What To Do If You Find An Abandoned Kitten

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Fact checked by  Ma'ayan Gutbezahl
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Family of six kittens in their own basket

If you ever find an abandoned kitten, you will probably wonder what the best course of action is to take. When a kitten has been left to fend for themselves, they will likely need a little help in order to survive and thrive. However, not every situation is the same.

The first thing to do when you find an abandoned kitten is to step back and assess the situation. There is a lot you can learn by simply observing, and this is the important first step to take when you come across an abandoned kitten. Let’s go over each possible scenario so you can understand what to do to help a kitten that has been abandoned.

Key Takeaways

The first step in knowing what to do for a kitten that is found is determining if they need your help or not.

The age of the found kitten is important, so you know how best to help them.

You can keep the found kitten if you wish, or take the kitten to one of our suggested organizations.

Is The Kitten In Immediate Danger?

If the kitten is in immediate danger of getting hurt or has a wound, step in immediately and help them. If it is safe to pick up the kitten, place them in a secure carrier to avoid the kitten escaping and take them to the nearest veterinary clinic or rescue group.

Also Read: 11 Signs That You Need to Get Your Cat To the Emergency Room

If The Kitten Is Not In Immediate Danger:

Kittens, like any young mammal, are very vulnerable if abandoned by their mother. If they are truly abandoned and their mother is not returning, then they need your help. Kittens under two months of age will not survive alone without human help. This leads us to our next question: how do we tell if a kitten is abandoned or not?

How Many Kittens Are There?

Group of four small kittens are playing in street

As tempting as it may be, don’t handle kittens until you are sure they have been abandoned.

Is the kitten alone or in a litter? If the kitten is with other kittens in what looks like a nesting area, chances are the mother cat is still taking care of the kittens. She most likely is out hunting for food to feed her hungry family.

If you find a litter of kittens, do not touch, or move them. Instead, adopt a wait-and-see approach. Give the mother 3-4 hours to return. If the mother comes back, then they have not been abandoned and are best left alone.

It’s very important that a kitten is allowed to stay with their mother for at least the first eight weeks of life. A mother cat’s milk contains important antibodies which help strengthen the kitten’s immune system, giving them the best start to life.

A mom cat will also teach her kitten(s) the skills they need to survive and thrive in their natural habitat. If mom looks skinny or ill, contact a rescue group to do a welfare check on the mother cat and her kittens.

If you are concerned about the kittens while waiting to see if the mother cat returns, place some kitten food and water near their nest, but try not to touch the kittens. A mama cat that smells your scent on the kitten may abandon or kill them as she views the unknown scent as a threat.

After three to four hours, if no mother has returned, it can be assumed the kittens are abandoned or orphaned. The next step is to look and work out how old the kittens are.

Also Read: Can I Adopt Cats from The Same Litter? A Vet Explains

Kittens Over Eight Weeks Of Age

Kittens over eight weeks of age can survive as outdoor cats without human help. They should be a decent size, around 900g, and 10 inches long. They will have bright open eyes and some teeth. If the kitten looks older than eight weeks, leave some kitten wet food and water for them and contact your local animal shelter to come and check on their welfare.

These kittens may then receive veterinary care, including spaying or neutering before rehoming or returning to the area they are found. Rescues often catch kittens, desex them and then re-release them into the area they were found to help reduce the native stray cat population.

This is known as a trap-neuter-return program. The rescues keep an eye on the cat’s welfare as they grow up and often contribute to their food supplies if needed. A desexed stray cat will have a notched ear to symbolize it has been desexed.

Also Read: How To Nurse A Starving Cat In 6 Simple Steps

Kittens Under Eight Weeks Of Age

Kittens under eight weeks will be small, less than one kilo in weight. They may not have their eyes open or any teeth. They may still have evidence of an umbilical cord. This kitten or kittens need your help!

The younger the kitten the more intense the care they need. Round-the-clock care is necessary for unwell or very young kittens. Start by keeping the kitten warm, and wrapped in blankets. Heating pads are no longer recommended to help keep kittens warm, as they can cause thermal burns. Offer some water from a bottle or flat dish.

You then need to decide if you would like to take on the responsibility of raising the kitten and adding them to your family. If you are unable to do so, take the kitten to a local shelter, rescue group, or veterinary clinic in your area. They can take care of the kitten and rehome them.

Also Read: The Complete Guide to Bottle Feeding Kittens

Raising An Orphaned Kitten

girl with black kitten

Adopting and caring for an abandoned kitten can be immensely rewarding, but only if you have the desire and resources to do so.

Raising an orphaned kitten, particularly a newborn one, is a full-time job. The younger the kitten, the smaller their stomach is. This means the kitten will need lots of regular feeding both day and night. Use kitten formula and bottle-feed the kittens.

There are five focus points for orphan care:

  1. Maintaining body temperature
  2. Correct feeding and nutrition
  3. Good hygiene practices
  4. Prevention of illness
  5. Socialization

For an in-depth resource on looking after an orphaned kitten, including feeding guidelines, general kitten care, and advice on weaning, click here.

Be realistic and certain that you have the time and energy to dedicate to raising an orphan kitten. Orphan kittens often have a poor start to life. They may not have had any of the antibodies needed to fight infections that they would get from their mom’s milk, so they are more prone to infection.

Infections such as cat flu, ringworm, and parasites are common in orphan kittens and can take many weeks of medication and care to recover. Raising an orphan kitten is an incredibly rewarding experience, but you need to fully commit to their needs both day and night for the first few weeks. You then need to commit to the next 15-20 years of caring for a pet.

Also Read: The 25 Best Tips For New Cat Owners

Final Thoughts

Only a small section of kittens you come across will likely need your help. If the kitten is in danger, it is time to intervene. If the kitten is less than eight weeks old, and the mother hasn’t returned in a four-hour window, then the kitten needs your help.

A rescue center, animal shelter, or veterinary clinic will be able to take the kitten.  Don’t feel obligated to keep them if you don’t have the time or resources to do so. Just by connecting the kitten to these organizations, you will have saved a life. That kitten can then go on to find their forever home with another family and live a happy life.

Also Read: How To Litter Train A Kitten In 3 Simple Steps

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I feed cows milk to an abandoned kitten?

No, cow’s milk will cause tummy upset in an abandoned kitten. They need kitten formula if they are still young enough to need milk.

What type of food should I feed an abandoned kitten?

If the kitten is eating solid food, kitten food (wet or dry) is the best option. Do not feed human food, or adult cat food if possible as this can cause nutritional imbalances or illness in a young kitten.

Can a feral kitten be tamed?

Yes, but this takes time, love, and training. If attempting to handle feral kittens or feral cats in an outside environment be aware they can bite, scratch and attempt to escape. If you need to handle them for welfare reasons, use thick leather gloves for extra protection.

Can I catch diseases from an abandoned kitten?

Yes, some kittens carry infections such as ringworm, which is contagious to humans.

I have found a dead kitten. What do I do?

If you have found a dead kitten, place the kitten in a box and take it to your nearest veterinary clinic. They can arrange for the body to be cremated. Wash your hands after handling a deceased animal.

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About Dr. Corinne Wigfall BVMBVS(Hons) BVMedSci(Hons)

Corrine writes articles on and has a strong understanding of cat behavior and nutrition. She enjoys the great outdoors and loves to be active and spend time with her daughter. Her cat, Milo, and Labrador, Amber, keep her very busy.