Should I Take in an Abandoned Kitten?

Be certain kittens are really abandoned before you disturb a nest. A mom-cat can be harder to spot than the stealth bomber, but just because she’s not there now doesn’t mean she’s not around. If the kittens are clean, plump, and sleeping quietly in a heap, odds are that they’ve got an attentive mom and should be left alone.

Abandoned kittens will be dirty and the nest will be soiled, and they will cry continuously because they’re hungry. Ideally, kittens should not be taken from the mother until they are five to six weeks of age.

However, kittens born to feral mothers should be taken away, if possible, at about four weeks old. At this age, it is easy to tame them and they have gotten a full four weeks’ worth of the precious antibodies mother’s milk provides. As they get older, it gets increasingly harder to tame them.

Kittens over the age of eight weeks who have had no human contact will probably take months to tame — if it can be done at all.

Warmth and First Aid

If a rescued kitten feels cold, warm it immediately, but gently. Place it on a heating pad wrapped in a blanket or towel and on the lowest setting, or warm a hot water bottle to about 100 degrees (wrapped in a towel) and place it with the kitten. Many rescues and veterinarians have incubators to warm a chilled kitten.

Do not feed a kitten until it is warm, since it can’t properly digest when cold. It is okay, though, to syringe feed a few drops of 5% sugar water.

Kittens under three weeks old can’t control their body temperature. Keep them on a heating pad, set on low, wrapped in towels (at least two layers of towels, or one towel folded over) should cover the pad. You’ll know if it’s too hot if the kittens tend to sleep on the edges. DO NOT OVER HEAT A KITTEN, THEY SHOULD ALWAYS BE ABLE TO CRAWL TO S COOLER AREA. The heating pad should be used until the kittens are about four to five weeks old, or until you notice that they’re avoiding it. An alternative that SOME fosters prefer is a heat lamp over the kitten nest. AGAIN DO NOT OVER HEAT A KITTEN.

Kittens should be kept in a box or cat carrier in a warm, draft-free place, completely isolated from other animals. Keep the container covered with a towel or blanket; a small fleece blanket inside the carrier will also keep them cozy. Change the bedding of their “nest” daily, since kittens tend to have accidents! As they get older, they will need more room to exercise, play, and explore. A spare bathroom is ideal for this.

It is a good idea to take them immediately or as soon as possible to a veterinarian to be checked for dehydration and general condition. Take a stool sample, not more then 2 hours old) if possible to be tested for worms and parasites. Young kittens are always at risk for being dehydrated and it can happen very quickly. A dose of fluids injected under skin (subcutaneously, also known as “sub-q”) may be necessary in this case. Ask your vet or vet technician to show you how to do it. This will be convenient if your kitten becomes dehydrated rapidly or in the middle of the night. Even the most squeamish fosters have mastered this and it’s not as horrible as it sounds.

Don’t skip taking them to a vet. You can also contact your local shelter or a rescue group — like Big Reds — and ask if you can become an official “foster parent” through their organization as you raise your kitten. some organizations help cover the cost of necessary medical care as the kitten grows towards adoptable age.


Unfortunately, cow’s milk is not nutritious enough for kittens — they will slowly starve to death on it. It also causes diarrhea, which is extremely dangerous for young kittens. If you can’t get to a pet store right away, sed our emergency recipes below.

Purchase formula kitten milk from your local pet store, they usually contain a feeding bottle and nipples.


Recipes For Homemade Kitten Formula

What you can do if the pet store is closed, and you have hungry kittens that need formula. Never fear! Here are some kitten formula recipes you can make using ingredients available at most grocery stores.

It is not unusual for kittens to have some difficulties digesting cow’s milk based formulas, but they can be useful should you need to feed your kittens and can’t find a per store open who can supply you with Kitten Milk Formula such as Royal Canine.

The Cornell Book of Cats says that human baby formula can be used if made up to double the normal strength, although human baby formula is normally not nutritious enough for kittens long term.


