Adoption and Rehoming

Don't Kitnap Kittens

When we find a kitten, or a litter of kittens, our first impulse is to want to help them. But should you move them or remove them? Not always. In some cases, they are better off remaining with their mother.

Don’t Kitnap Kittens is a guide that walks you through the process of determining when kittens need help, and when they don’t. Its primary goal is to keep kittens with their mother as long as possible, instead of artificially creating orphan kittens.

Kittens are one of the most fragile and vulnerable of the animal populations that we serve. It takes a village to help support these little lives and ensure proper population control.

An animal organization, no matter how well-run, is not the best place for un-weaned kittens. They are prone to upset stomachs from kitten formula and are vulnerable to infections. Kittens that are separated from their mother too early, particularly if they are on their own, often develop behaviour problems that become lifelong issues.

The best kitten welfare and care comes from a combination of trap-neuter-return programs (TNR), public education, foster recruitment, and support from pet lovers, just like you, in our community.

What you should do when you find a kitten

See below for our breakdown on what you should and shouldn’t do when you find a kitten. Each step has an in-depth information section available in our numbered dropdown menus.To download the full interactive PDF infographic click here.

If kittens are healthy and doing well with mom, they should be left where they are until they can be socialized and adopted. Some kittens do need our help. If the kittens are cold, dirty, wet or injured, or if the mom is unable to care for them, they need help. To find out if the kittens you have found need help, click here.

Kittens start to eat some soft food from about 3 weeks of age and gradually transition to harder food when their back teeth start to come in. By 6 weeks, they should be confidently eating hard food such as kibble. A kitten that is able to eat solid food on its own is at a good age for socialization in a foster home. If the mom is friendly and enjoys petting, though, the family can be moved indoors immediately.

If you aren’t able to observe if the kittens are eating solid food, use this guide to decide how old they are, based on physical appearance, activity and interactions with each other.

If the kittens are alone when you find them, that doesn’t mean they have been abandoned. If the kittens are healthy, that means their mother has been taking care of them. So long as they are in a safe location, we recommend you wait a few hours to see if the mom comes back. If you can’t watch for her, you can sprinkle flour on the ground nearby and look for paw prints later!

If you do see the mom nearby, see SECTION 5: Do the kittens enjoy petting? 

The “Don’t Kitnap Kittens” initiative recognizes that tiny kittens belong with mom, and that removing them too young has negative impacts on their heath and welfare. So long as the kittens are healthy, we recommend you wait to see if the mother will return. The best place for tiny kittens is with their mother. Here’s why:

  • The best food for un-weaned kittens is their mother’s milk. Kitten formula is lifesaving, but it doesn’t contain antibodies that newborn kittens desperately need to fight disease. It can also cause diarrhea or constipation in many kittens.
  • Kittens need to suckle. Almost 40% of orphaned un-weaned kittens suckle on other kittens, often on the genitals. This can lead to serious medical problems and often requires separation of kittens from their siblings, who are their only source of comfort.
  •  The best company for un-weaned kittens is their mother and siblings. They learn normal behaviours from their family. Kittens that are removed from their mother very young often have abnormal behaviours that can be permanent problems for the kittens and their adopters.
  •  Animal organizations are not always the best places for kittens. Despite everything we do to prevent illness, kittens remain the most vulnerable population in the building and are prone to diseases, like upper respiratory infection, pneumonia anddiarrhea.Sometimes these diseases are fatal. The younger they are, the more vulnerable they are.
  •  Even foster homes can be dangerous. If caregivers foster many kittens, resistant bugs can remain in the home and cause serious illness. These resistant infections include panleukopenia, calicivirus, Giardia and coccidiosis

How about the mom? There are multiple consequences to removing kittens from a nursing mom.

  • Mother cats are famously devoted to their kittens. Removing young kittens is emotionally distressing for mother cats.
  •  Sudden removal of kittens can cause mastitis (teat infection). Mastitis is painful at best, and can cause serious illness and even death in severe cases.
  • Cats cycle again very quickly after kittens are removed. That means… more kittens! If a cat can’t be trapped and spayed, taking her kittens away just leads to more litters. Population control is the cornerstone of reducing shelter intake and euthanasia. Multiple litters in a season also drain the cat’s physical reserves and make her weaker and more susceptible to infection.

It’s quite easy to assess if kittens enjoy petting. But first, some safety tips.

Try to approach the kittens when the mom is not nearby, because mother cats can be very protective of their babies, and serious injuries can result. Rabies is a rare, but deadly, result of a bite from an unvaccinated animal, so always seek medical attention if you do get injured.

When you are sure the mom is not a threat, take a few minutes to allow the kittens to get used to your presence. Place some tasty kitten food near them and see if they eat it. Then, if they are still calm, hold out your hand and speak softly to the kittens. Socialized kittens will usually be relaxed, or just slightly tense, and allow you to touch them. Un-socialized kittens will flatten their ears, puff up their fur, hiss or run away. If kittens show these behaviours, don’t try to touch them. Once they are mobile, they can bite or scratch if they feel highly threatened.

If you do see the mom nearby, stay where you are, or back away quietly if you are anywhere near the kittens. Sit quietly at a safe distance and see if she stays where she is or approaches you.

If she approaches in a friendly way (ears pricked, tail up, meowing, rubbing her head on nearby objects), hold out your hand and let her come to you. If she is friendly and wants to be petted, think about bringing her and the kittens into your home and taking care of them until they can be adopted. Contact us about our Foster-Finder program or how to get the mom and kittens into our regular foster program. Don’t forget to first talk to your neighbours in case one of them has lost their cat!

If the mother cat stays put, with a tense body, swishes her tail, flattens her ears, hisses or puffs up her fur, move away quietly and quickly. She is letting you know she feels threatened and will defend her kittens from you.

If you are sure the mom is not returning, these kittens will need help right away.

See our kitten care information page for immediate care information for emergency formula instructions.

There are three options for finders of kittens without a mom:

  1. Take care of them on your own. Visit our Don’t Kitnap Kittens resources for information about feeding, socializing and caring for kittens.
  2. Become a Toronto Humane Society Foster Parent and look after them with our help and support. Contact foster@torontohumanesociety.com or call 416.392.2273 ext. 2398.
  3. Bring them to our location where we will take care of them and find them a foster home. Contact our Pet Parent Support Network.

For a more information view our expanded documents:

To reach out to us for more information about our kitten foster program and support from Toronto Humane Society call us at 416-392-2273 ext. 2248 or contact our Pet Parent Support Network. 

Skip to content