Guidelines for Stray Kittens & Cats

With kitten season coming and cat intake restrictions due to COVID-19, MCAS has created this guide to help Multnomah County residents understand what to do if they find litters of kittens, and how they can help. 

You hear meowing in your garden, and find a litter of tiny kittens. What do you do? Your first impulse may be to pick them up and bring them to the shelter, but if their mother is hiding nearby, this choice could be detrimental to the kittens. Learn what to look for and what decisions to make in order to save them

 

COVID-19 Limited Intake

Per national recommendations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, MCAS limited its intake for cats to cases where the animal is sick or injured, or in immediate danger due to cruelty, neglect, or similar circumstances.

If you find kittens or adult cats that are sick or injured, please contact the shelter immediately for assistance at (503) 988-7387.

 

A kitten meowing in the brush

Alley Cat Allies

Kitten with URI
A kitten with an upper respiratory infection

If You Find Kittens

Find kittens guide 1
Find kittens guide 2 for 0 to 6 weeks
Find kittens guide 3 - 6 to 12 weeks
Find kittens guide 4- for 12 weeks or older

Download a Flowchart of What to Do

Download our flowchart of decisions to make if you find kittens.

What To Do If You Find Kittens Flowchart (PDF)

Determine Their Age

The appropriate course of action for the kittens will depend on their age:

  • For kittens 0-6 weeks old (unweaned) leave them in place unless they are sick, injured, in danger or abandoned.
  • For kittens 6-12 weeks old, you can bring them to MCAS, or to one of our partners in the community who can accept kittens on behalf of MCAS. We can also provide resources to help care for the kittens at home.
  • For social (friendly to people) kittens 12 weeks and older, you can bring them to MCAS. For UN-social (scared of people) kittens, the best course of action is Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR).

Use this helpful guide from Alley Cat Allies to determine kitten age, and the appropriate course of action to take.  You can also download this PDF flyer to view and/or print.

For Kittens Under Six Weeks Old

Wait for the mother cat to return

You want to help, and your first impulse may be to swoop up the tiny kittens and bring them straight to a shelter. However, a mother cat will periodically leave her nest to hunt for food. 

If you see young kittens without their mother, it is likely she will return. The mother should return to the nest within a few hours- if you watch quietly from a distance (at least 35 feet).

Tips

  • Sprinkle flour or baby powder around the nest to see the paw prints of a mother cat who may be coming and going from her kittens. Check it throughout the day.
  • Don’t put food by the kittens: Do NOT place food near the kittens to lure mom. Mom almost always purposely hides her litter away from food sources as she knows that food will attract other cats and even bigger predators!
  • If the kittens appear healthy and comfortable, you can safely wait 4-6 hours for a mom to return if the kittens are six weeks and under.

Assess the kittens’ apparent health

While you are observing from a safe distance, pay attention to the kittens’ appearance and their surroundings. If the kittens appear healthy, and in a relatively safe location, they can survive without mom longer than if they are sickly, and in the middle of a muddy yard. 

  • Does their fur look healthy, full and fluffy? OR Are they dirty? Sickly? Eyes crusty?
  • Are they sleeping quietly? In a heap? OR Are they crying? Squalling?
  • Are they dry? OR Are they wet/soaked?

Assess the environment

Are the kittens in IMMEDIATE danger from:

  • Heavy rain? Standing water/flooding?
  • Wild animals? Dogs?
  • Traffic – pedestrian foot traffic? Bicycles or cars?

If the kittens appear healthy, but are not in a safe location, try placing them in a box or similar shelter in a safe spot as close to where you found them as possible, and continue to observe for mom. 

Know that healthy kittens can survive several hours without food as long as they are warm. Neonatal kittens are much more at risk of hypothermia than they are of starvation. During typical ‘kitten season’ (during the late spring and summer months), waiting a longer time to see if mom will come back is usually very safe.

When the mother returns

If the kittens are less than six weeks old, leave them with their mother unless they appear sick, injured, or if their safety is threatened by their environment (see above)

When you do see the mother cat, encourage her to approach you - entice with wet food, deli meat, etc - to see if she is social and friendly. If she is comfortable with people, she may in fact be someone's lost pet. You can report the cat and her litter as "found" on the MCAS found pet directory, and follow other tips and instructions (see Resources below) of how to care for the cats or find an owner. 

