Please do not pick up kittens. It will be your responsibility to foster kittens that you pick up. Mother cats may be out for several hours at a time, so wait somewhere unobserved to see if she returns. Allow the mother to continue caring for the kittens where you found them. As great as fosters are they are no substitute for the care a mother cat can provide. Kittens can be trapped, neutered, and returned when they are 8 weeks old and 2 lbs. FCAP is not responsible for the placement, fostering, adoption, socialization, and wellness of feral kittens.
Taking in Feral Kittens
Kittens with Mother
Allow the mother to continue caring for the kittens where you found them. As great as fosters are they are no substitute for the care a mother cat can provide. Unfortunately, she may move the kittens so try to make the location as comfortable and attractive as possible. To help deter her from moving them provide her with a comfortable shelter and food and water.
Bring them into your home to establish an age, medical, and feeding needs. At this point you must act quickly because neonate kittens are very fragile. Kittens should be alert and warm to the touch. If they feel cold or appear listless warm them up immediately. Chilling is a major cause of death in many neonate kittens, this can happen in just a few hours. Do not attempt to feed a chilled kitten. Place the kitten in a box or pet carrier if you have a heating pad wrap it in a towel and set it on low. Only place it on one side of the box, this will allow the kittens to move away from it if it becomes too hot.
- Under One Week: Eyes are shut, ears are flat to the head, and skin looks pinkish. Part of the umbilical cord may still be attached.
- 1 week to 10 days: Eyes are beginning to open, ears are still flat. A kitten at this age is smaller than your hand.
- 3 weeks: Eyes are fully open, ears are erect, and teeth are visible. Kittens at this age are just starting to walk and they will appear wobbly.
- 4-5 weeks: Eyes have changed from blue to another color and/or kittens are beginning to pounce and leap. Kittens at this age will not need its mother milk anymore. They can begin to eat regular cat food.
- 8 weeks: Kittens at this age will weigh approximately two pounds. This will make them of age and weight to be neutered/spayed and to be adopted into a home as long as they are socialized and friendly.
Under 4 Weeks
Kittens cannot be feed until they are warmed, feeding a chilled kitten can be dangerous. Do not feed kittens cows' milk it will cause diarrhea which can lead to dehydration. You will need to purchase KMR which is a milk replacement sold at local pet stores along with a special bottle for feeding. Milk replacement will need to be slightly warmed; test on your wrist to make sure it’s not too hot or too cold. Some people find that the premixed liquid formula is easier to use than the powder form. Depending on the kittens age they will need to be feed every two to four hours and will need 1 to 2 mls at each feeding per cat. If the cat is not gaining weight than you will want to increase the amount the cat is fed and if the cat has diarrhea it may be getting to much so decrease the amount. Remember to treat the feeding utensils just like you would for a human baby. Bacteria can cause gastrointestinal upset and other complications. To prepare the bottle, pierce a hole in the nipple with a pin or make a tiny slit with a razor blade. Make sure the flow is just right by tipping the bottle upside down. Milk should slowly drip out if light pressure is applied. If the milk flows out with little to no pressure added than the hole is too big and will cause the kitten to aspirate fluid into his lungs. This can cause pneumonia or even drowning. If you have to apply a fair amount of pressure to get the milk to drip out than the hole is too small. You can add an extra hole by using the needle and continue until it is just right.
You can also use a dropper or a needless syringe to feed, but remember newborns do not have a well developed gag reflux so go
extremely slow to prevent fluids from entering the lungs. Never feed kittens on their backs always feed them on their bellies without raising the kittens head place the nipple in its mouth. It should start nursing right away but it could take a few tries so be patient. Just like a human baby the kitten will need to be burped in the same manner. Place the kitten over your shoulder and gently pat the kitten on its back.
At 3 weeks some kittens will be able to lap up milk out of a bowl, but they will still require bottle feeding. The weaning process will be messy you can start this by placing formula in a shallow bowl or plastic lid. Once they have started showing interest you can start to add a little canned wet food until it thickens a bit. You can gradually increase until its only canned wet food.
4 Weeks and Older
At 4 weeks of age kittens should be able to eat completely on their own and you can gradually switch them to eating dry food. As messy as your fosters can get the best way to remove food is with a warm damp wash cloth. If you decide to bathe a kitten only use dawn dish soap. Cat and dog shampoos contain chemicals that can cause death or illness to a kitten less than 8 weeks of age. Bathing to often can lead to dry irritated skin and may chill the kitten. Please try to keep them warm and dry.
You will have to stimulate kittens 2 weeks and under to use the restroom. Kittens older than 2 weeks will be able to urinate and defecate on their own. Their mother would normally lick the genital area; you can mimic this by using a warm moist wash cloth or cotton ball. Do this before and after every feeding. Don’t worry if the kitten does not defecate right away it could take a couple feedings. Remember to dry the kittens after so they will not become chilled. If you notice a kitten trying to nurse on another kitten they will need to be separate immediately this can cause bruising, skin infections, and urinary tract infections.The color of the urine should be a pale amber color if it is dark yellow this could be a sign that the kitten is dehydrated. Kittens older than 2 weeks will be able to urinate and defecate on their own.
Kittens that are not exposed to humans at an early age will only learn from their mothers and will become feral. However, if caught and handled at a young age feral kittens can be rehabilitated and placed into loving homes.
How to Get Started
Adult feral cats are not socialized to people. Never attempt to handle an adult feral. If kittens are caught at an early age they can be socialized and placed into a loving home. Depending on the kittens age it could take anywhere from a few days to even weeks to socialize them. Kittens that are four weeks of age that have finished weaning can be taken away from their mothers. At this age it is pretty easy to socialize a feral kitten. Kittens that are left with the colony after four weeks will take longer to socialize and you will not be able to socialize kittens if they are still with their colony.
You may need to confine the kittens in a crate, carrier, or cage. You can also use a small room that does not have carpeting or rugs. Make sure you remove anything the kittens may crawl under, destroy, or could get potentially injured by. Do not let feral kittens run loose in your home. They can hide in small spaces. Large rooms can be frightening and its best to separate them
from any household pets in case the kittens are harboring any diseases.
Make time to spend with each kitten individually. By separating them you can see who needs more socialization. Make sure you include a small litter box and food and water. Place something in the carrier or room that will help keep the kittens warm, like a blanket or stuffed animals. Just remember kittens are messy so don’t use anything that you don’t want ruined.
Food is the key to taming kittens. Allow kittens to free feed on dry food if they are old enough. Please refer to the Feeding section of this article to determine the kittens feeding needs. Give the kittens tasty wet food twice a day and wait patiently for them to eat in front of you. They may hesitate at first but eventually they will associate your presence with food.
Older kittens will need more time to establish trust so go slow. One way to gain the trust of older kittens is by feeding them wet food from a spoon. Don’t make any attempts to pet the kittens let the kittens approach you for affection. Always take caution when handling kittens. Use low voices and approach kittens in a non-threatening manner. Once the kitten gains some trust you can start to incorporate toys into your socialization process. Never let the kittens to scratch, bite, or play with your hands.