What To Do When You Find a Kitten Outdoors | Lola The Rescued Cat
Wednesday, May 12, 2021

What To Do When You Find a Kitten Outdoors

Welcome to the fifth post in our Community Cat Awareness series. Last time we delved into the topic of kitten season, explaining what it is and what you can do to help. During kitten season it isn’t uncommon to find kittens in your backyard or perhaps during your daily travels. In today’s post, we share some helpful information you can use if you do find kittens.

I found a kitten. What do I do?

You Found a Kitten - Now What do You Do? 

Wait for Mom to Come Back

Your first instinct may be to scoop up the kittens and take them inside, but remember that just because you don’t see mom doesn’t mean she isn’t around. Once you find the kittens, your investigation work begins.

According to Catster Magazine, you need to assess the situation.

  • When the kittens are sleeping comfortably it means mom is probably coming back.
  • If some are missing when you check on them again it means mom is moving them.
  • If they are often sleeping when you check on them it means mom is caring for them.

While you are waiting to see if mom returns, watch from a distance. Hovering over the kittens can scare her and your presence could prevent her from returning to her kittens to feed them. Watch the kittens from a distance for several hours, or even a full day, while waiting to see if she comes back. (As long as they are warm, newborns can survive many hours without milk.) Another way to determine if the mother cat is returning to her kittens is to spread a light layer of flour around the kittens and look for paw prints when you return.

Mom Came Back – Next Steps

You see that mom came back to her kittens, so what is your next course of action? Decisions need to be made carefully. Neonatal kittens require round-the-clock care and their mother is not only the best caregiver for them, but she is also their best chance at survival. Nursing kittens need their mother and should be left with her when possible because nothing can replace a mother’s cat instinctual care.

"The mother cat offers her kittens’ best chance for survival, so wait and watch as long as you can. The best food for the kittens is their mother’s milk. Remove the kittens only if they are in immediate, grave danger." - New York City Feral Cat Initiative

If the mother cat is feral, the best thing to do is to leave the kittens outdoors with her unless they are in immediate danger. Confining a mother community cat and her kittens indoors is very stressful for her, and can even affect her ability to care for her kittens. You can help her by making sure she has food, water, and shelter. (
You can get some ideas for shelters in our post here.) When possible, place the food in an area away from the kittens because food that is too close to her babies can attract predators, which will cause her to instinctually move her kittens. (Remove any uneaten food at night so it does not attract any unwanted visitors.) .  When the kittens are eight weeks old or two pounds the family can be spayed/neutered through TNR. 

You can also help by observing mom and her kittens from a distance so you do not add any undue stress on her.

feral kittens
Photo by RoSt Productions via Shutterstock

If the mom is friendly, you could choose to bring her indoors. The best thing for her is to keep her family together in a small, quiet, enclosed place (such as a bathroom.) Never keep a nursing mother and her kittens in a cage or a carrier. Again, you will want to make sure mom has plenty of food, water, and a litter box.

You should check with local animal shelters, or perhaps with your own vet, to see if you can get mom scanned for a microchip. You can also put up “Lost Cat” flyers around your neighborhood. Wouldn’t it be great to reunite her with her human family?

If you are not able to locate her family (she may be a friendly stray), contact local no-kill shelters for assistance in finding her and the kittens adoptive families.

Mom Did Not Come Back – Now What?

You’ve been watching the kittens from a distance and maybe even did the flour trick, but it has been several hours or even a full day, and mom has not returned. At this point, the kittens’ best chance at survival lies with you. The first thing you need to do is catch them. If they are neonatal kittens (four weeks and younger) you can most likely pick them up and take them inside. If they are older and are running around it is best to have them trapped. You can reach out to your local rescue or shelter and ask for assistance.

feral kittens
Photo by Tsomkaigor via Deposit Photos

You will need to decide if you can (and want to) care for the kittens who will need 24-hour care, including help in elimination, depending on their age. Catster provides this quick guide to neonatal feeding.
  • 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.

Alley Cat Allies has a kitten progression poster that can help determine the kittens’ age.

kitten  progression chart

Alley Cat Allies and the New York Feral Cat Initiative both have webinars on kitten care, including bottle feeding. Maddie’s fund has videos that can also be helpful.  For even more information, read Alley Cat Allies’ articles on cat care.

If you cannot care for them, do not take them to an open admissions shelter. Most of these shelters do not have the resources to care for neonatal kittens around the clock and they face euthanasia. You can reach out to local no-kill rescues and shelters, or animal protection/advocacy groups for assistance and resources. (You could also ask family and friends to pitch in and help you.) In New York City the ASPCA has a kitten nursery that is open from May through October. When I visited the Best Friends NYC Pet Adoption Center in 2017, they also had a kitten nursery that was manned round the clock, but I wasn’t able to find out if it is still in place. If you are in New York City and need help, you can call Best Friends or New York Feral Cat Initiative year-round for information.

kitten being bottle fed
Photo by Chewy.com

If you are having difficulty finding a no kill shelter in your area, visit The No Kill Network to find the nearest one to you. Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network is another resource for this information.

When the kittens are old enough and weigh at least two pounds, they should be spayed or neutered. They will now be weaned from their mother and ready for adoption!

There is always the possibility that the kittens will need to be socialized depending on their age, but that is a topic for another post!

