Planned PEThood Blog

So You Found Kittens Outside…Now What?

Updated 3/21/2024

Spring marks the beginning of Kitten Season, where unsterilized, outdoor female cats continually go through a heat cycle, giving birth to dozens of kittens. During kitten season, it’s not unusual to discover a nest of unattended kittens. Do you know what to do if you find kittens? When you come across kittens outdoors, it can be very tempting to scoop them up and bring them indoors. You want to help, right? It’s important to know that removing kittens from their current environment may not always be the right answer. 

So, what should you do if you find kittens outside? 

Leave them be, but keep an eye on them! Even if you see kittens alone, their mother is most likely nearby – she could be getting food, hiding from you, or in the process of moving her babies from one location to another (especially if you’ve found one kitten alone). She could be gone for several hours. A mother cat is the kittens’ best possible caregiver, so please LEAVE THEM BE! Momma cats are resourceful. There is a reason they survive cold temperatures and continue to breed. They find warm spaces to keep their babies, and they know when their babies are in danger. Taking kittens who are not weaned away from their mother puts the kittens at greater risk.

While it can be hard, sometimes walking away is the best thing to do. As long as the kittens are safe for the moment and you can come back to check on them within a few hours, LEAVE THEM BE. Wait a few hours to a full day to see if the mother cat returns. Be sure to watch from a hidden spot or from inside where you won’t be noticed. If the kittens are cuddled together and sleeping quietly, look pink, warm, and clean, and have full bellies, their momma has most likely been back, you just didn’t see her. 

If there is a mamma cat, it’s best to leave the kittens with their mom until they’re weaned. You can help momma cat by providing regular food and water, an outdoor shelter to create a safe space, and peace and quiet to avoid causing stress. Just be sure to pick up the food at night so it doesn’t attract predators. Here are some tips on how to care for momma cats and kittens.

When the kittens are older and weaned, you can help them find homes and get them and momma spayed, but intervention at such a young age can be detrimental. 5-6 weeks is the optimal age to take kittens from a feral momma cat for socialization and adoption placement. Can’t tell how old the kittens are? Check out this kitten progression article. Cats can get pregnant as young as four months of age, so it’s ideal to get the momma cat and her kittens spayed or neutered as soon as possible.

If the kittens are 8 weeks old or older, they don’t rely on their momma, so don’t hesitate to take them to a veterinary clinic or shelter. They can be spayed or neutered. If the momma cat is still with them, you can spay her at the same time through a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, like Planned PEThood’s.

If you’ve waited and monitored for several hours and see no sign of the mother cat, now’s the time to step in and help the kittens. It’s best to act quickly because young kittens are fragile. If you or someone you know is able to provide foster care, a local rescue, like Planned PEThood, can give you tips, tricks, and even supplies to help care for the kittens. There are plenty of online resources to help you. Keep in mind that kittens can be a significant commitment for you, especially if they are unweaned. Local rescues might have lifesaving programs and foster programs that can provide care for kittens. Most shelters do not have the resources to provide the care unweaned kittens need to survive, so it’s best to reach out to local rescues or contact the shelter before arriving to check. We have some listed here. 

Remember, if you find kittens alone outside, fight your instinct to pick them up and care for them, at first. If they are safe, leave them alone and keep an eye on them from a distance, watching for their momma. If the momma is not back in a few hours to a day, then it is time to step in and have a plan to care for them. You can drastically help kittens by being educated, knowing when to take action, and getting involved when help is needed.