What to do if you find an orphaned kitten

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It’s a natural human instinct regarding orphans: When we see a tiny baby kitten alone in the great big world, we want to swoop in and save the little thing from the dangers all around. If you find yourself in such a situation, stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and check out these tips about helping abandoned kittens.

1. Be sure the kitten really is abandoned

Mother cats have to hunt for their food, and they can leave the nest for a few hours at a time while doing so. Sometimes a mother cat moves her nest in order to ensure the safety of the litter. If the kittens are warm, clean, plump and quiet, they’re okay and mum is nearby.

2. Observe from a distance

If you’re concerned that mum might not be coming back, watch the nest but don’t get too close. If the mother cat is feral and she smells human scent near her nest, she might be too frightened to come back and care for her kittens. Kittens usually need to eat every four to six hours, so if it’s been 12 hours since you found the kitten and the mother hasn’t come back, something is definitely wrong and you can take the next step.

3. Warm them up

Kittens less than three weeks old can’t control their own body temperature and can easily get so chilled. The means they can die, even when outdoor temperatures are warm. A chilled kitten is listless and may actually feel cold to the touch. To get abandoned kittens warm, prepare a nest lined with towels and put a heating pad or hot water bottle under the towels. Be sure to leave a place where they can crawl away if they get too hot, too.

4. Call for help

During the height of kitten season, your local shelter or rescue group might have nursing mom cats who might welcome some extra kittens. Mother-cat milk is by far the best nutrition a growing baby can get. If shelters don’t have mom cats available, they may have volunteers or foster carers who know how to bottle feed newborn kittens, or they might give you instructions on how to do so.

5. Be prepared for restless nights

If the kitten you find is a week old or less, you’re going to need to bottle feed her every two hours around the clock, then wipe her genital area with a cloth to stimulate her to urinate and defecate. At two weeks, kittens can be fed every four hours around the clock. Kittens should always be belly-down when bottle feeding to ensure that the formula goes into their stomachs and not their lungs.

6. Know what to do after feeding

After every feeding, kittens need to be burped and wiped. Burping a kitten is just like burping a human baby, except much gentler. If kittens are less than four weeks old, their genital areas need to be wiped with a damp paper towel or cloth in order to stimulate them to urinate and defecate.

7. Understand that it might not end well

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible that the kitten you rescued might not survive. Nature is not kind to abandoned babies. Without the benefit of the antibodies in their mother’s milk, orphaned kittens are extremely susceptible to infections, hypothermia, and other problems that their tiny bodies can’t handle. Don’t be too hard on yourself if this happens. You took on a hero’s task and you did your best.

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