8 ounces homogenized whole milk
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon salad oil
1 drop liquid pediatric vitamins (optional)

Mix well and warm before using. Keep refrigerated.


1 part boiled water to 5 parts evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon bone meal per 16 oz fluid

Mix well and warm before using. Keep refrigerated.


1 can evaporated milk
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons Karo syrup
1 drop liquid pediatric vitamins (optional)

Mix all three well and kept in tightly sealed jar in the fridge. At feeding time mix 1/2 of the estimated feeding amount with an equal amount of boiling water. (Once a day, mix 1 drop of human infant liquid vitamins in each kitties formula.) Always test temperature on your wrist before feeding. The combination temperature of the boiling water and chilled formula should be just about right.

If constipation occurs: add 1 drop of vegetable oil to each kitties formula no more than once daily until the problem is eased.



Stimulation and Litter Box Training

By nature, mom-cats lick the “back end” of their babies to stimulate the bowels and bladder on a regular basis. If you are the babies’ new mom-cat, guess who gets this duty! After each feeding, gently rub the kitten on its low abdomen, as well as the genitals and rectum, with a fresh cotton ball, cotton pad, or with tissues moistened with warm water. Make sure you rub only long enough to get them to eliminate. Overstimulation will irritate the area. Keep an eye out for chafing and lingering dirt.

Kittens should — and almost always will — urinate during each stimulation. They should defecate at least once a day. One trick is to slowly count to 60 while you’re stimulating a kitten. At that point, you’ll know if they’re done or if something’s on its way out!

When kittens get to be about four weeks old, they are usually ready to experience the wonderful world of litterboxes — and you’ll be liberated from stimulation duty! Please note that, small kittens can end up ingesting the clumping kind of litter and it can cause problems internally. After each meal, put the kitten in the box and see what transpires. If they don’t get it right away, try taking its paw and showing it how to scratch in the litter. They’ll catch on before you know it!

Cleaning and Flea Control

Kittens will often get very dirty and mucked-up in between cleanings. It’s okay to wash a kitten with warm water under a sink faucet, but try to focus only on the areas where they need it. A simple “butt-bath” will usually do the trick, but if you must get a kitten wet over more than half of its body, it’s safe to dry kittens over one week old with a hair dryer set on low and used very carefully, avoiding their faces.

You should also check their ears regularly for dirt and — especially after initial rescue — ear mites. Dirt can be cleaned gently with a cotton ball or swab. Consult your vet if you find the tell-tale ear mite “coffee-ground” type dirt.

If you find fleas or flea dirt on kittens of any age, you must get them flea-free as soon as possible. Young kittens can easily get anemia from flea infestation and really endanger its life. First, use a flea comb to remove as much of the dirt and fleas from the fur as you can. Ask your vet for a flea treatment that’s okay to use on very young kittens. Always read the warnings on any flea product to confirm at which age it is safe! Place the kitten on a towel for about 20 minutes, and then discard the towel with the dead and dying fleas that have come from the kitten. Coconut oil rubbish over the body also acts as a natural flea treatment.

If you don’t have a safe flea treatment you can wash the kitten with a gentle dishwashing soap like Palmolive (do not use antibacterial soap!), or a citrus-based shampoo, and comb all the fleas out afterwards. Make sure water temperature is lukewarm so as not to chill the kitten. Dry the kitten, if old enough, with a blow dryer or you can towel-dry it, then put it in a carrier and aim the blow dryer into it the carrier to gently dry the kitten with warm, circulating air.

Other skin irritations to look for are ringworm and mange. If a kitten is scratching excessively and there are bare patches where fur is missing, isolate the kitten from littermates and consult a vet immediately for treatment.

