What to Do if You Find Kittens Outdoors (2023)

What to Do if You Find Kittens Outdoors


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What to Do if You Find Kittens Outdoors (1)


(Video) What To Do If You Find a Kitten -- How to Make the Right Call!

When you discover kittens outdoors, it can be tempting to scoop them up and bring them indoors. However, it is important to know that this is almost never in a kitten’s best interest.

Leave Them BeTM

Even if you see kittens alone, it is more than likely their mother is nearby. A mother cat is kittens’ best possible caregiver, so please…Leave Them Be. This best practice involves allowing the mother cat to care for her kittens in their outdoor home. Learn more and help us spread the word at alleycat.org/LeaveThemBe.

DO NOT remove kittens younger than ~8 weeks old from their mother. It is harmful to their wellbeing.

However, are circumstances in which you may need to intervene to help young kittens. We will detail them in this resource.

Don’t Take Kittens or Their Mother to an Animal Shelter

Most shelters do not have programs to provide the care”¯unweaned”¯kittens”¯need”¯to survive”¯and thrive.”¯As a result, there is a risk that the kittens”¯will be killed.”¯Shelters in general are not good environments for mother cats and kittens. Even in the best of shelters a mother cat can become so stressed that her healthy is affected, as well as her ability to care for her kittens. The shelter environment can also be dangerous for kittens because their immune systems haven’t fully developed, and can easily catch diseases.

What To Do If You Find a Kitten

On this page, we will walk you through different scenarios for finding kittens outdoors and how to act in their best interest.

All the content below is dependent on how old a kitten is. We have a guide to determine a kitten’s age at alleycat.org/KittenProgression.

Kittens 8 Weeks Old and Older

Kittens of this age are weaned from their mother, meaning they don’t rely on her milk and are eating on their own. So, don’t hesitate: Take them to a veterinary clinic for spay or neuter!

Spaying or neutering kittens when they are 8 weeks old and at least 2 pounds is ideal for their health and wellbeing. You can learn more at alleycat.org/2Months2Pounds.

If the kittens’ mother is with them, spay her at the same time. This is critical so she does not become pregnant again. We have tips for trapping a mother cat and kittens for a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program at alleycat.org/TNRKittens.

(Video) Do you know what to do if you find #kittens outside? #shorts

As you are preparing to spay or neuter the kittens and/or mother cat, you have a choice:

Return the kittens outdoors.“¯Returning kittens to their outdoor homes as part of a TNR program is 100 percent okay! Like all cats, they will thrive. Be sure they are eartipped during their spay or neuter appointment. If a mother cat is not socialized, meaning friendly and accustomed to people, return her to her outdoor home as part of TNR as well.


Foster and adopt the kittens. If you have the means, you can foster the kittens for adoption, or adopt them yourself. You can also do the same for a mother cat who is socialized. We have a guide to find the perfect adoptive home at”¯alleycat.org/AdoptionTips.

An Important Note:

Alley Cat Allies does not, in general, recommend trying to socialize a feral cat over 4 months of age. However, there is a gray area in which the personality of the individual cat comes into play. Between 4 and 8 months of age, if there is time and capacity and if the kitten is showing meaningful signs of social behavior, the decision may be made to place the kitten in a foster home for socialization and eventual adoption.

But keep in mind that socializing is time-consuming, especially for older kittens. It involves interacting with the kittens one-on-one for at least a couple of hours every day, and results are not guaranteed. It is important to do an honest assessment of the kitten’s progress during this time. If she does not show increasing signs of socialization within a week or so, it is best that she is returned to her colony outdoors through TNR. To do otherwise is to expose the kitten to ongoing stress. Kittens will be safe and healthy in their outdoor homes with their feline families.

Kittens Younger than 8 Weeks WITH Their Mother

Leave Them Be! Kittens who are healthy and thriving with their mother outdoors do not need to be “rescued.”

