What to do if you’ve found kittens, Don’t be Kit-Napper!
IMPORTANT – MAKE SURE THAT THE KITTENS ARE REALLY ABANDONED IF YOU TAKE THEM IT COULD MEAN DEATH FOR THE KITTENS
The mother may merely be out of sight and will return. She is very good at remaining out of sight (out of fear of you) just because you do not see her, doesn’t necessarily mean she is not close by and waiting for you to leave.
Observe the sight for several hours from a distance to be sure that the kittens are truly abandoned. In most cases mom will return to the kitten if left alone. If you have dogs keep them away also to allow her time to move her kittens to a safe location. Do not move the kittens. Mom is more likely to return for them if they are in the location SHE left them. You can exam them to see if they are warm and if they have full bellies. Kittens that are clean and have round bellies are being cared for by their mother and do not need your help at this time.
Any adults not currently nursing should be fixed right away to avoid more unwanted kittens being born. Spay / Neuter of both male and female cats is equally important. The moment the kittens are removed from their mother, the female cat will go into heat again. They can have back to back litters. TNR is the only humane way to avoid unwanted kittens and limit the amount of community cats in your area.
Why some kittens are abandoned:
Abandonment at birth: Moms tends to leave some kittens behind at birth if she feels she can not care for, protect or have enough milk for the entire litter. This is usually done within the first 24 hours.
Abandonment after the first week: If the mom has kicked just one out of the litter, there is probably something congenitally wrong with him/her and you will probably lose the kitten. Mom cats can sense if there is something wrong with a kitten.
Caught while moving them: If the mom is in the middle of moving her litter when you find 1-2 kittens, you have a choice. You can let her come back and retrieve her kitten or you can take it/them and care for them until they are adopted. Unlike other creatures (like birds) cats will take their young back after being touched by a human.
Options when you find an Orphaned Kitten:
1. Original mom is best: Mom’s milk is the best for the kittens. They get immunities from mom’s milk. If the mother is still in the area – DO NOT DISTURB – there is a better chance the kittens will survive if they are not removed from the nest.
2. Surrogate mom: Kittens under 5-6 weeks should not be put on a nursing mom unless both the mother and the kittens have been tested for FeLV & FIV. Kittens can pass diseases to the nursing mom and the nursing mom can pass diseases to the kittens.3. Bottle feeding: When bottle-feeding kittens, use a different bottle for each litter if you have more than one litter. Also, change your clothes to prevent upper respiratory infections (URIs) and other diseases from passing from litter to litter.
4. Supplementing a litter of 6 kittens or more with a mom: If you have a mom with a litter of 6 or more kittens, watch them carefully around 3-4 weeks of age. Mom may not have enough milk for the entire litter and all the kittens will suffer. You may need to supplement the feedings with KMR (or equivalent).
Aging the Kittens:
1. Umbilical cord attached: They are 3 days or younger.
2. Eyes: They begin to open at 7-8 days and all eyes should be open by day 10. Their eyes generally change from blue to blue/gray then yellow/green between 6 1/2 to 7 weeks of age but can vary kitten-to-kitten and litter-to-litter. In one litter, kittens can be conceived 4-5 days apart. This also contributes to the different days the eyes open.
3. Ears: Their ears stand up at 3-1/2 weeks of age.
4. Teeth: Another way to age the kittens is by the teeth. The following is from the Cornell Book of Cats. The ages are when the teeth break the skin or ‘eruption of the teeth’ happens, or when they break the surface.
Center (4) Incisors (front teeth between
the canines) 2-3 weeks
Outer Incisors (still between the canines) 3-4 weeks
Canines 3-4 weeks
Upper molars (called a premolar) 2 months (8 weeks)
Lower molars (called a premolar) 4-5 weeks
Center (4) Incisors (front teeth between
the canines) 3-1/2 to 4 months (14-16 weeks)
Outer Incisors (still beaten the canines) 4 to 4-1/2 months (16-18
Canines 5 months
Upper molars (called a premolar) 4-1/2 to 6 months (depending on
Lower molars (called a premolar) 5-6 months for all
Upper molar in back, no baby tooth, just the molar at 4-5 months
5. Mobility: They are unstable on their feet until they are around 4 weeks of age and can run pretty well by 5 weeks. If you see kittens running around a yard, they are at least 5-6 weeks old.
6. Eating: They generally are eating on their own between 5 and 6 weeks of age. Some will eat as young as 4 weeks and some will take as long as 8 weeks to stop the bottle if you are bottle feeding. The older kittens who refuse to leave the bottle are generally needing the one-on-one affection they are receiving.
Here are links on raising orphaned kittens. There are many more and a quick search on Google for “kittens orphan rescue” will garner many more sites.