Resources for Found Kittens

With current cat intake limitations, 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. 

Your first impulse when you find a litter of kittens outdoors may be to pick them up and bring them to the shelter. But if their mother is hunting for food or hiding nearby, this choice could be detrimental to the kittens. 

Leave healthy, unweaned kittens to be cared for by their mother, and contact MCAS about intake or care for kittens that are sick, injured, clearly abandoned or in danger. Learn what to look for and what decisions to make in order to save them.

Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS) limits intake of cats.

We accept cats that are:

  • Sick or injured
  • Abandoned, such as being left in a crate or in a vacated building without minimal care.
  • In immediate danger due to cruelty, neglect, environmental hazards, and similar circumstances. 

If you find an outdoor cat, check for a local owner.

Call 503-988-7387 for guidance on what to do with cats that are unhealthy, injured, abandoned, or in other danger.


A kitten meowing in the brush

Alley Cat Allies

Kitten with URI
A kitten with an upper respiratory infection

If You Find Kittens

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 contact MCAS about intake arrangements, or reach out 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 kittens 12 weeks and older, the best course of action is Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) through Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon (FCCO).

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 Up to 12 Weeks Old

Check to See If Mom is Around

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. Please don’t take her babies. Kittens fare best with a mother to care for them, and are more at risk when removed and bottle-fed.

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).


  • 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!
  • Continuing to wait for mom if the kittens are warm, clean, plump, and quiet. These are indicators that they were recently groomed, fed, and warmed, and are therefore comfortable and not hungry.


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. 

Leave kittens where they are if:

  • Their fur looks healthy, full and fluffy 
  • They are sleeping quietly, in a heap
  • They are dry and comfortable

Contact MCAS or bring kittens to a vet if:

  • They are dirty, look sickly, or have crusty eyes
  • They are crying, or squalling
  • They are wet/soaked, or uncomfortable

If kittens are removed, keep an eye out for mom in case she can be reunited with the kittens, or if she is also sick or in need of help.


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).
  • If either the mom or kittens appear sick or injured, contact MCAS about bringing them to the shelter by calling 503-988-7387.
  • If the kittens and mom all appear healthy, check for signs of abandonment.

When you do see the mother cat, encourage her to approach you - entice her 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 or outdoor 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 contact MCAS about intake for kittens if you are 100% certain the mother is not returning.

If the mother hasn’t returned and the kittens are hungry, loud, or soiled:

  • 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.


  • If you are unable to care for the kittens yourself, please contact MCAS immediately for help. Call 503-988-7387.
    • Staff will assess your situation, and may advise you to bring the kittens to the shelter. You can bring them in a carrier or box with a towel or blanket. To keep them warm during transport, fill up a water bottle with warm water, wrap it in a towel, and place it next to the kittens.
    • With pre-approval when space is available, you can also bring kittens to our partners in the community who will accept them on behalf of MCAS:

For Kittens 12 Weeks and Older

Kittens 12 weeks to 6 months old who are not social and become extremely frightened and/or aggressive 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 through Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon (FCCO).

Learn about TNR and resources for community cats


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)

How to Tell If a Cat is Abandoned

Cats may be abandoned if they are:

  • Actively abandoned- you see someone dump them from a vehicle, or place them down and walk away.
  • Found in an abandoned or empty home or building with no way to come in or go out.
  • Found in a crate, kennel, box, or bag in a public area with no person around.
  • Declining, or appear unhealthy - they’re thin or emaciated, dirty, ungroomed, or have spotty fur. This may be an indicator of illness, or a cat that is new to the area, and isn’t familiar with where to find food or shelter.

Cats may not be abandoned, and may be community cats if they are:

  • Ear-tipped to show that they were spayed or neutered and being cared for by someone in the community.
  • Being cared for by a neighbor - check with your neighbors about cats they know and care for.

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.