I Found Abandoned Kittens – What Should I Do?

Veterans of the Pregnant Cat & Kitten Care forum are familiar with springtime posts that read:

"I came across 4 kittens hiding under my front porch!"
"Last night, I found these three kittens."
"We found two kittens that are about 1 day old."

Come kitten season, cat lovers across the globe are likely to come across what appear to be abandoned kittens.

Whether hiding and meowing pitifully, actively approaching you or simply huddled quietly under a bush -- their fate is suddenly in your hands.

So, what should you do?

There is no one simple answer to that question but there are some guidelines.

Following these guidelines and using your common sense can literally mean the difference between life and death for these kittens.

Is the mother cat really out of the picture?

abandoned kitten lying on the ground

Kittens stand a better chance of survival if raised by their mother. The younger the kittens, the more they need their mother's milk and her instinctive care.

Sometimes it's clear the kittens had been deliberately abandoned by human owners.

TheCatSite.com members have shared many stories about finding kittens in boxes, trash bins and other locations which made it very clear that the kittens had been deliberately separated from their mother.

Normally I didn't care much about street kittens meowing all the way to the other side of the road because I know the mother would eventually come back for them, but these guys were different.

They were in a box...

Other times, people come across kittens hiding under the porch or just hanging around a spot in the backyard.

In these cases -- especially if the kittens are clearly trying to hide -- back away from the kittens but stay and watch from a distance.

A mother cat can leave her kittens for several hours at a time to look for food. How long you should wait depends on the kittens' safety and well-being but if possible, give it 3-4 hours.


How old are the kittens?

three abandoned kittens on street

Determining the age of the kittens is crucial. To do that refer to our guides:
How Old Is My Kitten
Kitten Development Stages - Illustrated Guide

The age of the kittens directly affects the level of care they need should you decide to take them.

1. Kittens younger than three weeks of age need to be hand-reared and require intensive around-the-clock care. Read more about hand rearing orphaned kittens.

2. Kittens between the ages of three and four weeks are more independent.

They do not have to be bottle-fed and can eat and defecate on their own. They are usually not agile enough to run away, even if they are feral, so they should be easy enough to scoop up and take home.

3. Older kittens, up to 4 months of age, may be more difficult to catch.

The older they are, the stronger and faster they get. You may need to use a trap if you want to take them home. If they are feral (see below) they will need to be properly socialized before you can find them homes.

4. After the age of four months, the same considerations of adult cat rescue apply. According to Cat Ally Allies:

If the kittens are feral they may be better off left as members of a managed feral colony where they will be trapped and neutered.

Are the kittens feral or stray?

three stray little kittens are cold outside

This question really applies only to kittens who are older than 2-3 weeks. Any younger and it hardly matters whether or not they've been handled by humans before.

Three-week-old kittens may hiss at you at first but they will usually adjust to being handled within minutes or hours.

As they mature kittens need to be socialized with humans in order to become pet cats.

Without that kind of socialization, they will be aggressive and fearful of humans. It is possible to socialize kittens as old as 2-4 months old and even older.

The older the kittens, the longer and more time-consuming the process.

If you come across a kitten that appears friendly and approaches you voluntarily then you have a stray kitten on your hands.

That means the kitten was probably raised within a home and had enough positive exposure to humans.

Stray kittens are very vulnerable and if possible, should be taken off the street and re-homed.

Learn more about feral cats and how to help them here:
10 Facts You Should Know About Feral Cats
Saving Feral Cats

Are the kittens healthy?

Homeless kitten abandoned on the street.

Sometimes people find kittens that are visibly ill or injured.

These kittens aren't likely to recover on their own and if you want to save their lives, you may need to pick them up (or trap them if they're feral) and get them to a veterinarian.

So What Should I Do?

Now that you are familiar with the considerations, it's time to assess the situation.

If you're sure the kittens are indeed abandoned and the mother cat is away, or if a kitten is sick or injured, it may be time for you to step in.

The same is true for any case where there is a clear and immediate danger to kittens' lives.

The Commitment of Caring

Caring for one or more kittens can be time-consuming and take up a lot of resources. The younger the kittens and the more of them you found, the harder the task at hand.