If the mother doesn't appear to be comfortable around people, you can report the cat and her litter as "found" on the MCAS found pet directory, and follow other tips and instructions on how to find an owner, and how to care for the cats - either inside or outside (see Resources below). 

If the mother doesn't return

It’s important for their chances of survival to not take kittens away from their mother if they haven’t been weaned from her milk. Pre-weaned kittens (under 6 weeks) without a mother are very difficult to care for and have a high mortality rate. They require frequent feedings of kitten milk replacer formula day and night, and many "fail to thrive" without the care of their mother, even with all necessary veterinary care and experienced foster volunteers.

Only bring the kittens to the shelter if, after watching for 4-6 hours, you are 100% certain the mother is not returning.

If the mother hasn’t returned within 4-6 hours:

  • You can care for the kitten(s) in your home (MCAS has kitten care packs available, see resources below). If kittens are over six weeks old, be sure to post a found report on our website.

-OR-

  • If you are unable to care for the kittens yourself, please contact MCAS immediately for help. Call 503-988-7387.

For Kittens Six Weeks to Twelve Weeks Old

Kittens 6-12 weeks old are at the ideal age to be socialized and adopted. You can bring them in a carrier with a towel or blanket to MCAS.

You can also bring stray kittens to our partners in the community:

Bringing the kittens to a shelter will ensure that they are spayed and neutered, and can find caring homes, and won’t contribute to community cat breeding and overpopulation.

Bringing the kittens to a shelter will ensure that they are spayed and neutered, and can find caring homes, and won't contribute to community cat breeding and overpopulation.

For Kittens Twelve Weeks to Six Months Old

Kittens 12 weeks to 6 months old who are not social and become extremely frightened and/or aggression when handled by people may be difficult to catch without a live-release trap, and have passed an important window when they can be easily and effectively socialized. The best thing to do is consider Trap, Neuter / Spay, and Return (TNR) them to where they were found.

Learn about TNR and resources for community cats


 

Resources

Read this information from Oakland Animal Services on how to assess the situation if you do find a litter

Feeding and Caring For Orphan Kittens 0-4 weeks 

(Contact MCAS at (503) 987-7387 to request a bottle-baby starter kit):

Feeding and Caring For Orphan Kittens 5 - 7 weeks 

(Contact MCAS at (503) 987-7387 to request food/litter assistance):

Caring for Social Mom Cats with Litters

Caring for Unsocial Mom Cats with Litters

 

The first option, if the unsocial mom and litter are in a relatively safe location, is to offer outdoor shelter, water, and regular feedings until kittens are about 6-weeks. At 6-weeks it’s safer to remove from mom. Or, if mom has become more social with you, consider bringing the whole family inside! Urban Cat League - guide for socializing outdoor/feral kittens
 

  • Tiny Kittens Rescue (small room confinement) - Compassionate Foster Care for Feral Moms. Small rooms with plenty of easily-accessible hiding options generally work better for cats that become reactive when they are scared or anxious (hissing, growling, swatting/striking, even biting when extremely frightened).
     
  • Feral Cat Focus (cage confinement) - Feral Cat Set-up for Long-term Fosters. Cage confinement generally works best for fearful cats that want to hide, as the smaller space gives them a sense of security. Always remember to give them a hiding space that is big enough for mom and litter to comfortably nest. Cages should be at least 42L x 28W x 30H inches. 48L x 30W x 33H inches is ideal.

If you need further assistance, contact the shelter at (503) 988-7387

Feeding and Caring For Kittens 8+ weeks 

(Contact MCAS at (503) 987-7387 to request food/litter assistance)

How to Socialize ("tame") Feral/scared Kittens

  • Urban Cat League has wonderful and comprehensive information on taming feral/scared kittens up to 6-months of age (these techniques can also work with some adult cats)

What is a Community Cat?

“Community cat” is an umbrella definition that includes any un-owned cat. These cats may be “feral” (un-socialized) or friendly, may have been born into the wild or may be lost or abandoned pet cats. Some community cats are routinely fed by one or more community members, while others survive without human intervention. Whatever a cat’s individual circumstances, the term “community cat” reflects the reality that for these cats, “home” is within the community rather than in an individual household.