It’s kitten season! The number of calls we receive about abandoned litters over the summer months is overwhelming. Limited foster home space makes it imperative that we educate motivated individuals on working with us to give these kittens a fighting chance to survive. Unfortunately, we cannot take in every kitten we hear about but can offer you the tools to deal with the situation at hand, to include playing surrogate mom until the kittens are socialized and old enough to be fixed and adopted. Taking on kittens is daunting, but knowing what to do before you are able to reach the vet puts you ahead of the game and helps extend our reach to many more kittens who might otherwise slip through the cracks. So, what do you do with orphaned kittens? This list provides a starting point to assess the situation and act quickly. Kittens, especially those under four weeks, are very fragile. Delay can be fatal.
- Try to estimate age (see chart) to help define and prioritize their needs.
- Keeping looking for the mom cat – she needs to be spayed and she will be the best caretaker for them! If you are certain the kittens are orphans, move them inside to a quiet, warm spot in a carrier or cage with clean bedding.
- Immediately identify obviously life-threatening health problems. Injuries aside, the top four things to check for are hypothermia, flea infestation, upper respiratory infection (URI), and diarrhea – all potentially fatal.
- Hypothermia: Critical for kittens under two weeks old. If cold and listless, warm them up immediately with a towel-covered heating pad set on low. Ensure kittens can move off the pad if it becomes too warm.
- Fleas: If fleas and/or flea dirt are present, use a flea comb or a very small drop of Advantage as soon as possible. Flea anemia can be fatal. Pale gums are a good indicator that anemia has set in. Seek advice if you are uncertain how to proceed.
- URI: Eye/nasal discharge, sneezing, congestion, and a visible third eyelid are all signs of URI. Seek veterinary treatment quickly to avoid permanent damage. Gently clean eyes and nose with a cotton ball and warm water.
- Diarrhea: Leads to severe dehydration. Could indicate presence of intestinal infection and/or parasites or other illness. Seek veterinary treatment.
- Feeding (1-4 weeks old): Do not feed cold kittens… it can kill them. Depending upon their age, feed kittens every 2-6 hours. Bottle-feed lukewarm KMR or other kitten milk substitute fed through a special nursing bottle or eye dropper (if they are weak or cannot suck). Never use cow’s milk! – It contains the wrong nutrients and can kill them. You have to help baby kittens urinate/defecate after meals by gently rubbing a warm, moist cotton ball over their anal area.
- Kittens over four weeks can begin eating regular kitten food mixed with formula (wet/dry/mixture). Provide a shallow cardboard box to get them accustomed to using non-clumping litter.
- By six weeks of age, kittens should be eating and drinking on their own and be ready for FeLV/FIV testing, deworming, and their first vaccination. At 8-9 weeks, healthy kittens over two pounds can be spayed-neutered before adoption.
Please remember that pediatric spay-neuter is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the birth of more unwanted kittens. Don’t ruin the good work you’ve done by adopting out unfixed kittens!