If you stumble upon a litter of kittens, your first instinct might be to immediately bring them to the nearest animal shelter. However, animal shelters nationwide are currently experiencing record high intake and low adoptions, resulting in extreme over-crowding. Young kittens are incredibly vulnerable to infection and stress in overcrowded, noisy animal shelters.

Fortunately, there are alternative actions you can take that might be in the best interest of the kittens. Here’s a guideline based on whether the kittens are orphaned or still have their mothers:

  1. Kittens With Their Mother:

Do Not Disturb: Often, the mother cat might be out hunting for food, and she will return. Before you intervene, observe from a distance for a few hours to see if she comes back.

Provide Food & Shelter: If the mother returns, you can offer her food and water at a distance without disturbing the kittens. You can also provide a sheltered spot for the mother and kittens if they are exposed to the elements or potential dangers.

Spay/Neuter: Once the kittens are old enough (typically around 8 weeks), consider trapping the whole family and having them spayed or neutered. This will prevent future unwanted litters.

  1. Orphaned Kittens:

Check Their Health: Before touching them, ensure they are truly orphaned. If they’re in good health, warm, and have full bellies, their mother might just be away. However, if they are cold, crying, or appear sickly, they may indeed be orphans.

Keep Them Warm: Kittens can’t regulate their body temperature well. Ensure they’re kept warm with a heating pad set on low, wrapped in a towel, or a warm water bottle. Find excellent advice on keeping kittens warm, and how to safely use a heating pad or disk, here.

Feeding: Never give kittens cow’s milk. It can cause digestive issues. Instead, opt for a kitten milk replacement formula, available at most pet stores. You can learn everything you need to know to bottle-feed a kitten here.

Stimulate Them: Very young kittens need stimulation to urinate and defecate. Use a warm, wet cotton ball or cloth and gently rub their genital area after each feeding.

Seek Help: Caring for orphaned kittens is time-consuming. Consider reaching out to local rescue groups or foster networks. They might have experienced caregivers who can take on the kittens or guide you in their care.

Whether you’ve found kittens with their mother or orphaned ones, your intention to help is admirable. Remember that taking them directly to an overcrowded shelter is not the best solution. Sometimes, with a little effort and community support, we can create a more direct path to a loving forever home for these feline bundles of joy.