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.

Stray cats can often be socialized and then adopted. Feral cats often cannot be easily socialized and adopted. However, kittens can often be socialized and adopted even if born to feral cats.

Learn more about feral cats and our affordable spay/neuter program for them.

What to do if you find kittens outside

Determine if there is a mother cat

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. Feral mom cats move their kittens often and she may be in the midst of 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.

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 trapped and live together indoors in a safe environment, a garage, crate or bathroom, until the kittens can eat on their own. However, 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, 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.

Resources if you cannot foster the kittens

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.

Resources if you CAN foster the kittens

Feel free to contact the East Bay SPCA at 510-569-0702 if you find kittens and need advice on caring for them. If you’re able to keep the kittens and care for them until they’re 8 weeks old and weigh 2 lbs, then the East Bay SPCA or another rescue group could possibly accept the kittens into an adoption program, spay or neuter them when they weigh that minimum 2 lbs and find homes for them. You can also try to find homes for them yourself.

What to do if there is NOT a mother cat

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. Please contact your veterinarian or the East Bay SPCA Foster Department at 510-563-4632 for more information on bottle-feeding kittens.

After each feeding, kittens need to be stimulated (rubbing their bottoms, underneath their tails, with a warm washcloth) to go to the bathroom, since they cannot do this on their own. If the kittens are eating on their own and you are able to socialize them until they’re 8 weeks old and weigh 2 lbs, they then can be surrendered to a local shelter for adoption. More information on raising kittens is available through Berkeley-based Fix Our Ferals.

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.
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 tamed, learning to trust people and becoming loving pets. After 12 weeks of age (3 months), it is often too late to successfully socialize kittens. This makes how you handle and interact with the kittens when they are 6 weeks old very important.

To socialize the kittens, set them up in a small bathroom or crate. Separate litter-mates from each other, allowing them to focus on you and your interactions with them. The smaller the space, the better! Too much space is overwhelming and they will hide in the hardest to reach, most out of the way place to prevent you from gaining access to them.

If you are more comfortable wearing gloves to protect your hands from kitten claws when you pick them up, that is fine. The important thing is to approach and handle kittens with confidence. Wet food is your friend! Only offer them the good stuff when you are there to feed them by hand (without gloves). They will soon learn to associate outstretched hands with delicious food. Chicken or turkey flavored baby food (with no onion powder in the ingredients; this is poisonous to cats!) is also irresistible to kittens.

If possible, leave the radio or TV on for the kittens while you are gone for the day. Don’t worry about time spent away from them—just being indoors and listening to domestic noises is good socialization for them. Even when you are not there to fuss over them, they are continuing to learn what it is like to live indoors.

When you can pick them up safely, use the “kitten burrito” technique. Wrap the kitten’s body snugly in a towel (allow their head to peek out) and carry the “kitten burrito” around with you on your chest. Talk to the “kitten burrito,” pet his head and offer him food off your fingers. Being wrapped in the towel will help the kitten feel safe and more secure while being handled by you, a strange and scary person.
Play with the kittens with wands and cat dancers to encourage them to interact with the toys (and indirectly, you). The East Bay SPCA arranges kitten surrenders 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 kittens to the East Bay SPCA

The East Bay SPCA arranges kitten surrenders by appointment. We will evaluate the animal’s health and temperament. Please note that there is a fee to surrender cats and kittens. 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.

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