Homeless animals. Group homeless kittens on concrete pier in sea port

Not everyone is able to care for young kittens, especially newborns.

If it's a question of a sick or injured kitten then you may need to invest not only time and energy but also a substantial amount of money in veterinary care.

Know your limits. If you can't care for the kittens, pass them along to someone who can.

Local cat rescue groups may be able to help and place the kittens at a foster home with someone who specializes in kitten care, including the care of orphaned newborns.

Some may be willing to offer financial help as long as you foster the kittens yourself.

Where healthy feral kittens are discovered with their mother in a safe spot, you can help the mother by providing food and water.

Assisting Healthy Feral Kittens

Consider taking the kittens in only if you know that you can care for them, socialize them and find them all good homes.

If that is the case, it's best to take the kittens when they are around 4 weeks old when socialization will be easier.

Please note that the recommended age for separating kittens from the mother cat in a household situation is 16 weeks.

The exception suggested here applies only to feral kittens, where removing them earlier on can help socialize them.

Considering TNR for Older Kittens

If the kittens are older than four months of age, or if you saw the mother return and know they are safe with her for now, it's time to start thinking about TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return).

These will be feral cats, and the best way to care for them is to humanely trap and neuter them. Read more about TNR here:
Everything you need to know about TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release)

Last, but not least. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With so many unwanted kittens out there, please spay and neuter your own cats and the feral cats living in your area!


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17 comments on “I Found Abandoned Kittens – What Should I Do?

