This article is for people who have found a kitten that is at least five weeks old and therefore can survive without its mother (Note that normally kittens should be with their mothers for at least 7 weeks), for help concerning younger kittens, please contact your veterinarian, local animal shelter, or read this link regarding orphaned kittens.
Although we use the term kitten here, this information can apply to adult cats, with the condition that the food be adult food, where mentioned. This information is valuable when you find a kitten late at night when no stores, or veterinarians, or animal shelters, are open.
First Rule: NO MILK. Although cats and kittens love milk, it is not good for them, and can actually make them ill or give them an upset stomach. You can give them water. Be aware that cat milk treat sold in pet stores is of no nutritional value and is purely a gimmick, as well it is less hydrating than water.
Second Rule: No matter what time of day/night it is, if the kitten is injured, call a veterinarian. Most veterinarians have after hours on-call services and as the kitten is not yours you do not have to pay. Rather the kitten becomes property of the local animal shelter (if unclaimed by an owner after 72 hours) and they will pay for its care.
Third Rule: The kitten is not legally yours. Check for identification (collar, tattoo). You must call your local humane society, SPCA, or pound, and report finding it. In this way if an owner reports it missing it can be returned to them. This also protects you from being accused of Theft. If you wish to keep the kitten you can discuss this with the shelter if no owner comes forth, if not you can actually take the kitten to the shelter and leave it with them. You cannot give it away to somebody else without asking the shelter how long you need to wait following reporting it found.
Rarely will a kitten have a microchip, but you can take it to a veterinarian, or animal shelter, where they can scan it for free.
Feeding a lost kitten
As mentioned earlier, milk is not to be fed to a kitten.
Ideally offer it kitten food, but if none is available (as when stores are closed) you can offer it adult cat food. Otherwise if you cannot get kitten food, cooking a chicken breast and cutting it into small pieces is best. If this is not possible, and it is a very young kitten, you can offer it rice pablum, or even cooked rice – neither of these have much nutritional value, but will fill the kitten up until morning when some kitten food can be purchased.
Do not offer a little kitten fish, or other meat. These can be too harsh on a kitten’s stomach and may even make it ill. A larger kitten (over 3 months) can be given dog food, or cooked beef, however this should not be given other than if at night when stores are closed. Dog food does not have enough meat protein, or taurine for cats, it is okay to give in an emergency situation, but not for more than two days.
Kittens generally use a litter box, if you have found a kitten and do not have a litter box and stores are closed you need to find a substitute. Try finding a cardboard box and cutting the edges down low to make a litter box. Shred some newspaper to act as litter, or use sand if you have a sand box.
Where to Keep it?
The kitten, its litter box, food, and water, should be kept in a small room in your home. Ideally confine the kitten in a warm bathroom.
What if I Cannot Keep it?
If you cannot keep the kitten, you must take it to the local animal shelter, SPCA, or pound (call a veterinarian if you do not know where the shelter is in your area). In this way they will try to reunite it with its owner. Adoptable kittens go into adoption. Be aware you cannot give away a kitten you found unless you first reported finding it and have waited an adequate time (usually 2 weeks) for an owner to come forth. This is because the kitten is not legally yours to rehome.
What if the Kitten Looks Sick?
Kittens often have health issues, particularly if they have been outside long. If its eyes or nose are watering and gunky it could have an Upper Respiratory Tract Infection. Keep it away from any cats you own, especially if they are young, old, or not vaccinated. If there is blood the kitten needs veterinarian attention right away. Otherwise this is a cold similar to what people get, but can become something worse if ignored.
Ear mites, fleas, and worms, are often concerns in stray kittens, and a veterinarian can address these as well, but hold off going to the veterinarian until after you have called your local animal shelter to see if anyone has reported the kitten lost. If you take the kitten to the veterinarian at this point, and an owner comes to claim it they do not have to pay you for the vet bill you already paid.
If you have cats of your own, do not let them near the stray kitten even if it looks healthy, wash your hands between touching it and your own cat.
Do not feed a lost little kitten milk, call the animal shelter and report finding it as soon as you can. The goal needs to be keeping it safe, and reuniting it with its owner. Do not let it back outside or it risks becoming lost again.
Click here for Specific Information on Taming Feral Cats, and Wild Kittens.
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