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How to Help Stray Kittens

You hear meowing in your yard… you investigate and discover a litter of kittens – cute, cuddly and only a few days old. What do you do?  

Wait for the Mother to Return

A mother cat regularly leaves the nest to search for food. It’s a natural instinct to want to “rescue” kittens, but that might be the wrong move. 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. The mother cat may be out hunting, taking a break, or even hiding from you!

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.

If the Mother Cat Returns

You’ve waited and the mother cat has returned. This is great news! The kittens aren’t abandoned. Now that she’s returned, it’s okay to let her know you’re there – approach slowly to see if she is social.

If she is friendly – She may in fact be someone's lost pet, or a social stray or community cat. If possible, bring the mother (and her kittens) to a local vet or HSSW to scan for a microchip. If no microchip is found – or there is no success contacting the family – HSSW can take the mother and kittens into foster until they’re old enough to be spayed or neutered and adopted.

If she is fearful – Do not attempt to retrieve the kittens. Please contact Clark County Animal Control at 360-397-2488. They will help you determine the most appropriate course of action to help the kittens and mother.

Mother Cat Doesn’t Return

The kittens appear to be abandoned, what can you do to help? After observing for several hours, it's okay to intervene to rescue the kittens. If the mother doesn't return, the kittens will need immediate care in order to survive.

Keep the kittens warm - Put hot water in a plastic bottle and wrap it in a towel or use a small heating pad on low heat. Place the kittens in a box with bedding with the bottle or heating pad for warmth.

Keep the kittens fed - They will need to be fed with a kitten milk replacer (KMR) formula.

Bring the kittens to HSSW so we can place them in a foster family and care for them until they’re old enough to be spayed or neutered and adopted.

Determine the Age

It’s important to determine the kittens’ age before moving to the next step. This helpful webpage 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 either:

•  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 is a LOT of work and requires several feedings overnight and throughout the day. Only experienced fosters should attempt this. (This guide will help)

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 either:

•  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.

If 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), 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.