Maewandbbf June 29, 2017
2 days ago I heard kitten crying for help went down to look he/ she tried to get to me but couldn't because it's too lower level and the bushes are way too thick and I couldn't reach for him. Have been dropping foods but ince last night I didn't hear him/her meowing at all, would it be any chance the kitten wandered further ? If so ., will he return to the spot he was before if I keep dropping foods there?
basschick March 29, 2017
twice i found abandoned newborn kittens from the feral colony that lived in the underground parking under my son's apartment.  both times i raised them, starting with kitten formula (love the way their ears move as they suck on the bottle) and lost a lot of sleep.  the second one, who we named jeep, had health problems as a baby, but thanks to his vet, my supportive husband and my own grim determination, he lived for years.  my son had the first one till he passed on from cancer at 11, my husband and i had jeep till he died of a heart condition at 8.  they were a part of our family we were lucky to have.
Anne November 13, 2016
@da hoomin Thank you for your comment! I have no doubt responsible snake people won't do it. It's the irresponsible ones that worry me... I'm also a member of various animal groups (I love all animals, including reptiles and birds) and there are just so many people who keep exotic pets they don't know the first thing about :( The myth that snakes are fed young kittens (possibly very small and too young to defend themselves) is out there so I wouldn't be surprised if there are idiots out there who might try this out, putting their pet snake's life at risk. Either way, I absolutely agree this cannot be a common practice. At most, a very rare and costly mistake.
    Forrest&Kiara May 14, 2021
    I heard the same thing about it being cheaper to feed small kittens to a large snake. It's the "free to good home" that puts these babies at risk. I hope it is an urban legend! The free to good home ads also put them at risk for becoming lab cats. I actually contact people when I see these ads and tell them to charge an adoption fee to prevent this kind of potential cruelty.
da hoomin November 13, 2016
I'm on a "Herp [snakes, turtles, lizards] Forum" with my 6 ft iguana and I know ALOT of snake-lovers!  The notion that people pick up kittens and puppies to feed their snake is an Urban Legend. It's just not true.   A snake that was large enough to eat even a 4wo kitten, would be too big to have in a personal dwelling.  A responsible snake person would NEVER feed live prey to it's scaly friend. It's unnecessarily cruel to the prey animal and it poses a very real threat to the snake's health when the prey fights back. If you think cat/dog vets are expensive - try a herp vet! We are very protective of our cold-blooded friends - they don't fight off infections as readily as warm-blooded buddies do!   Some snake people raise their own mice and humanely euthanize them. There are also Herp-food companies that sell frozen, humanely-killed mice/rats. Besides being cruelty-free, they are also safer for the snake - no bacteria/parasites - and usually vitamins/supplements are put inside the thawed out prey before it's fed.   Snake, turtle and lizard people love our scaly-buddies just as much as we love our fur-babies!
donutte September 27, 2016
I have not personally found kittens since I moved to the suburbs, but when I lived in the city, pretty much every time we found a cat, we took it in. This included kittens - none of them ever with the mom, or their siblings. That's why I always said that we never had to go to a shelter to find a cat - they always found us!
kalee September 10, 2016
I found some kittens by a dumpster, the garbage truck ran over the mother :'( . Me n 3 other tenants each took 1. :) I went to a local grocery store (Stop n Shop) where i found cats  milk in a 3 pk. Kalee , my baby is now a beautiful 1 yr old. 
StefanZ August 30, 2016
@MeAndCaptinMeow  You did a good deed! And you found a workable solution on the spot. Tx! However, its has  dangers to giving away kittens for free, without carefull screening at least.  There are weirdos out there, needing sparring partners to their fighing dogs, snake live food, export as human food, or for other "pleasures" weirdos may have.  They get about 20 dollars if they sell to such, so 20 dollars is a minimum fee...  If its awkward to ask for money, you can perhaps ask instead they donate the 20 dollars in the name of the cat to some charity they choose themselves.   Say, the cat is called for  CalicoJenny.  Adopters name is Alice Andersen.  So the donation could be done in the name of  CalicoJenny  Andersen.  Something such...  The safety sum is payed, and a magical bond created.  Connecting noble feelings of giving away with this kitten...
Alicia88 August 24, 2016
I always thought kittens could be separated from their mother at 6-8 weeks, 8 weeks being preferable.  I got my boys from my aunt when they were around 10 weeks old.  Murphy had a habit of sucking on us.  I've gotten him to stop for the most part by putting him down and ignoring him every time he does it and he's the neediest cat ever so he hated that.  Anyway, I know the sucking thing can happen when kittens are taken from their mother too soon, but I thought 10 weeks was well past the necessary age.  So, I guess this explains why Murphy had his little habit.  Connor never did the sucking thing, but he's the more independent of the two.
lildee69 August 22, 2016
Hi to all, newbie here and so glad to have found this site. My baby Hal was left on my patio. He was separated from his feral mom. He couldn't have been more than a couple of weeks old, he still had his blue eyes. Well I guess we both adopted each other. I was looking for a pet to keep me company and he was looking for a good home. So through bottle feedings and litter box training he's growing into a beautiful Tuxedo with golden eyes and shiny fur. He has been to the vet and gotten all his shots and so on. Looks like I now have a life long friend and companion.
meandcaptinmeow August 17, 2016
@zelskid Sadly, there's a chance of that happening yes. I found three 8-week old kittens in a rest area once, and I just put them in a box, fed them, and stood in front of a supermarket holding one. The men walked right by, and the older women too. But the younger women all stopped and said "Aw" and tilted their heads. I got those three little guy's homes within 30 minutes. People were pleased I wasn't charging money! (I didn't understand that actually, but I guess usually when one is finding homes for a kitten, they've had to pay for a vet, and I hadn't done that, so I thought free was a good price and so did they. I swear if I'd had a dozen kittens, people would have lined up it seemed. All because I didn't want a "re-homing fee"
meandcaptinmeow August 1, 2016
@anne Oh I'll look forward to that. Thank you Anne!
Anne August 1, 2016
@MeAndCaptinMeow That's a good question. I'm actually going to write a blog post to answer that as the answer is a bit long.
meandcaptinmeow August 1, 2016
I never understand why people automatically insist everyone should spay or neuter any cats they got. If we all did that, there wouldn't be anymore, would there.
cassiopea June 28, 2016
This is great info, no doubt helping further with any uncertainty or What If moments.
squirrelymonki April 21, 2016
My brother and I found two kittens abandoned from the rest of the litter because they were sick. We spent round the clock care with them, doing everything the mother would usually be doing, and bottle feeding them. Sad, but beautiful times. They are happy adult cats today, and my brother and his fiancee baby them still.
camillel April 15, 2016
OMG! Everything above is so true and brought back memories of when Sam Adams found us. I am so happy we kept him and have him as part of our family. :)

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