What to Do If You Find Sick or Abandoned Kittens

by | May 29, 2021

Springtime and summer in California and Nevada bring many wonderful things with them; blooming flowers, sunshine, and loads of adorable baby animals, including kittens. Shelters and rescue groups in the area see an increase in the number of kittens found or surrendered between the months of April and October, with June reported as the peak.

Cats are especially prolific animals—an unspayed female can have up to three litters per year, averaging about four kittens per litter. Female cats experience their first heat at just six months old and they do not experience menopause. This means that unspayed females, which can easily produce up to a dozen new kittens each year, are fertile for all but the first six months of their lives.

There are many feral and free-roaming cats in the cities that Comforted Kitty services, and it’s entirely feasible that you or someone you know might run across a litter of seemingly unattended kittens. Young kittens can be delicate, and if you do encounter a litter that appears to be younger than eight weeks old, it’s important that you know what to do. Their lives may depend on it.

, What to Do If You Find Sick or Abandoned Kittens, The Comforted Kitty

“such an adorable little baby (365-114)” by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Evaluate the situation

While your first instinct might be to spring into action and rescue the helpless-looking babies, it may not be the best course of action. Kittens are challenging to properly care for and mother cats are typically better equipped for the task than humans are, and it is rare that an unattended nest of kittens is actually abandoned.

, What to Do If You Find Sick or Abandoned Kittens, The Comforted Kitty

“Fluff and her second litter of kittens.” by Roly-sisaphus is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In most cases, the mother cat has just gone off to hunt and will return to her kittens in a few short hours. If the kittens look active, plump, and without any obvious parasites, they are probably being well cared for. Unless there is imminent harm to them—predators, inadequate shelter, or a toxic environment—leave the kittens where they are. The best course of action is usually to let the mother cat raise them on her own until they are old enough to be weaned.

, What to Do If You Find Sick or Abandoned Kittens, The Comforted Kitty

If the kittens have crusting around their eyes or nose, are excessively dirty, appear emaciated, parasites crawling on them, or are otherwise in imminent danger, the situation may call for more decisive action. Contact animal control in your area, or a local rescue group. They can help you evaluate whether or not the kittens need emergency medical care.

  • San Fransisco Animal Care and Control- Animal-related emergencies (415) 554-9400 and non-emergency situations (415) 554-6364
  • LA Animal Services- Animal emergencies (888) 452-7381 lost animal non-emergency line (888) 452-7381
  • City of Sacramento Animal Care Services- Animal emergencies within city limits either dial 311 or call (916) 808-7387, outside of city limits call (916) 264-5011
    • If it is after business hours, the city suggests contacting one of the 24-hour emergency veterinary hospitals in the area, including, but not limited to:
      • VCA Mueller Pet Medical Center – (916) 428-9202
      • Vista Veterinary Specialists – (916) 231-4445
      • UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine – (530) 752-1393 or (530) 752-0290
  • Oakland Animal Services- Animal-related emergencies (510) 777-3333 and non-emergency situations (510) 535-5602
  • City of San Jose Animal Care Center- Emergency services (including injured or sick strays or wildlife) (408) 794-7297, after-hours contact either
  • VCA Bay Area Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Hospital at (510) 483-7387 or the non-emergency police line at (510) 777-3333
    Solano County Animal Control contact information
    • Vallejo- Solano County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control (707) 784-4733
    • Benicia – Benicia Police Department non-emergency number (707) 745-3412
    • Dixon, Fairfield, Rio Vista, Suisun City, and Vacaville- Humane Animal Services (707) 449-1700
    • Unincorporated Solano County- Solano County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control (707) 784-4733
  • North Las Vegas Animal Control (702) 633-1390
  • City of Las Vegas Animal Control (702) 229-6444
  • City of Henderson Animal Control (702) 267-4970

Leave for a few hours

, What to Do If You Find Sick or Abandoned Kittens, The Comforted Kitty

Feral cats have been known to abandon kittens due to humans lurking too nearby their nests. If the kittens look healthy and there does not appear to be any imminent danger, do not handle them in any way and leave the area. Do not linger any longer than is needed to evaluate the situation, and touch as little as possible. Stay at least 30 or 35 feet away from the kittens to avoid spooking mom and check back at intervals of about six to eight hours.

Re-evaluate the situation

, What to Do If You Find Sick or Abandoned Kittens, The Comforted Kitty

Kittens that remain healthy are likely being cared for, even if you are unable to spot the mother cat. The best way to support kittens in this situation is to just keep monitoring the situation. Leaving food and water out for the mother cat may be helpful, especially if it is a large litter or you can see that she is struggling.

Remember to place food an adequate distance from the den. Food that is positioned too close to the cat and her kittens risks other predators investigating, placing both the mother and kittens in additional danger.

Shelter or home care?

, What to Do If You Find Sick or Abandoned Kittens, The Comforted Kitty

While shelters and rescues take in as many needy cats and kittens as they can, the number of kittens born during kitten season often overwhelms the system. Many cities ask that citizens who find abandoned or orphaned kittens help by caring for them until at least eight weeks of age. This gives the kittens their best chance at survival and eases the burden on the shelter system.

, What to Do If You Find Sick or Abandoned Kittens, The Comforted Kitty

If you are certain that the mother isn’t coming back, or if the kittens are in imminent danger, you may be the kittens’ best chance at survival. Your local humane society or animal control should be able to lead you to the proper resources to bottle feed and care for newborn kittens. Here are a few tips to get you started with at-home care for the first few days.

  • Keep the kittens warm with body heat, warm towels, or gentle ambient heat. Do not use hot water bottles, electric blankets, or heaters as these can get too warm.
  • Unless recommended by a veterinary professional, avoid bathing young kittens. Gently wipe down any dirty areas, and avoid letting the kitten get soaked. Submerging young kittens in water can lead to dangerous chills.
  • Weigh the kittens. Sudden weight loss can be the first indicator of a problem, knowing your kittens’ starting weights will help you to better assess their health.
  • Don’t dismiss fleas! If you see fleas on the kittens, get medical assistance as soon as possible. An infestation of fleas can easily become fatal for small kittens if left untreated.
  • Wait until kittens are warmed before feeding them. Cold kittens cannot digest their food.
  • Do not feed kittens plain cow’s milk! It can lead to gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea. Your best choice is to obtain cat milk replacement formula from your nearest veterinarian or pet store. If you are unable to get replacement formula right away, these recipes may help get your new charges through the next 24 hours. The recipes listed are only suitable as a temporary solution, and replacement formula should be acquired as soon as possible.
  • Feed kittens every four to six hours, around the clock.
  • Gently wipe the kittens’ bottoms with a warm damp cloth or tissue 15-30 minutes after eating to stimulate elimination.

If all of this sounds like a big responsibility to you, you’re right, it is. It isn’t, however, a responsibility you have to shoulder all on your own.

Don’t do it alone!

, What to Do If You Find Sick or Abandoned Kittens, The Comforted Kitty

Once you have chosen to foster a litter, take time to explore the animal control and humane society websites in your city or county. Some locations, such as San Francisco, offer free care kits to help foster newborns, others, like San Jose, partner with local fostering programs, and many provide additional helpful instructions, resources, and videos to help you on your journey.

Contacting a professional cat sitting service like The Comforted Kitty or employing experienced friends or family members to help lighten the load will help ensure that the little furballs get their best start in life and that your fostering experience is one filled with joy and laughter.


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