I found a kitten, what do I do?
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If the mother cat or kittens look like they may be sick or injured, contact your veterinarian immediately for guidance.

If you’ve found kittens, I hope this information is helpful. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series to learn about the differences between a stray and a feral cat. In the meantime, you can catch up on all of our Community Cat Awareness posts here

Have you ever found kittens or bottle-fed kittens? Tell us about it in the comments.


New York City Feral Cat Initiative's Kitten Season 101 Webinar

About the Author:
Dawn White is an award-winning writer/blogger and the author of Lola: Diary of a Rescued Cat. When she isn’t at her full-time job working with people with intellectual disabilities,  she is advocating for adoption and animal rights and educating her readers on how to give their cats the best lives ever. Dawn has been writing in the pet industry for over seven years and has been a contributing writer for the Jackson Galaxy Project’s Cat Pawsitive Pro Program, BlogPaws, Pet Radio Magazine, and Chewy.com.

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  1. People are often so clueless (and often frantic) when they find a kitten outside. I'm glad you put this together to help.

  2. Thank you for this treasure of information. I am a cat person and I didn't know half of this! What a good service this is to all of us. I am saving it in the not too unlikely event it happens again. We did save one once. We, and she, were lucky we did a couple of things right. This would have been a total must if only we had known.

  3. Those are very valuable tips again, Lola and very squeezable pictures💗Pawkisses to all of you🐾😽💞

  4. This is good information. Thank you for posting it.

  5. That was a really good post, thanks. We have a feral Mama and 5 black kittens now. Come by late tonight or tomorrow to see them on our blog.

  6. Excellent information, especially at this time of year!
    We ended up keeping the last litter we found, they are now about a year and half old. Mom is feral, spayed, and kept well-fed.
    A lot of people in the area are spaying and neutering ferals, but I still hear of litters turning up, sigh.

  7. Great info, especially the advice to wait to see if Mama is around - wonderful article! I have bottle fed one kitten who was rejected by his Feral Mom and it is an amazing experience.

  8. This is great information. It would be so easy to think the kittens have been abandoned when in fact the mother is close by.

  9. A great post and so needed. We remember seeing our first kittens who were and how helpless we felt. We made it through and now you are helping others. Purrs

  10. Excellent info! We especially love the flour trick. We've used it and it really works.

  11. Excellent advice. Especially at this time of year...kitten season.

  12. Great post and so appropriate for kitten season. Thanks for all the wonderful information!

  13. This is such an important post! It's definitely kitten season, and this is such good information to have handy. Thank you!

  14. Great post. I keep hoping to find a kitten- preferably 8 weeks or older. :) XO

  15. Such wonderful information!
    I found Julie when she was running around my sister's neighbourhood.
    She was skinny and had lots of patches where her fur was missing.
    She was very friendly too. I took her to the Vet who said she was about 3years and not spayed.
    We figured she was dumped. I love black cats and decided I was going to keep her.
    She loves attention and sitting in my lap and yes, she LOVES getting brushed!

  16. Fantastic post, thanks for all the information which is so important for all of us to know

  17. Perfect timing for kitten season! Bottle feeding is super intensive and no joke. Glad you are spreading the word to wait and watch before swooping in 😊

  18. This is great information. We have a small (cheap) webcam that we purchased when we lived on the farm. People often dumped cats believing that they would just be fine because it's a farm property (that's a whole separate issue) so it wasn't uncommon to come across kittens. The webcam allowed us to monitor what was happening/if mom was returning, without having to be close by interfering with her sense of safety.

  19. Such great information! I love the flour trick (never heard of that before!) We had adopted a feral kitty that our other adopted abandoned kitty brought home, but never came across kittens, although there were always a bunch of feral kitties roaming our old neighborhood, as one of the neighbors used to leave out food bowls. This is such important info to have. I am Pinning to share with others. Thank you!

  20. This is so useful. Many people would immediately pick up the kittens not spend time waiting. It takes time to assess the situation and find out if a cat is an abandoned stray or a loving feral mom who does care for her kittens too.

  21. This post is so great, what excellent information! Most posts on feral cats & kittens don't stress the importance of waiting to see if the mom is around and that the mom is a young kitten's best option for survival. Thanks for sharing this information and for including such good resources for further information.

  22. I needed this advice when those two black kittens showed up at my door 9 years ago. I believe they were at least 6 weeks old and someone probably dropped them off because they were very socialized and loved being around people. I set up a shelter in my shed with food, water, and blankets. Unfortunately, none of the rescues were willing to help me with them. I was lucky a lady who knew my next door neighbor took them.

  23. Great info and very helpful if someone finds kittens!

  24. All good advice. The father cat could also be nearby too, as I've discovered. Don't disrupt their family.

  25. 10 years ago my husband found a basically newborn kitten in our driveway , we started with kitten formula & an eye dropper , after about a week, upgraded to a kitten bottle , since our driveway is made out of little rocks , our new little boy became " ROCKY ROAD " & he is very loveable & silly ,still with us, & about 1 weak ago we found a stray abandoned by momma about 3 to 5 weeks old , Rocky has adopted him & helps to take care of him , this one is black & white tuxedo kitty.. new name .... PANDA BEAR , & he has turned out to a happy loveable lil one also, we got lucky with both !


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