Pet Connections

The Found Kitten Decision Game

The universal response to finding kittens is to presume they are abandoned and unable to care for themselves and to remove them, but not only is that rarely the right response, it’s not even the right presumption and can often be harmful to the kittens you want to help.

The found kitten decision game involves many skills, like determining the approximate age of the kittens and the presence, or lack, of a mother cat. It also involves the knowledge that kittens younger than eight weeks belong with their mother, even if she is feral, and that kittens are fragile, the younger they are the more intensive, expensive and specialized care they need.

Before you touch those kittens you need a plan that provides for the specific needs of all the cats and kittens involved at every stage of the rescue. One exception is to always help a kitten that’s in obvious distress. Here are specific situations and decisions.S


No mother present: Unless she’s mortally wounded or no longer alive, she is near, and she will be back soon. Kittens at that age nurse every two to three hours and will typically begin to mew if they are not fed promptly. Mom stays in range while she’s hunting for food. If the kittens appear to be sleeping then the mother cat has fed them recently.

NOTE: Even if you find only one kitten, don’t presume it’s abandoned. Mother cats are determined but they can only carry one kitten at a time.

Mother cat returns: Observe her and let her feed her kittens. When she’s done and resting, show yourself and see how she reacts. Almost any cat would be skittish and defensive in this situation so don’t go walking in to pet them. If the cat acts unfriendly or seems feral, you have one situation. If she seems nervous but curious, you have another situation. Likely you will need to trap her and assess later, but if you can befriend her even trapping is easier.

NOTE:She may decide the area isn’t safe and move her kittens, so it’s best to prepare to rescue as soon as possible.

Mother cat does not return: Give the mother cat several hours or even overnight. If the kittens begin to mew and cry they should be fed and returned while you keep watching for their mother. If weather turns or the night is cold pack them up and take them home or to a foster who is skilled with bottle feeding kittens. Check back for the mother and bring the kittens back—if she’s able she’ll return.

If you find her later you would still trap her. If she’s still lactating you would put her with the kittens, making sure she accepts them. If not, the rest of the job of raising kittens is up to you. In any case she can be spayed and either returned or adopted.

Trapping: You can pick up the kittens but likely mom will need to be trapped. Mother cats are often reluctant to enter a trap or she may be full from a caretaker. If she won’t go into the trap because she’s eating elsewhere or is trapwise, you can use the kittens as bait. Tuck the kittens into a carrier with a blanket, keep the carrier locked but place the door end up against the back of a trap and cover both together so that the mother cat sees she can only get to her kittens by going into the trap. If the kittens are hungry and begin to cry she will be even more willing. You can also play sounds of kittens crying on your phone as a lure.


No mother present: As above, take time to see if the mother returns. Even at three or four weeks old the kittens may react to your presence and scatter if they have no experience with humans, so be certain not to startle them, just wait and watch, or even get a trail camera to observe their activities when you aren’t there.

Mother cat returns: Determine if she is friendly or feral and make a plan for the kittens. If they are three to four weeks they may not be heavy enough to set off a trap so you would either need to grab them by hand or net them with gloves and caution—kitten bites and scratches can be serious.

Mother cat does not return: If the mother cat does not return then trap the kittens as quickly as possible to keep them healthy and socialize them before the window of opportunity closes. Check back for mom to make sure she really hasn’t returned.

Trapping: You can still use kittens as bait to trap the mother as explained above, and also try kitten sounds on your phone as a lure. Mother cats respond to their kittens’ cries no matter the age.


No mother present: You still want to trap their mother so be patient and observe as long as possible. You can trap the kittens and come back to trap their mother if you see her later.

Mother cat returns: Determine if she is friendly or feral. If she’s feral, and the kittens are weaned, she can be spayed and returned. If she’s friendly you might as well bring her in and foster her with her kittens —any friendly cat deserves a chance at a home.

Mother cat does not return: If the mother cat does not return then, as above, trap the kittens as quickly as possible so that you can keep them healthy and socialize them before the window of opportunity closes.

Trapping: Use multiple traps, including kitten/squirrel traps, and try to trap them all at once so no kittens
are left alone; keep returning until you have them al1.


December 14, 2023
December 14, 2023


November 24, 2023