Remember: Mother knows best. You cannot replace a mother cats’ instinctive care. Plus, neonatal kittens (kittens 4 weeks old and younger) need round-the-clock care to survivewhich is challenging for humans to provide. These kittens are unweaned, meaning they still rely on their mother’s milk.

Why Can’t I Bring the Kittens AND Their Mother Indoors?

Even if your home is very nice, a mother cat may become so stressed by being confined in the new environment that it impacts her health and her ability to care for her kittens. Community cats thrive in their outdoor home and the mother cat has likely chosen an ideal space to raise her kittens, so there is no need to intervene.

How CAN I Help Mother Cat and Kittens While They are Outdoors?

You can’t do a mother cat’s job, but you can make her more comfortable as she cares for her kittens outdoors. Provide her with essentials like:

(Video) What to Do if You Find Kitten Outdoors, mother is nearby. mother is the best possible caregiver

  • Regular food and water. A nursing mother cat can always use some extra wet food so she can keep providing necessary nutrients to her kittens. Find details to care for community cats, including mother cats, at alleycat.org/BestPractices.
  • An outdoor shelter. Mother cats like to raise their kittens in nests, where they feel hidden and protected. An outdoor shelter is a perfect safe space. You can purchase one or build one yourself. We have options at alleycat.org/ShelterGallery.
  • Peace and quiet. Keep an eye on mother and kittens, but don’t approach or let dogs or other cats come near. Doing so will cause her stress.

What if the Kittens Are in Danger?

If a kitten is sick or injured, contact your local veterinarian right away if your kittens show these signs:

  • Signs of a sick kitten include:
  • Thin”¯stomachs”¯”¯”¯and gaunt faces, visible”¯ribs and spine
  • Cold”¯ears, bellies,”¯and”¯paws
  • Pale gums and tongue
  • Lethargy/almost no movement
  • Excessively crusted eyes”¯or nose
  • Diarrhea”¯or vomiting
  • Struggling to breathe

Signs of an injured kitten include:

  • Limping
  • Visible wounds or sores
  • Crying out in pain

There may be rare circumstances in which the kittens’ current environment places them in immediate danger. This is not a common scenario, so use common sense. For example, kittens may need to be removed if they are in an area that is”¯about to be flooded or is close to a fire.

If possible, move the kittens to another outdoor spot as close to their original nest as is safe so their mother can find them.

If you believe mother and kittens are in more long-term danger, such as extreme weather or disaster conditions…

  • Bring the whole family inside to a quiet, small room (like a bathroom). You can also use a large dog crate, covered with a blanket.
  • Provide the mother cat and kittens with a carrier as a hiding place. Provide food”¯and water, and a litter box placed as far away from the sleeping and eating area as possible.

Once Kittens are 8 Weeks Old: Spay or Neuter

Observe the kittens until they are 8 weeks old. Then, see the above section, Kittens 8 Weeks Old and Older, for how to proceed.

Kittens Younger than 8 Weeks WITHOUT Their Mother

First and foremost: Do not assume that a kittens are abandoned or orphaned just because you do not see their mother. A mother cat will temporarily leave her kittens for good reasons, like looking for food. She may even be hiding”¯and waiting for YOU to leave.

Wait and Watch

Always wait”¯several hours, or even a full day to see if a mother cat returns. Watch from a hidden spot or from inside”¯so you don’t scare the mother cat away.”¯Your presence may keep her from returning to her kittens’ nest.

Even if you don’t see the mother cat”¯for a long time, check on the kittens”¯periodically. If they are cuddled together and sleeping quietly, look pink, warm, and clean, and have full bellies, then their mother has very likely been back. You just didn’t notice. Community cats are good at staying out of sight when they want!

A Helpful Tip

Sprinkle”¯flour near the kittens’ nest. If the mother cat returns, she will leave paw prints.

(Video) What To Do If You Find Kittens Outside | Kittens, Community and You

If you have waited”¯for several hours or more than a day”¯and have reason to believe the kittens’ mother is no longer around, step in to help them. Neonatal kittens (kittens 4 weeks old and younger) will need special supplies and round-the-clock care to survive.

