What to do when you find kittens outside?

By Dorothée Pâris Pasturel • 29 April 2020

Have you found one or more kittens outside? Here are some useful tips.

The following diagram outlines the first steps to follow:

After checking, if you have decided to take care of the kitten(s), here are several steps to follow:

1. Set them up in a safe area
Put the kittens in a separate room, in a cardboard box with blankets and pillows, for example. The place must be quiet and sheltered from any other pets you might have.

 2. Keep them warm

This is a very important step because, in the absence of their mother, kittens younger than four weeks old are fragile and unable to maintain their body heat, an essential condition for them to later be able to eat and grow. Use blankets or, ideally, a magic bag that you can find at a veterinarian’s office or in a pet store. Increase the room temperature if necessary.

Optimal temperature indicators:
4–6 weeks: 37.7 – 38.3 °C
6–8 weeks: 37.7 – 38.3 °C

3. Feed them

Follow the instructions based on the kitten’s estimated age:

> The kitten is 21 days old or younger
Less than 7 days: eyes closed, ears folded, umbilical cord still present
7–14 days: eyes open, ears slightly unfolded, no umbilical cord
14–21 days: straight ears, front teeth, awkwardly trying to walk

> Up to 21 days, the kitten must absolutely be fed every three or four hours with a special formula designed for kittens, using a suitable bottle. You will find everything you need in pet stores or veterinary clinics. Warning: never give cow’s milk to a kitten. This type of milk is not suitable and can cause diarrhea and several health problems.

> The kitten is 21 days old or older
21–28 days: the kitten explores with more confidence, has canines, is able to retract its claws. When it is four weeks old, you can start giving it wet kitten food diluted with a little water, four times a day. If the kitten does not eat it, keep bottle-feeding (see above).

Regular weight gain indicates good nutrition. Use a kitchen scale and weigh the kitten to verify that it is gaining enough weight.

The kitten must be well positioned during meals. NEVER PUT A KITTEN ON ITS BACK TO FEED IT. A badly positioned kitten can suck milk into its lungs instead of swallowing it, leading to pneumonia and/or death. Kittens are more comfortable when they are in the same position as they would be while breastfeeding naturally from their mother. To obtain this position, place the kitten on its stomach on a blanket. If the kitten is agitated, you can swaddle it in a towel. 

4. Keep them clean
The mother stimulates the kittens so they defecate and urinate regularly. Kittens need to be stimulated until they are three weeks old. They should be stimulated after each meal. Kittens must urinate each time and must defecate at least once a day. The urine is pale yellow/clear and the stools are yellow-brown with a soft texture similar to toothpaste. After each meal, GENTLY rub the abdomen and genital area with a cotton ball or gauze moistened with warm water. If the kitten does not take the bottle and its abdomen seems swollen, try to stimulate urination and defecation before the meal. You can also try to burp the kitten by tapping it gently on the back. If the kitten swallows a lot of air when taking the bottle, it may be necessary to stimulate a burp after each meal in addition to urination and defecation.

5. Beware of microbes
Kittens are fragile and are at risk of developing infectious diseases. Wash your hands before and after taking care of the kittens. Ideally, use special clothing to come into the kittens’ room. Avoid contact with animals that have not been vaccinated and/or go outside. 

Do you want to keep them while finding them an adoptive family?

Think of several things:
– Their socialization: around three weeks of age, kittens need to exercise and play with their brothers and sisters. Socialization with humans can also start at this age. The critical socialization period for the kitten is between 4 and 12 weeks of age. Provide safe toys and play with them at least once a day (never with your fingers!)
– Remember to spay/neuter and vaccinate them, or make sure the future family will: we do not want to contribute to the cat overpopulation problem by letting cats breed.

If you are unable to keep the kittens until they are weaned:

Contact your region’s animal service. Above all, do not leave them in the wild! This contributes to cat overpopulation and gives them little chance of survival.

Kittens younger than two months old are less likely to survive in shelters, especially without their mother with them. Their immune systems are very vulnerable, and they can very easily get sick. By keeping them at home for a few weeks and socializing them, you are greatly helping shelters by avoiding additional admissions of very vulnerable animals into an environment that is very stressful for them. Watching kittens grow up at home is a great experience. Kittens only need a room, some food and lots of love!


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