The first thing you can do if you find baby kittens outside is to assess the situation. Do not immediately scoop them up, unless they are obviously in immediate danger or suffering. Danger for kittens could be harsh weather (cold, rain, or excessive heat), cars, dogs, or wildlife. Suffering could be sick or injured.
Why not pick up kittens right away?
You don’t want to steal a mom cat’s babies!
Many baby kittens you find outdoors are being well-cared for by a “community” or “feral” mom cat. Community or feral cats are often in a “colony” of cats, fed and cared for by one or more caretakers. Responsible caretakers do their best to make sure all the cats in their colony are spayed and neutered so they can’t make more kittens. However, sometimes a newcomer joins a colony and has babies before they can be trapped, neutered/spayed, and released (TNR). Or sometimes there are caretakers who don’t realize they need to get the cats fixed.
If you find baby kittens, Mom cat might be out looking for food, or moving her kittens to a new nest. If kittens are in a relatively safe place and not injured or sick, ideally you will assess and do a “kitten stakeout” to see if mom comes back. You may need to wait a couple of hours. As long as the kittens are warm enough, healthy kittens can survive a couple of hours without food. Stay as far away as you can while still keeping an eye on where the kittens are located. If you are too close (some experts say closer than 35 feet) mom cat might wait for you to move away before she returns.
If mom cat returns…
If mom returns, you can celebrate! If she moves the kittens to a new nest, you may not see her again. If she has made a nest on your property, you can set up a temporary mom cat shelter or just feed her until the kittens are 5 weeks old. Here’s a great photo chart [link] to help you determine a kitten’s age. At about 4 to 5 weeks you’ll see the kittens also eating the food you are leaving out for the family.
If mom cat doesn’t return…
If mom cat doesn’t return, or it’s dangerous to leave the kittens to see if she does, you’ll need to capture and safely contain the kittens. Average kitten litter size is 2 to 6 kittens, but occasionally there are more. Be sure to return to the spot at least twice after a few hours to make sure you didn’t miss a kitten!
Finding a kitten foster…
When you have the kittens safely contained, call or visit your local animal control shelter to ask what any local laws may be regarding reporting found kittens. When you speak to them, you can ask the shelter if they have a foster program and can easily take the kittens in, or if they know of a rescue that can. If a shelter or rescue has the room and resources, you can offer to foster for them or ask them to take in the kittens.
However, you may be the kittens’ only hope! In many communities, shelters and rescues may not have the resources to care for kittens that are not big enough to be fixed and adopted – that’s usually when they weigh 2 pounds, at around 8 weeks old. Or maybe they can only take them after they are eating on their own and don’t need overnight care, when they are about 4 to 5 weeks old.
Good news: You don’t need much space or experience to care for baby kittens.
Read our “Baby kitten care guide” to find out how!