Warm weather brings outdoor fun—and kittens! Sounds cute, but during kitten season—which runs from early spring until late fall—neighborhoods and shelters across the country can become overwhelmed.
"Each year, as the warm weather approaches, shelters across the country are inundated with hundreds of kittens without homes," says Aimee Hartmann, Senior Director of the ASPCA Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinics. "And aside from the large number of kittens who wind up in shelters, even more are born to strays, dramatically increasing the feral cat population."
If you find a stray kitten, here's what you can do:
1. Look for the Mother Cat
Take a step back and check if the mother cat is around. Chances are she is hiding, so stay back and watch the kittens from a distance. If the mother cat appears, contact your local humane society or a feral cat rescue group for information on how to trap a feral cat family.
Learn more about trapping feral cats.
2. Catch the Kitten
If you do not see a mother cat, approach the kitten to find out if she's friendly—you'll know if she lets you pet her. Offer her some food as an incentive to bring her close. If you feel you can easily pick her up, do so—and remember, it's best to have a carrier open and ready. If the kitten will not let you pick her up, the easiest way to catch her is with a no-kill trap. Contact the ASPCA or your local humane society to find out how to borrow and use humane traps safely.
3. Determine the Kitten's Age
Consult a veterinarian to find out how old the kitten is. Knowing her age is important for many reasons, namely to determine an appropriate food and feeding schedule.
4. Keep Kitty Warm
If the kitten in your care has been orphaned, it is essential that you keep her warm. A hot water bottle wrapped in a towel or a closely monitored heating pad on low temperature works well. The heat source should be positioned so that the kitten can move away from it at will. Please consult your veterinarian about ideal temperatures, and take care to monitor the heating pad.
5. Make Kitty Feel at Home
Once you have the kitten safe inside, make her a temporary home—a small box is perfect for this. Line the box with towels or blankets–a stuffed animal is a nice touch, too. Place the box in a cozy, draft-free area and include the heating pad or hot water bottle.
Warning: Do not let a feral or frightened kitten run loose in your house as she can easily get lost. And be sure to keep her away from any other pets as any parasites or illnesses she's harboring may be contagious.
6. Feed the Kitten
- How to Feed
If you have newborn kittens who've been separated from their mother, consult with a veterinarian, shelter or experienced foster care giver who can help you find a new mother cat with a small litter–she may be able to nurse the orphaned babies. If you can't find a foster mother, please consult with your veterinarian about the proper way to bottle-feed with a commercial milk replacer. Please do not offer regular cow's milk to cats of any age. It is not easily digestible and can cause diarrhea.
- What to Feed
When orphaned kittens are three to four weeks old, begin to offer milk replacer in a shallow bowl, then introduce a moist, easily chewable diet. You can make gruel from warmed milk replacer and a high-quality dry or canned kitten food. Serve it in a shallow bowl and feed the kittens several times each day. By six to seven weeks old, they should be able to chew dry food, and you'll no longer need to moisten it.
- How Often to Feed
The following is a general eating schedule for newborns and young cats:
- Newborn kittens may nurse about every 1 to 2 hours.
- At about 3 to 4 weeks old, they can be offered milk replacer from a bowl and then small amounts of moistened kitten food 4 to 6 times a day.
- Kittens from 6 to 12 weeks old should be fed 4 times a day as you gradually decrease their access to milk replacer.
- Kittens from 3 to 6 months old should be fed 3 times a day.
7. Teach Kitty to Go the Bathroom
Kittens don't normally go on their own until they're 2 to 3 weeks old. After feeding, a mother cat will groom her babies, paying special attention to the anal area to stimulate excretion. You can dip a soft washcloth or piece of cotton or gauze in warm water and gently massage the anal and urinary areas.
When the kittens are 4 weeks old, you can teach them to use a litter box by placing them in the box after their meals. Cutting one side down will make it easier for the kittens to go in and out.
8. Check for Fleas
Check for and remove fleas as soon as possible because a kitten with fleas can become anemic. Use a flea or nit comb—you can purchase one at your local pharmacy. Do not use flea medications, shampoos or powders unless guided by a veterinarian—these could be fatal. Also it's wise to avoid bathing the kitten unless absolutely necessary. Instead, try using a damp cloth to remove any feces or grime.
9. Visit the Vet
Any new or stray cat you bring into your home should be examined by a veterinarian. Stray kittens often carry internal and external parasites that can weaken their immune system and may be contagious to other animals and humans. Your veterinarian will check for signs of illness and may screen for other diseases. On her first visit to the vet, a kitten can begin a series of vaccinations to help protect against life-threatening diseases like panleukopenia.
10. Spay and Neuter Your Cats
The best way to reduce numbers of unwanted kittens in your community is to have your stray cat spayed or neutered. In addition to private veterinary clinics, there are low-cost spay/neuter resources available in New York City and across the country.
For more information about stray cats or the ASPCA Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinic, call (877) SPAY-NYC or visit ASPCA.org.