Stray Cats, Feral Cats and Kittens
Have you found a stray cat or litter of kittens? Here are some resources that may help.
Stray and Feral Kittens are an Epidemic: Between the months of March and September, every shelter in the region will be overrun with kittens, both orphaned litters and those with a mother. Many of these litters are either strays or ferals. Neither one has a legal owner; however, the difference between a stray cat or a feral cat is that a stray cat is accustomed to people and a feral cat has lived in the wild and has been self-sufficient with little to no contact with people. For more information on caring for neonatal kittens, download the East Bay SPCA Neonatal Care Manual.
Stray cats can often be socialized and then adopted. Feral cats generally cannot be easily socialized and adopted. However, kittens under four-months old can often be socialized and adopted even if born to feral cats.
What to do if you find kittens outside
- Determine if there is a mother cat
- Resources if you cannot foster the kittens
- Resources if you CAN foster the kittens
- What to do if there isn’t a mother cat
- What to do if there IS a mother cat
- Kitten Socializing 101
- Surrendering kittens to the East Bay SPCA
- Surrendering kittens elsewhere
Determine if there is a mother cat
Don’t “kitten nap”! Resist your instinct to scoop up abandoned kittens right away. Even though they are adorable and helpless! It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best thing to do for the kittens is not to move them.
Keep an eye on them and see if a mother cat comes for them. Mom cats move their kittens often and she may be in the midst of moving them and on her way back to these seemingly abandoned kittens. Or she may be out looking for food. It is not unusual for a mom to leave her kittens for several hours looking for food. Stand at least 30 feet or more away from the kittens for a few hours to see if mom will return.
If you move the kittens, she won’t be able to find them and continue to care for them.
If there is a mother cat, is she nursing and caring for the kittens? It’s best to leave them with mom until they’re weaned.
Kittens begin to nibble at wet food at 4 weeks of age and are fully capable of eating on their own at 6 weeks. (Hint for determining the age of nursing kittens: if they are nursing and their eyes haven’t opened, they are under 2 weeks). Ideally mother and kittens should be provide with a shelter in a safe environment: a garage, outdoor cat house, or bathroom if the person is able to bring them indoors, until the kittens can eat on their own.
*Please note* Trapping mom and all the unweaned kittens can be difficult, since she continually moves the kittens. It would be easy to trap mom and then realize that her kittens aren’t where you thought they were! The kittens would not only be lost, but also vulnerable. Kittens under 4 weeks cannot eat on their own and they need to nurse or be bottle-fed.
If you see no visible health problems (crusty eyes, visible wounds or injuries), go ahead and leave food out for the mom and continue to monitor her as she cares for her kittens until they are eating solid food and are 5-6 weeks old.
For help determining the age of the kittens you are looking at, check out kittenlady.org/age.
There is no mom cat, now what?
Option 1: Foster the kittens in your home until they are 8 weeks of age.
If there isn’t a mother cat and the kittens are not yet eating solid food, they will need to be bottle-fed every 2-3 hours. It’s important not to offer them cow’s milk (this will make them sick). Buy Kitten Milk Replacement (KMR), a product available from pet stores in liquid or dry form that you prepare for the kittens. Pet Food Express offers kitten kits to members of the public as well.
You can sign up to be a temporary kitten foster through the East Bay SPCA or another rescue group could possibly accept the kittens into an adoption program. You can sign up to foster through the East Bay SPCA by filling out our foster application here. You will keep the kittens in your care at your home and we will provide the supplies and medical care and place the kittens for adoption once they are of adoptable age. For additional questions, please contact our Foster team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Option 2: Bring the kittens to a Municipal Shelter.
Due to the sheer number of kittens in shelters during kitten season, their best chance of survival is your ability to foster them. However, if caring for the kittens and socializing them until they’re old enough for adoption isn’t feasible, then take them to your local animal control agency. Many shelters have volunteer foster programs (volunteers who care for kittens until they’re ready for adoption) and will try to match the kittens with a volunteer to give them the care they need. When local animal control agencies shelters don’t have any space or foster homes available for kittens, they often work with the East Bay SPCA to find appropriate foster placement. Therefore, there is a chance that a litter you surrender to a local public shelter will end up in an East Bay SPCA foster home.
Option 3: If all of the above is not feasible, bring the kittens to the East Bay SPCA.
During the Shelter in Place restrictions, please contact us to make an appointment by emailing email@example.com.
What to do if there IS a mother cat
Mom should be trapped and spayed (help make this litter her last!) but not until her kittens are able to eat on their own. If she is feral, she should be re-released into the wild after her spay recovery. An adult feral cat cannot be placed for adoption and made a pet. It is highly unlikely that she could ever be tamed. Visit this page for more resources about feral cats and groups that can help with lending traps.
If surrendered to a municipal shelter (where strays should be taken), she would be euthanized because she cannot be handled by people and wouldn’t be a safe pet to have in a home. If someone attempted to handle her, she might injure them.
Kitten Socializing 101
When the kittens are eating solid food (at approximately 5-6 weeks and older) they should be trapped and socialized. At this age, they are young enough that they can be well socialized, learning to trust people and becoming loving pets. After 16 weeks of age (4 months), it becomes more difficult (but not impossible!) to successfully socialize kittens. Beginning the socialization process for kittens after they have passed the four-month mark often takes much longer and is often much less effective in high-stress environments like a shelter—fosters have much better luck!
For a detailed guide on how to make progress with undersocialized kittens (even ones who are hissing and spitting at you!) check out our Hisses to Kisses handout. We also offer a specialized webinar course on feline fear, that includes step by step instructions and helpful video examples.
If you are able to socialize young kittens, the East Bay SPCA can take them in as owner surrenders once they are better socialized and able to be spayed or neutered. Surrenders are arranged by appointment and we will do an evaluation of the animal’s health and temperament. Please note that there is a fee to surrender cats and kittens. Please call us at (510) 569-0702 to learn more about our surrender process and to learn about our space availability.
Surrendering owned kittens to the East Bay SPCA
The East Bay SPCA arranges surrenders of owned kittens (born to a pet mother cat) by appointment. We will evaluate the animal’s health and temperament. To make a surrender appointment, click here.
Surrendering kittens elsewhere
Your local animal control agency will take in all animals found in that city with no appointment or proof of ownership required. Please contact them directly to find out more about their process. All shelters do not have the same surrender procedures, so it’s important you understand those that apply to the organization you have chosen.