A stray or not a stray?
Our intentions might be good, but they might be misplaced if the kitty is not actually an orphan. When a kitten, or a litter of them, is found with no mother, however, it does not always mean that they have been abandoned.
A mother may leave her litter for a while to hunt for food or find a new and more secure place for her babies. If we find kittens with no mother in sight, but they are sleeping comfortably, then it’s most likely that the mother will come back. We can check on them again, of course, to make sure they’re alright. If they’re mostly sleeping when they’re on their own, they are being looked after by their mother. If one or a few of them are missing, it’s likely they are being moved by their mother.
After about two months, we should safely trap the whole family, with the mother, if possible. Then we need to make sure we neuter them and either return them to their home or get them accepted by a rescue. This process is referred to as TNR. More on this below. In many cases, a litter will be part of a feral cat colony. Unless we can find homes for these cats, allowing them to remain within the supportive care of the colony is the next best thing for them.
What to do with a stray kitten
If we have ascertained that the kitten is an orphan, then we should take her into our care. She has very little chance of survival if she’s left on her own. First things first, how do we go about capturing the kitten? She might let us simply pick her up and carry her home. Or we might need to obtain a TNR humane trap, which will not hurt kitty at all! We will just have to lure her in with food, and then the door will be triggered close when she walks in.
If we can take her to a vet immediately after capture, all the better. The vet will be able to approximate more closely kitty’s age, as well as check her overall condition. Otherwise, we’ll have to provide immediate care ourselves.
Why do we need to know the kitty’s approximate age? It will determine what we should feed her and how frequently she needs to be fed. We can make a good guess of her age by checking her weight using a postal scale.
- Less than four ounces puts kitty at less than a week old. She needs to be fed formula every two to three hours.
- Four to six ounces puts kitty between seven and 10 days old. The formula should be given every two to three hours.
- Six to eight ounces puts kitty between 10 and 14 days. The formula should be given every three hours.
- Eight to 12 ounces puts kitty at two to three weeks, and formula should be given every four hours.
- Twelve ounces to one pound puts kitty at four to five weeks. She can eat a mix of formula and kitten kibble or gruel every four hours.
- Between one pound and one pound and eight ounces puts kitty between six and seven weeks. She can eat a mix of kitten kibble and wet food four times a day.
- One-and-a-half to two pounds puts kitty at two months, and she should be fully weaned.
We will need to get kitten formula, bottles, rubber nipples, and cleaning supplies. The proper way to bottle-feed kitty with warmed-up formula is with her lying on her belly; we should never make her lie on her back when bottle-feeding. The formula will have instructions on how much to give per feeding.
We can keep kitty in a dog crate during her first week or so. If she’s still young enough to be exclusively fed kitten formula, we should also cover the floor of the crate with a heating pad to keep her warm. We just have to make sure that we only cover half of the floor so she can move away from the heat if she needs to. If kitty’s panting, she’s overheating, and we should remove the heating pad right away. If she’s limp and her body feels cold, we should take her to the vet right away.
Up until she’s one month old, we will need to help her with elimination. After every feeding, we will have to gently rub her anus with a warm and damp cloth until she does the deed. We can start litter-training her as early as three weeks old.
At two months old, kitty can be spayed (or neutered).
What if you can’t foster a kitty permanently?
We can ask kitty’s vet for recommendations on how to find her forever home; or we can search online.
If we cannot foster kitty (or a whole litter, especially) at all, her next best option is a no-kill animal shelter, where she’ll receive proper care until she’s ready to be spayed (or neutered). Check out Adopt-A-Pet and The No Kill Network to find the right place in your area.
If your going to take in a stray kitten, it's a good idea to keep a bottle of EcoMange on-hand. This skin-safe and convenient remedy clears mange in just a few days. It is quick and easy to apply. EcoMange has been the go-to solution for thousands of dogs and cats. Give it a try today!
- “Stray Cats, Feral Cats, and Kittens,” East Bay SPCA
- “Helping Stray and Feral Cats,” WebMD
- “How to Help A Stray Pet,” The Humane Society of the United States