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What to do when you find kittens

When you find a litter of kittens, your good-hearted instincts tell you to rush to the aid of these fragile felines. Thankfully, human intervention is typically not required. In fact, the best thing we can do is leave the kittens alone. Mom will likely return soon, and it’s critical that the kittens remain in her care as she offers the best chance for survival.

If you find kittens and are 100% certain that they are orphaned, you can then step in and help by caring for the kittens until they’re old enough to find homes.

There are kittens in my yard! What do I do?

If you see kittens alone outside, know that mom is most likely out hunting for food and will return. The kittens are likely not abandoned. At this point, it is okay to check on the kittens and make sure they are healthy, but you don’t need to scoop them up and pull them inside your home or rush to the nearest shelter.

Watch the kittens. If you don’t see mom for 8-12 hours and the kittens are still where you first saw them, there is a strong likelihood that mom is unable to return. This is when you should take action.

So, the mother cat disappeared. You’ll make a great foster parent!

Consider offering care for the abandoned kittens in your home. During kitten season, shelters are overrun with kittens and often lack the resources and people to successfully care for them all. We need the help of compassionate people to help raise and socialize the kittens to 8 weeks of age when they’re old enough for adoption.

How do I foster the kittens to 8-weeks old?

Once you’re certain the mother cat is gone, it is important to determine the kitten’s age.

Click on this chart for excellent information: How to Age a Kitten



The age of the kitten will determine the amount of time and care the kitten will need. The younger the kitten, the more help they require.

  • Under 5 Weeks of Age:
    • Extremely young kittens need mother’s milk and will need to be bottle fed every 2 hours.
    • Kitten formula and bottles can be purchased at PetSmart, Petco, or any pet supply store.
    • Keep a close eye on the kittens; you may even find that your workplace is open to allowing the kittens to accompany you during the day.
    • During weaning, kittens may look like they are eating solid food, but are actually suckling it in the same way they would on Mom.
    • Click the following links for advice on raising infant kittens: The Kitten Lady or the National Kitten Coalition
    • Download a free copy of the Kitten Lady’s guide to caring for orphaned kittens here.
  • Over 5 Weeks of Age:
    • Kittens 5 weeks and older should already be eating on their own and no longer require mom’s milk or formula to survive.
    • Older kittens are prime candidates for fostering so that they can be socialized for eventual adoption.
  • Uncertain of Age:
    • While weaning, bottle feeding should continue while learning to eat solid food.
    • If you’re unsure of age,  have multiple food sources available and monitor the kittens’ weight to ensure they are eating.



If the kittens are living comfortably outside and you are unable to foster or socialize them, they are candidates for our TNR program along with their parents. Kittens can be trapped and brought in for surgery as early as two months old, but it is usually best to wait until they are three months old if you plan to send them through our TNR program. That way, they are old enough to receive a rabies vaccine. To borrow traps, contact our Community Cat Coordinator at communitycats@humanecharlotte.org.

Finding Kittens a Home

Finding homes for kittens is a rewarding experience and allows you to know they have all found good homes. If friends, family, and co-workers are not able to bring a kitten into their lives, there is a free alternative online. Rehome.adoptapet.com, by the Petco Foundation and AdoptAPet.com, helps pet owners find new loving homes for pets. It is free to post animals for adoption. Learn more here.

Kitten Nursery

If you are unable to provide care for extremely young kittens yourself and mom has not been seen, do not wait! Help the kittens by getting them to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control Kitten Nursery. Once you have moved kittens from where you found them, they need to be cared for and waiting too long could be life-threatening. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control Kitten Nursery was created to help kittens that have no other alternatives. In 2018, welcomed 418 kittens into their Kitten Nursery.


Q: Will mom reject the kittens if I touch them?

Touching the kittens is a requirement of socialization. If you touch them, it won’t deter mom at all. Mother cats are amazing creatures and will not reject kittens because of a new, foreign scent. When she returns, she may hide them in a new location thinking that a predator found her kittens, but she will not abandon them.

Q: What if I want to foster kittens with their mom?

A: Please do so! If you are willing to catch and shelter mom with her kittens in your home until they are weaned, it will provide a much safer environment than being outside. Once they are old enough to eat on their own, they can be separated from their mother. Mom can then be taken to the HSC Spay/Neuter Clinic for TNR and returned to her outdoor home while you continue to socialize and care for the kittens for eventual adoption.

Q: How do I avoid more kittens?

A: Kittens aren’t delivered by a stork. Where there are kittens, there are breeding cats. If you find kittens, please take advantage of our TNR program and loan-able traps to catch the parent cats and bring them to HSC’s low-cost, high-quality spay/neuter clinic. Doing so makes the parents healthier and helps stop the yearly cycle of finding kittens in your yard.