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Don't Kit-Nap the Kittens!

Written by Sam Ellingson on August 30, 2022


Like shelters around the country, HSSW has been immersed in kitten season for months. 2022 has proven to be one of our most challenging kitten seasons in recent years. As cute and cuddly as they are, kittens also require a lot of special care and resources and foster homes are limited in supply.

So, when should kittens be "rescued" from outside? The answer is: not very often. Many well-intentioned animal lovers unknowingly orphan young kittens by rushing to the rescue. Often when kittens are found outside, the mom cat isn't far away. And unless they're sick or in immediate danger, kittens are better off with mom until they're old enough to be spayed or neutered and adopted. 

Don't Kit-Nap Kittens

Most kittens shouldn't be brought to the shelter in the first place, but once they're here fostering is often their only chance for survival. And at times when space is limited, bringing kittens to the shelter can put them at greater risk for illness.

When you do find kittens outside, it's important to take time to determine if they're actually in need of help! Unless they are sick or in immediate danger, they may be better off where they are. Learn more below, and take a look at this helpful guide to determine when a kitten might be in need of rescue. 

  • When to "Rescue" Kittens

    It’s a natural instinct to want to “rescue” kittens, but that might be the wrong move. Kittens usually have a better chance of survival with their mom. Very young kittens are difficult to care for and may "fail to thrive" without the care of their mother. Consider the information below when you find kittens.

    If you need us, we're here to help. Click here to contact us.

    Is mom with the kittens?

    Even if you can't see her, mom may be near by. She may be hunting, taking a break, or even hiding from you. As long as the kittens are safe from immediate danger and hazardous conditions, give mom time to come back. Leave the area and check back in two hours. If mom came back, great! The kittens are safe with her. If not, wait two more hours. If mom still hasn't returned, the kittens likely need some help. 

    Are the kittens in any immediate danger?

    As long as the kittens are not in any danger (look for dogs or other predators, traffic, exposure to weather conditions, etc.), it’s important to wait for a few hours and observe. Please review the information above and wait for mom to return. 

    If the kittens are in immediate danger, they should be picked up right away and brought to HSSW or taken inside your home until you're able to bring them in. 

    Are the kittens healthy?

    Kittens who are sick or hurt need immediate care. Kittens who are dirty or skinny, kittens who have wounds or eyes that are crusted have likely been abandoned by mom. These kittens should be picked up immediately so they can receive medical care.

    Additional support

    Of course, kittens will be found in a variety of circumstances, and it's not always easy to know if they need help. Our team is available to help you determine the best course of action. Need some help? Click here to contact us.

  • Determine the Age

    It’s important to determine the kittens’ age before moving to the next step. This helpful resource from ASPCA will help you estimate the age of the litter. Ideally, they should remain with their mother for at least 5 weeks.

    Under 5 weeks

    Leave the kittens with their mom. If you have watched for several hours from a distance and you are 100% certain that a litter of kittens has been abandoned, you may care for the kittens yourself for a few weeks* OR bring the kittens to HSSW so they may be placed in foster.

    *Please note: caring for bottle babies requires several feedings overnight and throughout the day. It's a lot of work, but it's also a rewarding experience that can make a lifesaving difference for kittens in need. Check out this guide to caring for neonatal kittens to learn more.

    5-8 weeks

    If the kittens are friendly, you may bring them to HSSW or take them in and provide care and socialization until they are 8 weeks of age.

    If the kittens are feral and unfriendly, you may bring them inside to care for them. You will need time and patience to socialize them to make them friendly and adoptable OR bring them to HSSW so our staff and foster volunteers can provide care.

    Over 8 weeks

    If the kittens are friendly, bring them in to our shelter. We will spay or neuter them, update their vaccines, and place them up for adoption.

    If the kittens are feral (unfriendly and unsocial), bring them to HSSW. Our staff and volunteers will observe them to determine their suitability for adoption. It is very difficult to socialize an older feral kitten, so we may opt to trap-neuter-return (TNR) the kitten and return it to its environment.

  • Caring for Kittens at Home

    Caring for bottle babies requires several feedings overnight and throughout the day. It's a lot of work, but it's also a rewarding experience that can make a lifesaving difference for kittens in need. Supporting them at home keeps them safe and healthy until they've reached 8 weeks of age and can be spayed/neutered and adopted.

    Depending on their age, kittens need milk replacer, special bottles, and may need to eat every two hours (that means the middle of the night, too). These supplies can be readily found at your local pet store, and there are many online resources that can help with this process. Check out this guide to caring for neonatal kittens before attempting to care for kittens yourself. 

  • Additional Kitten Resources

    Overnight Care for Kittens

    If you found kittens that need to come to HSSW but it's outside of our business hours, you can keep them safe and warm at home overnight. Place them in an open box with a blanket and a heating pad (if available) on low to keep them warm. If possible, you can pick up kitten formula and a feeding bottle at your local pet store. You'll find information about determining a kitten's age and feeding needs below. 

    However, if the kittens are in need of emergency medical care, Please contact a local emergency vet

    Determining Kitten Age

    Sometimes, an estimate of a kitten's age can help our team recommend the best course of action. This guide from ASPCA can help.

How You can Help

Kitten season is one of our busiest times of the year, and we rely on our community to help us save the lives of the hundreds of kittens who arrive at our doorstep (often literally!) each season. Take a look below for more ways you can help. 

Adopt

Certainly the cutest way to help: adopt a kitten! On any given day you will find several kittens available for adoption at HSSW. They're ready to become healthy, friendly family members! You can meet available kittens at hssw.org/kittens.

Foster or Volunteer

Hundreds of kittens receive care each year at HSSW. And much of that care comes from our incredible foster volunteers. We have an ongoing need for volunteers ready to make a lifesaving difference for kittens in need. We have opportunities to help with care at the shelter, or in your home as a foster. Learn more and register at hssw.org/volunteer

Donate

Can't adopt or foster? You can still make a difference by donating! Making a monetary donation supports all areas of our kitten-saving programs - it's the best way to make an impact. Donate at hssw.org/give. If that's not practical for you, consider donating canned wet food to help the kittens in our care. You can find our most-needed items at hssw.org/wishlist.

Regardless of how you help, please spread the word! It's difficult to fight the urge to "rescue" those cute and fluffy feline babies, and being informed is one of the best ways to help them. By sharing the information with your friends and family, you're amplifying the lifesaving message and discouraging kit-napping in our community. 


Additional Information
For more information and other resources about stray cats and kittens, visit hssw.org/straycats