The following are common questions the National Kitten Coalition receives.
If you have a question that is not addressed here, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also offer consulting services to individual organizations where we give in-depth suggestions and recommendations on how to save more kitten lives, addressing any number of challenges or issues an organization may be facing. Contact us at email@example.com for details.
Please note that the following FAQ is for informational purposes only. The Coalition does not provide veterinary services, and this information is not intended to replace veterinary care. You should always consult a licensed veterinarian for any health issues related to the animals in your care.
What is an underage or neonatal kitten?
We define a neonatal kitten as one who is unweaned and requires extensive, around-the-clock care, including bottle feeding. Typically, they are under four weeks of age and cannot survive on their own without their mother or a surrogate caregiver. Underage usually means a kitten is less than eight weeks old. In most localities, eight weeks is the minimum age for adoption. While a healthy kitten will weigh approximately two pounds at eight weeks of age, we encourage you to check out our Determining Age information sheet to get a more accurate age estimation. Please note that many localities spay or neuter healthy kittens at eight weeks of age as long as a minimum weight threshold is met.
My kitten won’t take the bottle. What’s wrong?
There are many reasons a kitten may not suckle from a bottle. One major reason is that the kitten is too old for bottle feeding and ready to eat wet food. See the Determining Age informational sheet for more information on how to determine the age of a kitten. Two other reasons a kitten may not want to nurse from a bottle include an issue with the formula (not warm to the touch) or the size of the nipple (opening is too small).
How much and how often should I feed the kitten?
How much formula to feed and how often to feed depends on the weight, age and physical condition of the kitten. Younger kittens or physically debilitated kittens need to be fed smaller amounts more often than older or healthier kittens. See our Kitten Feeding Chart informational sheet to help determine what feeding schedule is right for your kitten.
What is “kitten season”?
“Kitten season” is the time of year when the majority of kittens are born and, subsequently, the time when most shelters and rescues are inundated with underage kittens. In most areas of the United States, it runs from March through September. Keep in mind, however, that kittens can be born at any time during the year, and in warmer climates, “kitten season” can run longer or exist all year.
Where do all these kittens come from?
Most are turned in to shelters or rescue organizations by members of the public who find them. The majority are the result of community cats who are not spayed or neutered. Some are truly motherless, and some are simply found when the mother may be out hunting or scared off by noises or activity.
If I find kittens without a mother, should I pick them up?
This decision is problematic. The mother cat may be off hunting or hiding and will return. If the kittens are in a safe situation, it is often best to wait and watch for mom for a couple hours. However, if the situation is unsafe due to weather, predators (including human) or physical conditions, you may have no choice but to take the kittens. You will need to assess the situation and use good judgment. Please note that even tiny kittens have very sharp claws and even as early as three weeks have sharp teeth. Exercise caution or contact your local animal welfare organization about the kittens.
What is the first thing I should do once I have the kittens?
Kittens less than five to six weeks of age cannot regulate their body temperature, so warmth is most important. Any kitten who is cold will need to be warmed slowly. Kittens should feel very warm to the touch as their normal body temperature is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Feeding kittens who are not warm and hydrated is very dangerous; take them to a vet if you have any questions. See the webinar we created for Alley Cat Allies, Help! I Found a Kitten!, for details on immediate critical care.
What should I feed the kittens?
If the kittens are older than five weeks of age, they will be able to eat solid food. You should use canned kitten food mixed with a little water. Neonatal kittens need to be fed a special kitten milk replacement formula available at pet supply stores, preferably with a bottle, but a syringe can also be used. Do NOT use “Cat Milk” which is meant as a treat/supplement for older cats, and never use cow’s milk. A homemade formula can be used only in an emergency, but should be replaced as soon as possible with a quality kitten commercial milk replacement formula (e.g. KMR, Breeders’ Edge or Just Born). The formula should be mixed according to the instructions on the label and warmed (be careful that the formula is not hot by testing it on your wrist). After feeding you will need to burp and then stimulate the kittens to urinate and defecate until they are about three weeks old.
What happens if I take the kittens to my local animal shelter?
Many shelters do not have the ability to care for underage kittens. You should always ask if the shelter has a foster or rescue partnership program to take the kittens until they are old enough for adoption. While many shelters have foster and rescue partnership programs, others may not have the ability to care for very young kittens. Remember that you are the advocate for the kitten you have found, so be sure to ask whatever questions you may have to ensure that your expectations about the kitten’s outcome are met.
The kittens have diarrhea. How should I help them?
Please see the webinar we created for Alley Cat Allies, Basic Kitten Medical Issues, for information. Diarrhea is not a disease itself, but can be a symptom of many different illnesses. If it is severe, it is life threatening; the kittens should see a veterinarian immediately.
Can I give the kittens a bath?
Yes, you can. In fact, we recommend bathing to remove any dirt/chemicals from the kitten, and in underage kittens it may be the safest way to remove external parasites such as fleas (note that many medicated flea treatments cannot be used on underage kittens). The most important thing to remember is NEVER let the kittens become chilled. Additional bathing instructions are available in the webinar we created for Alley Cat Allies, Advanced Feline Bottle Baby Care.
When are the kittens ready for adoption?
Most localities require kittens to be eight weeks old before being available for adoption. You can contact your local shelter or rescue group for more information. Kittens should be checked by a veterinarian, vaccinated, tested for FIV/FeLV and spayed or neutered before adoption. For the safety of the kittens, DO NOT offer them as “free to good home.” You should require at least a written contract and a small adoption fee to help weed out those people who may not have good intentions. Good photos and an interesting bio will help attract good adopters.