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