Discover the best way to help kittens you find alone without their mum with our step-by-step guide
If you find a lone kitten or litter of kittens and they appear to be abandoned or orphaned, then you might want to immediately pick them up and get them to safety. However, this might not be the best thing to do for the kittens, so it’s important to keep calm and assess the situation first.
Should you handle newborn kittens?
It’s possible that the mother cat is still looking after the kittens but has been temporarily scared away by something, perhaps by your presence, or is out searching for food. Therefore, unless the kittens are in direct danger, keep away from them for three to four hours and then check back to see if the mum has returned. You could even leave some cat food nearby to entice the mum back to her kittens.
It’s best for kittens to remain with their mother for the first eight weeks of their life, as they get important antibodies from her milk that help protect them from infectious diseases, and they learn useful skills and behaviours from her. If you try to handle or move newborn kittens when their mum is still caring for them, she may then reject them or even kill them.
If the kittens are in direct danger
Try to get a good look at the kittens from a safe distance and if they look cold, wet or sick, or their environment is not safe, contact a local vet, the local Cats Protection branch or centre, or the RSPCA (for England and Wales), USPCA (for Northern Ireland) or SSPCA (for Scotland). They will be able to give you advice on the best way to help the kittens, or come and collect them and take them to safety.
If the mum comes back to the kittens
If the kittens appear healthy and you see the mum return to care for them:
- do not disturb the mum and kittens. The mum will be best placed to look after her kittens and keep them safe. If you approach or handle the kittens, you may scare the mum away again and risk her not returning
- if you’d like to provide them with some protection from the elements, you could set up some shelter nearby, such as a sturdy box turned on its side. Don’t move the kittens yourself though, leave the mum to do this if she wants to
- if you’d like to leave some food and water for the mum cat, place some kitten food in a bowl nearby. Kitten food is high in calories, which mum cats need while they are looking after and feeding young kittens. Keep fresh water topped up in a shallow bowl nearby, making sure the kittens can’t accidentally fall into it and drown
- contact the local Cats Protection branch or centre who will be able to get the mum cat and kittens neutered once the kittens are old enough. If the mum is a friendly stray they will also be able to check her for a microchip to see if she has an owner, and if she doesn’t they can then find her a new home. If she is a feral cat, they will neuter her and return her to her familiar territory. If the kittens have not been socialised to humans in their first eight weeks, then they will be feral and will need to be neutered and returned to their territory
If the mum does not come back to the kittens
Abandoned kittens cannot survive for very long without food and warmth. If the kittens have been alone for over four hours and the mum has not returned:
- try to determine the age of the kittens using our guide. This will be useful for working out what level of care they need
- contact a local vet, the local Cats Protection branch or centre, or the RSPCA (for England and Wales), USPCA (for Northern Ireland) or SSPCA (for Scotland) to see if they can take the kittens in and hand-rear them
- if the vet or charity does not have the capacity to help, you can hand-rear the kittens yourself. However, be aware that this is a very time-intensive process as young kittens need round-the-clock care. For advice on how to hand-rear kittens, take a look at our guide
Find out more about what to do if you've found a cat.