Can You Care for the Kittens Yourself?

If you have the time and means, you can do so”¯in your home. Alley Cat Allies has”¯a guide”¯and webinar”¯to help at”¯ alleycat.org/Neonatal“¯ and a list of supplies you’ll need at”¯ alleycat.org/KittenCareKit.

If your local animal shelter has a Wait Until 8® program or something similar, it can help. In a Wait Until 8 program, shelters empower good Samaritans who find kittens to care for those kittens at home. The shelter provides tools and instructions, like kitten care kits, to ensure a kitten’s caregiver has everything they need.

Call or visit and ask your local shelter if they have this program in place. If not, we encourage you to ask your shelter leaders to adopt the program.”¯Learn more at”¯ alleycat.org/WaitUntil8.

Unable to care for the kittens yourself?

Do”¯NOT take the kittens”¯to an animal shelter. See if a friend or family member can care for them, or contact local rescues, animal protection groups, or advocates. You may be able to find such advocates near you through Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network®. Find a member in your area at”¯ alleycat.org/FindFeralFriends.

Once Kittens are 8 Weeks Old: Spay or Neuter

Observe the kittens until they are 8 weeks old. Then, see the above section, Kittens 8 Weeks Old and Older, for how to proceed.

More information:

  • Kitten Progression Guide
  • Neonatal Kitten Care
  • Pediatric Spay and Neuter
  • Adoption Tips

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(Video) What To Do If You Find Kittens Outside


What to do if you find a litter of kittens outside? ›

Provide Food, Shelter and Monitor

Provide mom and her kittens with food, a dry and clean shelter, and continue to monitor their well-being. Once the kittens are able to eat wet food on their own, around 4-5 weeks old, you can bring them into your home to provide foster care and prepare them for adoption*.

Should kittens be left outside? ›

It is best not to leave your kitten outside alone until it is 6 months old and it is essential that it is neutered (from 4 months of age) before allowing it unsupervised access. If you have adopted an adult cat you probably will have been advised to keep it in for 2-3 weeks to settle into its new home.

Where would kittens hide outside? ›

Indoor or outdoor cats can be found outside under decks, on rooves, under parked cars, in tall trees, dense bushes or in drains. Most cats, when feeling overwhelmed or lost, will hide instead of run. They can spend long periods of time in one area moving from hiding spot to hiding spot.

What to do if I see a cat outside? ›

That means your job is easy: just allow her to stay right where she is! She's a community cat, meaning she is unowned and her home is outdoors. Community cats are generally not socialized to people and cannot be adopted into indoor homes. They thrive outside, and that is where they belong.

Can kittens survive outside without their mother? ›

Unfortunately, orphaned kittens less than 4 weeks old cannot live without their mother, and must be bottle fed around the clock in order to survive. Thankfully, most discoveries of newborn kittens do not call for human assistance, and in fact, leaving Mom and her family alone is generally the best thing you can do.

How likely will stray kittens survive? ›

Eighty percent of kittens born in the wild will die before 1 year of age from the same causes that afflict all wild life - starvation, disease and trauma. This magnitude of suffering is incomprehensible.

How cold can kittens survive outside? ›

Cats, even if acclimated to outdoor temperatures should always have access to warm shelters. Kittens, cats advanced in age, or sick should never be kept outdoors when the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Can a kitten survive outside at night? ›

Kittens sleeping outside face several dangers, including predators, other cats, and even interference from people. If necessary, a kitten can sleep outside if the correct steps are taken to help your kitten stay safe through the overnight hours. What is this? For the most part, this generally is not a good idea.

Are kittens OK outside in the cold? ›

Experts agree that outdoor temperatures under 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) can pose a danger to cats if they do not have access to a suitable shelter. When temperatures drop below freezing, cats can be at risk for hypothermia and frostbite, both of which are life-threatening conditions.

