Kitten season typically runs from March to November. If you’ve found an orphan kitten, prompt action is required to save its life. However, please take a moment to decide if the kitten or litter you’ve located has truly been orphaned. Separating very young kittens from an attentive mother will often make things worse instead of better!
The mother cat typically remains continuously with newborn kittens for the first few days after giving birth, but she may leave for short periods to hunt for food. Also, a mother cat will often pick up and move her litter to a new location as establishing a new nest is part of the cat’s instinctual behavior to safeguard her young by not remaining in one place too long.
WHAT TO DO?
If you find small kittens without a mother cat, don’t assume they have been abandoned as the mother may be away hunting for food or may be moving the kittens, one-by-one, to or from the place you found them. If the kittens are safe for the time being, you should observe them quietly from a safe distance to see if the mother returns. It is always best to keep a mother together with her kittens whenever possible for the best chance of survival as hand-raising a young, “pre-weaned” kitten is an intensive round-the-clock job.
In a home situation, kittens should be kept with their mother until they are 8 weeks of age. However, kittens born to feral mothers should be separated from her at about 4 weeks. At this age, it is easy to socialize them and they have gotten 4 weeks’ worth of the precious antibodies that mother’s milk provides. As they get older, it gets increasingly harder to tame them; kittens over the age of 10 weeks who have had no human contact will probably take months to tame…if it can be done at all.
Observe kittens you’ve found from a distance for no more than an hour or two. If the kittens are clean, plump, and sleeping quietly in a heap, chances are that they’ve got an attentive mom and should be left alone. Abandoned kittens will often be dirty and the nest will be soiled, and they will cry continuously because they’re hungry. If you wait too long, the kittens can weaken beyond recovery (chilling and dehydration are major concerns).
If you’ve found an orphaned litter, we want you to be able to help these kittens reach a happy, healthy adulthood. But before acting, please consider the information above and take a moment to ask yourself: “Are these kittens orphans?”