Is He Really an Orphan?

Since cats usually make such great moms, they don’t abandon their kittens without a good reason

You’re walking along minding your own business when you happen upon a kitten or a litter of kittens who appear to be alone. Don’t jump to conclusions. Just because you don’t see mom doesn’t mean she’s not hovering nearby. That little guy may very well need your help…or not. Unfortunately orphans don’t wear signs that read, “Help me. A car hit my mom.”

Orphan kittens - Orange tabby kitten walking alone on street.

To identify orphaned kittens, observe their behavior & check them physically.

Since cats usually make such great moms, they don’t abandon their kittens without a good reason. Clean, chubby kittens napping in a pile likely means an attentive mom probably lurks just out of sight. A scruffy singleton or a screaming litter might need your help. What attracted your attention in the first place? Did you follow the sounds of the kitten’s frantic cries? Cold kittens who smell like pee and poop definitely need your help. To determine if he needs rescue, check the kitten over. Is he:

  • Screaming or contently sleeping
  • Unkempt or spotless
  • Alert or lethargic
  • Fresh or smells like poop and pee
  • Fat or scrawny
  • Cool or warm to the touch?

If the kittens appear happy and the nest is out of harm’s way, watch it from a distance. Mom may eventually show up. Here are some things you can try to entice her out of hiding:

  • Put out canned cat food or tuna. (She has a brood to feed. She’s going to be hungry.)
  • If the kittens were quiet, pick one up, hold it and pet it. He will start crying. Put him down and go back to your hiding place. She may come out to check on him.
  • Ask the neighbors if they’ve seen the mom cat.

Access the situation. Are the kittens in danger? You need to take action if:

  • They feel cold to the touch
  • Large dogs or other animals prowl nearby
  • Little kids threaten to disturb the nest
  • The kittens want to wander into traffic
  • There’s impending cold or rainy weather
  • If they look sickly, or have gunky eyes, runny nose, or unkempt coat

If you fear for the kittens’ health or safety, bring them inside, get them warm and then return to try to find mom. Unlike the old wives tale about birds, cats will take their kittens back after they’ve been handled by people. But if she smells your scent on her baby, she’s likely to move them to a more secluded hiding place. You may need to set up a live trap to catch mom so you can reunite them.

The Feral Kitten Dilemma

Orphan kittens - Three kittens outdoors looking up.

When deciding to rescue kittens, assess the situation. You may be saving them from a difficult life.

When kittens belong to a feral mom, you face another dilemma. Do you leave them or take them? Feral cats are domestic cats who have lived their whole lives without human contact, and have the same fear and distrust of humans as any wild animal. Between the ages of two to seven weeks feral moms teach their offspring to fear people. Once kittens learn that lesson, socializing takes much more time and patience. Feral moms will instinctively move their kittens when people take an interest in them. After that, you probably won’t have a second chance to rescue the kittens from the difficult life of a wild kitty.

So you have to ask yourself: Can you dedicate the time and effort necessary to rescue these kittens?

Now that you have rescued the kitten, you need to make sure he’s warm and set up his nest.