How far will a lost kitten travel? ›

Yes, cats can return home many days, weeks, months, and even years after they wandered off or were lost. According to the Lost Pet Research project, there were reports of cats traveling 50-80 miles in 2.5 years, 38 miles in 6 months, 30 miles in 10 days, and 20 miles in 21 days. So if your cat is lost, keep up hope.

How long do kittens disappear for? ›

It isn't uncommon for cats to go missing for 24 hours, especially if they like spending a lot of time outdoors. In some cases, cats can even stay away from home for up to 10 days at a time.

How long will a mother cat hide her kittens? ›

A mother cat will hide her kittens for about two weeks. Each mother cat is different, and one mother cat may 'present' her babies to you after only a few days while others may wait beyond two weeks. Once the kittens can see and hear, it is easier for them to sense danger, although they are still pretty defenseless.

How do you take care of a stray kitten without a mother? ›

For the first week of life, they need to be fed about every two to three hours. After that, you can usually stretch it out to every four hours. These kittens should be bottle-fed using kitten milk replacer (or KMR), which comes in either liquid or powder form.

Will a cat run away if it gets outside? ›

Cats can cover an impressive amount of ground when they get outside and sometimes travel several miles from home. While most outdoor cats instinctively know their way home, there is always a chance they decide to wander too far and get lost.

Can 8 week old kittens survive outside? ›

In most cases, if you get your kitten at about 8-9 weeks, they will be ready to go out by about 13-14 weeks. However, if your kitten is quite timid you may want to wait until they are a bit older. This just allows them to build up their confidence.

How can you tell if a kitten is abandoned? ›

Abandoned kittens will be dirty and the nest will be soiled, and they will cry continuously because they're hungry. Ideally, kittens should not be taken from the mother until they are five to six weeks of age. However, kittens born to feral mothers should be taken away, if possible, at about four weeks old.

What can I feed a stray kitten? ›

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.

Is it safe to touch a stray kitten? ›

You could be exposed to zoonotic diseases (diseases spread from animals to humans), or you could expose your cats at home to feline diseases when you pick up a stray cat or handle any cat with an unknown background.

Can I get a disease from a stray kitten? ›

Various bacteria that can cause diarrhea in people can be carried by kittens, including Salmonella and Campylobacter. These are shed in the stool of infected animals, and people can become ill from handling the animal or stool-contaminated areas.

Do stray kittens remember you? ›

Cats possess excellent long-term memories. They can recall their animal companions and the people who feed them as well as those who irritate them.

Do kittens get cold easily? ›

“Age, coat and fur type and length, size of the cat, and any underlying medical conditions can make a cat more sensitive to the cold,” Dr. Cumberbatch told The Dodo. Age — Kittens and older cats can't regulate their body temperature as well as adult cats, so they can get cold more easily.

Where do outdoor cats sleep at night? ›

Ask any cat owner: there is nothing quite as pathetic – or demanding – as a cat who feels cold. Outdoor kitties will seek out warm, sunny spots or huddle together in dry places for companionship and heat. In winter, you may find them sheltering in parking garages or more public structures for warmth.

How do you take care of a stray kitten? ›

Provide her with essentials like:
  1. Regular food and water. A nursing mother cat can always use some extra wet food so she can keep providing necessary nutrients to her kittens. ...
  2. An outdoor shelter. Mother cats like to raise their kittens in nests, where they feel hidden and protected. ...
  3. Peace and quiet.

Can kittens stay home alone for 36 hours? ›

Kittens need more care and shouldn't be left alone for longer than 4 hours. This is especially true for kittens under four months old, who need the most attention and more frequent feeding. Once your kitten reaches the six-month mark, you'll probably be alright leaving them alone during your workday.

How do stray kittens survive? ›

Unowned stray cats rely heavily on human settlements for food and shelter and breed freely. Feral cats, on the other hand, live in the wild and can survive without relying on people for food.

How much is too cold for a kitten? ›

What Temperature Is Too Cold for Cats? "As a general rule of thumb, anything below 45 degrees Fahrenheit is too cold. If the temperature dips below freezing, they are at high risk of hypothermia if they are outside for extended periods of time," says Arpino.