Weight Gain

Kittens should gain about ½ ounce every day, or 4 ounces per week. Weigh them at the same time each day with a kitchen scale or small postal scale. Lack of gain or weight loss beyond 24 hours is cause for alarm and requires a visit to the vet. Their bellies should always be rotund — if you squeeze them between two fingers and slowly try to bring the fingers together, you should NOT be able to do it! You can check to make sure a kitten is properly hydrated by pulling up the skin at the scruff of the neck. If it bounces back nicely, hydration is good. If it doesn’t bounce back, or goes back down slowly, they will need at least one dose of sub-q fluids.


Weaning occurs at about four to five weeks of age, but keep in mind that some kittens take a bit longer, especially without a mom-cat to show them the wonders of eating solid food. You will know that a kitten is ready for the weaning process when it is (a) biting its nipple often and forcefully, and (b) able to lick formula from your finger. The next step is to get the kitten to lap up formula from a spoon. Once they’ve mastered that, try putting it in a flat dish.

At that point, you can mix the kitten formula with wet kitten food into a gruel and try to get the kittens to lap it up from a dish or a spoon, gradually reducing the amount of formula until they’re eating just the food. It is not uncommon for weight gain to slow and minor, temporary diarrhea to occur during weaning.

Some kittens grasp the concept right away; others take days. Keep bottle feeding while weaning to make sure they get enough to eat. Reduce bottle feeding as their solid-food consumption grows. If you give dry food, moisten it, because kittens can’t chew dry food well until about eight weeks old. Royal Canin does sell a young kitten dry food that has extremely small kibbles that young kittens can easily eat.

Remember that changes in diet can quickly cause diarrhea, so keep an eye on your kitten’s stools. Diarrhea can be life-threatening to a kitten if left untreated. Usually, a dose of one or more types of antibiotics prescribed by your vet will get them back on track.

Development Milestones

Tiny kittens weigh about 2–4 ounces at birth. They should double their body weight in the first week.

Eyes open at 7–10 days. If eyes seem to be pus-filled or sealed shut, open and clean with a warm wet cloth and apply Terramycin ointment (sold at pet stores) until the infection clears up. If it doesn’t, consult your vet as it may be a more serious eye infection. Kitten eyes will stay blue until they are about six to seven weeks old, but true eye color won’t settle in until the kitten is about three months old.

At about three weeks old, they will start crawling around. At three and a half weeks, the ears will start to stand up. At four weeks, they’ll start to play with each other and develop teeth.

A first dose of roundworm medication (procox) may be given when they are as young as two weeks old. A second dose should be given two weeks after the first. Tapeworms may be treated at six weeks. Please consult with your veterinarian on safe worm treatment. 

The first FVRCP (3-in-1) vaccination should be given at six to 8 weeks old, with a series of two more given 21–30 days after the previous vaccination. If you want to vaccinate against FeLV (feline leukemia), the first vaccination should be given at eight weeks old. Consult your veterinarian for schedule of follow-up vaccinations; these vary with vaccination brands and types.

When the kitten reaches 5 to 6 months they are ready to be spayed or neutered, your vet will advise on this.

Love and Attention

This part’s the easy one. Emotional and physical closeness to you is as important to a kitten as is food and warmth. Pet the kitten often, letting it snuggle. You’ll be surprised how this early cuddle activity will stay a basic instinct as the cat grows into an adult. We’ve found that hand-raised kittens have a much deeper bond to their owners and are highly loyal, intelligent, and affectionate. Playing with the kitten with a variety of toys is also important. This will help them develop motor skills and also help them bond to you.

Once kittens are about six weeks old and healthy, it’s okay to let them interact with other cats and even dogs — though they should have been isolated for at least 21 days, been tested for feline leukemia and given their first vaccination before integrating them with other pets.

One Final Thought

All this sounds much harder than it really is. Raising “bottle-babies” is a labor of love for almost everyone who takes it on! Keep in mind, though, that it can be a difficult process and some things are beyond our control. If you “lose” a kitten, you should never blame yourself. Taking on an abandoned kitten is a wonderful and educational undertaking. Bravo!