Kitten Rescue Tips
Rescuing a kitten does not mean climbing a tree to save it. It means getting the kittens into a box or carrier to transport them to us, or for us to pick up. The best way to approach this is usually dependent on the kittens’ age.
Kittens that are under three weeks old are the easiest to rescue, but it is relatively easy to rescue most kittens up to six weeks in age. However, before you act, there are several things to consider in planning the action. One of these is where is the mother cat? Keep in mind that this could be an opportunity to help the mother as well as the kittens. That information is also important in judging how likely it is that you can leave them where you found them, return later for the rescue and still find the kittens in the same location.
Other considerations in kitten rescue are what the most suitable type of carrier or box is to use in the rescue and whether food can be used to lure the kittens to you. Tips for rescuing kittens at different ages are provided below.
Rescuing Very Young Kittens
Very young kittens (under three weeks) are usually found huddled in a small pile, trying to be still and quiet, not seeming to move much, like they are pretending to be invisible. When found like this, their mother is likely to be nearby and likely to return soon to feed them. When very young kittens are crying, though, it is likely that their mother has not been to see them in several hours and they are hungry, which could mean that something has happened to the mother cat and that the kittens are particularly at risk.
Initially, with young kittens, trying to pretend you didn’t notice them is your best strategy, while at the same time, keeping a close eye on them until you have decided on your action. Mother cats, just like human mothers, have eyes in the back of their heads. If the mother cat knows you have seen the kittens, she will likely move them as soon as you leave. It is a safety strategy that mother cats are good at and could result in a lost opportunity for you to rescue the kittens.
If you have found one or more very young kittens, their rescue is very simple. Put a towel in the bottom of a box or carrier and pick them up one at a time and put them into the box. Put a towel over the top of the box. This will make them feel safe. Then call us as soon as possible. Young kittens need fluids and food frequently at this age.
Don’t give them milk. Kittens do not digest cow’s milk well. Kittens at this age need to be bottle-fed an appropriate formula. They are not yet weaned and do not know how to eat on their own yet. Their eyes do not focus, and may not even be open yet.
Rescuing Slightly Older Kittens
If the kittens are moving around, or scurrying and hiding, they will be more difficult to catch, or pick up. This is the three to five week old kitten. If cornering them one at a time does not work, try bringing them food. They might simply come to you if they are hungry enough. If you have a box ready (with high enough sides so that they cannot jump out,) you might be able to pick them right up while they are eating. Put another plate of food inside the box so they will continue to eat rather than cry or jump around. That will buy you time and continued trust of the others, and you can continue to collect the rest.
Rescuing Older Kittens
At five weeks and older, putting food inside a carrier close enough that the kittens can smell it is the best approach. (Unless of course they come right to you, in which case, you can treat them the same as you would three to five week old kittens.) Once they find the food in the carrier, you can shut the door. If they do not come to the carrier, leave it behind. They will eat after you have left. Do this for a few days in a row. They might associate your presence with food and forget to hide from you. They may suddenly go right into the carrier for the food. If not, then you are in need of someone who traps cats, and Three Little Kittens can refer you to someone with skill in doing this.
Helping the Mother Cat, Too
If you know the mother cat and you feed her, ask us for a referral to a cat rescuer so they can arrange to capture her and have her spayed. That way there will be no more kittens and her life will be much easier. She will be returned to you, and you can feel good about feeding her and helping reduce the feral cat population. We do not recommend that you attempt to capture an adult feral cat on your own, unless you have experience doing so.
Three Little Kittens will be happy to provide you with additional advice on kitten rescue. We can help you to judge kitten age and plan kitten rescues. We can also refer you to experienced cat rescuers who can help in capturing older kittens and mother cats. And, once you have rescued a kitten, we provide kitten foster care and adoption services. Please feel free to Contact Us.
One additional note is needed here. Three Little Kittens is strongly committed to Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) policies and to responsible pet ownership, including the neutering or spaying of all pet cats. We find it very difficult to turn down kittens in need and so will rarely do so. However, if a person is actually helping to perpetuate the birth of kittens by not taking this type of responsible action, we will not accept infant kittens from them more than once.