Do cats like the dark? ›

Do cats like the dark? Cats like the dark. House cats are more crepuscular, meaning it's likely to be at its most active during the dusk and twilight hours. That doesn't mean cats have a preference for darkness, but they're wired by nature to stay alert right before the sun comes up and goes down.

Should I feed stray cats? ›

It's great that you want to help stray cats in your area! Since there is an overpopulation of street animals and not enough food for them all, many stray cats are underweight and sick. By giving them a regular supply of appropriate food, you can help keep them healthy.

Do cats cry when they get lost? ›

When cats are displaced into an unfamiliar area, the cat is most likely hiding in silence, often not far from the escape point, and they will not meow! This is because cats are territorial and their primary protective measure from predators is to hide in silence.

How far can a cat hear you calling? ›

Cats can hear between 720m – 900m away. That's roughly four to five times farther than humans can, but some healthy cats with optimal hearing can hear from an even greater distance. Cats have great hearing and can pinpoint a location from a few feet away.

How long will a scared cat hide outside? ›

Well, when they're lost from their territory – your home – fear is likely to be their greatest feeling, rather than hunger. In fact, the Missing Animal Response Network has found that cats will often hide for one or two weeks after becoming displaced from their territory.

Do kittens always come back home? ›

They often do: whether they're missing for only hours or days at a time, most cat parents can confirm this type of behaviour in their felines. While cats have a very good sense of direction, it doesn't mean that your cat will necessarily always return home.

Can kittens get lost easily? ›

It depends on the cat's territory and routine. A cat that is particularly adventurous and independent could spend a couple of days outside without coming home. But the risk of a cat getting lost or injured is higher with a scaredy-cat or a kitten.

Do cats remember where they live? ›

Outside cats mark their territory with urine and rub up against objects to leave behind specific scent markers. It's likely that they use these scent markers to know where they are and where they're going. It's theorized that they can follow their own scent trails all the way back home.

Do cat fathers take care of their kittens? ›

Overall, cats are not known for their fatherly skills as male cats do not tend to be involved in raising offspring, especially in the wild. Anecdotally, there are rare cases reported where domestic male cats have shown paternal care towards the young.

How long after a cat has kittens can you touch them? ›

Take it slowly, and make sure she is okay with it before you touch them. Either way, they really should not be handled that much at all until they are about 2 weeks old. If you do handle them, be sure to either wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly before and after.

Do cat dads know their kittens? ›

Can male cats recognize their own kittens? Most likely not, since in feral colonies cats will breed repeatedly and can end up with a litter from more than one father. This can make it difficult for tomcats to recognize their kittens, but some can recognize their offspring through scent.

What does it mean when a stray cat just stares at you? ›

Cats are curious creatures. Cats are also visual hunters, which means they're always keeping an eye on their surroundings. This explains why stray cats often stare at you. In most cases, they're trying to figure out if you pose a threat.

Do stray cats love humans? ›

According to the ASPCA, there are tens of millions of feral and stray cats in the United States. Many of these cats avoid people; however, stray cats will sometimes yearn for human interaction (or the full bellies that these interactions tend to guarantee).

Do stray cats recognize people? ›

Animal behavior experts and pet owners have both observed that cats learn their human housemates' habits. They know who handles the morning feeding, who carries a bag of treats in her pocket, and who knows just the right place to scratch.

What do you do when you find baby kittens? ›

The mother cat offers her newborn kittens their best chance for survival, so wait and watch as long as you safely can for her to return before removing them. If mom returns and the area is relatively safe, leave the kittens alone with mom until they are weaned.

How long can a kitten survive without food and water? ›

Cats can survive up to two weeks without food as long as they have access to water, although they'll likely survive only three to four days even with water.

How do I make a stray kitten trust me? ›

Stray cats are often hungry cats, so the best first move is to feed the kitty and provide lots of water. Once the cat learns you're a source for food, she will visit every day. For some very friendly cats, this is enough to gain their trust.

