’t seem to pick it up. I’ve tried putting a towel over it and then picking it up, but it still hisses and swats at me and generally seems very scared. It will play (with bugs) and sleep when I’m in the room. It will also start to cry if I’m away, but I cannot hold it. I’m not sure if I should keep trying or wait a little longer before trying to pick him up. I don’t want to traumatize him more. He seems to be warming up to me. Please let me know, should I push him or wait?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi there,

      We suggest asking a vet or behaviorist for the pet advice. These articles might provide some insight, too:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/adopt-a-stray-cat
      https://www.catster.com/topic/feral-cats

    2. Just saw your post. I found this kitten this past summer in August. We took it to a vet and found out that she was about 11 weeks old. Luckily she was pretty friendly. We think someone dropped her near this country store near us. We live in a rural area. But with your cat, I would suggest that you just spend more time with the cat, and let him come to you. Just be patient and keep feeding him, and he will eventually become more friendly. Also when he gets to be at least 4 months old I would definitely have him neutered. He will be more friendly then and not so aggressive, and want to fight with other male cats. Just talk to the kitten in soft tones, and maybe try to play with him with some kitten toys. That might help. The more you interact with the kitten, the more he will become used to you. Hope that helps.

    3. Aleksandra Monti

      Hi guys this is a” cat whisper”
      I have fostered many kittens from 1 day old. the feral kittens are just very scared of you. What I normally do wrap them in a towel and hold them close to my chest and speak softly to them. do this as often as you can. each time you do it they will become more comfortable with you. the worst feral kittens I had it them to be tamed with just few days. do not give up.
      Also the younger they are the faster they become friendlier.
      Another very important thing is to keep them warm and to get rid off the fleas as soon as possible. Blue Dawn detergent is the best. no chemicals. I usually give them a bath as soon as I can. fleas thrive on the young blood and will make your kittens anemic.

    4. Not a cat behaviorist or other pro, but a lot of cats are not particularly fond of being picked up even if they’re otherwise pretty cool with you. (Multiple strays/hand-me-downs have found their way to my door, and while most of them would accept it I don’t think I’ve ever had one who *liked* being picked up and snuggled).

      If this kitten is willing to accept food and pets from you and to sleep in the same room, I’d say they pretty much have a baseline level of trust. (If part of why you’want to be able to pick them up is vet visits, one thing that has helped my bbs is that they’ve slept on my soft-sided carriers so they smell like home.)

      But yeah, pro advice is certainly not a bad thing to seek.

      Taylor
      (just not THAT Taylor)

  17. There is a stray kitten in our backyard with the mother and still being weaned, but the kitten has a damaged leg and I’d like to take it to the vet. However, my concern is that once we do that the mother may not accept the baby after treatment. Would I be correct in thinking that?

    1. Hi there Brian,

      We suggest contacting your local vet to ask what they think is best to do and how to go about it with them.

  18. On a Saturday morning My husband found a kitten on the road, he was walking blind because his eyes were full of discharge, his nose was running, he was very cold to the touch. My husband grabbed him off the road as a truck headed toward him and snuggled him in his coat. He asked the person working on the yard if they had a cat, he said no, but did seen a feral cat in the woods.
    My husband brought this sick little kitten home and I put him in the bathroom and ran the shower for steam to help his nose and eyes.
    The Vet was closed til Monday so I did my best over the weekend bottle feeding and using steam to help him breathe.
    The Vet said he has a Feline upper respiratory infection and probably won’t make it. For several weeks I babied the baby. Medicine 3x a day, steam to clear his breathing path and bottle feeding.
    Today he is a happy very healthy big 1 year old cat named Lewis.

  19. Nice article. I have a question though … Suppose I find a few stray kittens (Let’s say 5) and I am pretty sure that they were abandoned by their mother. I can only bring 1 or 2 with me home… Should I separate them ?

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for reaching out. We suggest scooping up all the kittens if you’re sure that their mother isn’t coming back for them. Please bring the kittens to a local, no-kill rescue if you can’t keep them. This piece might help as well: https://www.catster.com/kittens/found-an-abandoned-kitten

  20. I have found a 10 month to 12 month kitten alone and in good shape, I don’t know what I am supposed to do. People in my house are allergic to cats also, should I be afraid of the kitten carrying a disease that can spread to a human? What can I do?

  21. Please remember to check out the abandoned Kitten for fleas. The fleas need to be removed for Kitten survival. Some kitten’s are completely covered in fleas slowily stripping the kitten of life. You’ll need a warm room, warm water, Dawn dish soap, several absorbent cotton towels, tweezers and lots and lots of patience. Becareful not to get water in the kitten’s nose, mouth or ears, watch for fleas hiding inside the ears. It’s very important to keep the Kitten warm and not let it get chilled.

  22. My rescue group has seen that the kitten must weigh at least 4 pounds to properly survive anesthesia . That is typically 4-6 months of age. You should keep the males sepoarate from the females as some males show interest in the females at 5 months.

  23. I kinda agree with you…I’ve always had mine altered at 4 months which I think was a great age. 8 weeks is really too young.. .

  24. Yvonne Patalano

    If you wait too long for male cats, they will spray all over the house and female cats, unfixed, can also spray, too, so it’s best to have them spayed or neutered early.

  25. Yvonne Patalano

    I had my youngest kitten spayed at 8 weeks old and never regretted it. He is now over 5 years old and is the healthiest cat I ever had and the sweetest one.

    1. Mine was neutered by the cat Hospital at the shelter where I adopted him. He’s five years old now and just fine. Nice and healthy.

  26. The article is concerning feral kittens, not stray kittens. Strays are ones who had lived in a home with someone, but had gotten lost or abandoned. A kitten that was born in someones back yard is NOT a “stray.”

  27. You’re wrong. Many, many puppies and kittens are spayed and neutered at 8 weeks and remain healthy. It’s a fact that kittens can breed as young as 4 months old. When they don’t go through a heat cycle, they have far fewer problems down the road, such as cancer, pyometria (females), or spraying (males), as well as escaping when their hormones are acting up and not only adding to the cat and dog overpopulation problem, but being hit by cars, attacked by wildlife, and becoming victims of really sick people. Please give sources of information for your views–mine can be found on this site–as well as proof before you post something as off-the-wall as this.

  28. I totally agree with you, and it is due to the pattern of negligence on the part of we humans that shelter/rescue organizations are spaying/neutering at such a young age. All four of mine were old kittens when I had them spayed/neutered. I have two females and two males.

  29. In your last comments, you mentioned that kittens are ready to be spayed & neutered at 8 weeks old. I am sorry but I strongly disagree with that new popular idea. I know that Humane Societies practice this and as I said, I do NOT agree. And I am not alone in my belief that this is way too young and health challenges follow these little babies because it is too “convenient” than to wait until they are about 6 months old, as it was for a long time.
    It became a common practice when the cat & dog population grew to the point of not knowing how to cope with the exploding growth and also there were more rescue organizations that were overwhelmed. I am sure that many indiscriminate people who adopted kittens and puppies never followed thru with the certificate to be brought in when the baby was 6 months and was to be spayed or neutered. But now this practice has replaced the healthy one and now we have a whole new generation of pets with health issues caused by their hormones being tampered with when they were babies. I guarantee that if human babies were given these operations, we would have health challenges that your mind cannot comprehend!

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