What age should kittens be let outside? ›

We would recommend letting your kitten out with supervised access to the outside once they're about 4 months old, and have been neutered, had all their vaccinations, and are fully settled into your home.

Where would cats hide if they ran away? ›

True to Kat's experiences, the cats were typically hiding under porches, cars or other objects near their homes. In fact, 75 percent of the cats were found within 500 meters (about a third of a mile) of their point of escape. Eighteen percent were hiding directly outside an entrance to their home.

Do outdoor cats miss their owners? ›

Yes, they do. The cats miss the owners whenever they are away or have been detached from the owner. They notice the absence of all the showered love their owners have left for them.

Can stray kittens survive on their own? ›

Many stray cats and kittens actually live in colonies. If a kitten is at least 4 months old it can survive in the colony on its own.

Do stray mother cats move their kittens around? ›

Mom cats move their kittens often and she may be in the midst of moving them and on her way back to these seemingly abandoned kittens. Or she may be out looking for food. It is not unusual for a mom to leave her kittens for several hours looking for food.

Do cats come back after running away with kittens? ›

Yes, cats can return home many days, weeks, months, and even years after they wandered off or were lost. According to the Lost Pet Research project, there were reports of cats traveling 50-80 miles in 2.5 years, 38 miles in 6 months, 30 miles in 10 days, and 20 miles in 21 days. So if your cat is lost, keep up hope.

Can I touch newborn stray kittens? ›

It is a common misconception that a mother cat will not care for her kittens if they are touched, but don't worry she doesn't mind. However, don't be surprised if they're moved the next time you check on them! If you find neonatal kittens the best thing to do is leave them alone! Mom will most likely come back.

What can I feed a kitten I found? ›

You will need KMR or other kitten milk replacement formula, along with special bottles for feeding. These supplies can be found at any pet food store. The pre-mixed liquid formula is easier to use than the powdered form. Depending on their age, kittens will need to be fed every two to six hours around the clock.

Should I grab a stray kitten? ›

Even if you see kittens alone, it is more than likely their mother is nearby. A mother cat is kittens' best possible caregiver, so please… Leave Them Be. This best practice involves allowing the mother cat to care for her kittens in their outdoor home.

What does it mean when an outdoor cat brings her kittens? ›

Simply put, your cat is bringing you her kittens because she wants to introduce you to her new family. She may also be expecting you to help out a bit and most certainly expects you to help keep her kittens safe.

Do mother cats remember their kittens if not separated? ›

If the group continues to live together, the female cat will always remember her offspring and will usually continue to treat them like a mother. She may continue to bring treats and groom her offspring. However, if the offspring are removed from the mother, she will usually forget their scent within a few weeks.

How long do mother cats stay away from their kittens? ›

It depends on the age of the kittens. For the first week of life, they will need to be with her almost constantly. The amount of time will increase over the next three months until the kittens are ready to leave.

Do cats ever miss their kittens? ›

The simple answer is that most mother cats will not miss their kittens after they have been fully weaned, but the sudden loss of a kitten may cause your feline temporary distress. After the kittens have been weaned at around 4 to 6 weeks, the mother cat will start to forget about her kittens.

How can you tell how old a stray kitten is? ›

How to Determine a Kitten's Age
  1. Under 1 week (3 to 8 ounces): Kittens' eyes are shut, their ears are folded down, and they can't yet walk. ...
  2. 1-2 weeks (8 to 11 ounces): Their little blue eyes start to open and focus. ...
  3. 3 weeks (7.5 to 14.5 ounces): Kittens' eyes and ears are fully open, and they are standing up.

What happens if you touch a kitten too early? ›

Touching kittens too soon can frighten them and make it harder for them to form appropriate social bonds with people and other cats. Touching a newborn may also upset their mother, change their scent, or cause discomfort for the kitten. Of course, not every situation lets you avoid touching newborns.


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