The thing about orphan kittens, is they almost always “happen” to you as a complete surprise. Right now you might be facing this predicament–so what do you do now?
If the kittens are very young (eyes still closed, very wobbly) the best thing is to find a surrogate cat mother as quickly as possible.
Call your local veterinary hospitals and animal shelters to see if one is available. Most of the time, a mother cat will welcome orphan kittens.
It is not just about the her ability to feed them every two hours, but the warmth, the licking, and the need for her to stimulate their elimination of waste will give them the best chance of survival.
If you can’t find a nursing or lactating mother cat, and their are no human “cat moms” that your vet or shelter can direct you to, then you may be the sole caretaker for these young orphan lives.
Before you get overwhelmed, assess the situation step-by-step.
How Old are the Orphan Kittens?
If you are a breeder or owner of a mother cat that got ill or sadly passed away, you will know the age and history of the kittens and the newborn care they received up to this point.
If they are at least 3 weeks old, their chances are very good, since they are old enough to wean onto solid food.
If they are newborn or under 3 weeks old, the stakes are higher, and they will need vigilant and around-the-clock temperature control and specialized feedings.
Did mama cat get a chance to nurse them at all?
If they nursed for at least the first 24-72 hours as newborn kittens, then they should have received the antibodies they need from their mothers’ colostrum to keep them immunized for the first 6 to 8 weeks.
If they have not nursed at all, then they are very susceptible to infection, and will need an antibody serum at about 3 weeks of age to be given by the vet.
Finding a Litter of Orphan Kittens
If you find a litter of abandoned or orphan kittens, you are a little more “in the dark” because you have no idea what amount of care they have received.
The first determination you will make in this situation is their age.
If they have open eyes and reasonable coordination (assuming they are not very ill), they could be old enough to wean onto solid food.
It is not a bad idea to feed them a commercial kitten formula until you are sure, especially if you don’t know how long they have gone without food.
Of course, finding orphan kittens in the wild (or even under your porch) that are already able to move around could present a different problem, as they may be feral and will try to avoid you at all costs. Handling feral kittens is a topic for another article.
Another possibility is they may be abandoned kittens. It will be very helpful for you to know what situation you are dealing with.
If the kittens are very tiny or newborns, some orphan kitten urgent care will be needed to help them survive. Getting them to the right temperature safely is the first crucial step.
Assessing the Health of Orphan Kittens
Regardless of the age of the orphan kittens, severely sick animals are likely beyond your capabilities as a caregiver, and contacting a veterinarian should be a first step.
Realize though that you may be responsible for paying for any vet care needed for these little ones, and it could be expensive to bring them back to good health.
This can also be a heartbreaking expense, as the orphans may be beyond saving. Talk with your vet about your options. The kindest choice might be euthanasia.
Please keep in mind even in the best-case scenario for the kittens’ condition–robust, playful, and seemingly healthy and alert–there still may be health issues, and these kittens should never be brought into your house if you have other pets.
Keep them isolated in a garage or shed warmed to at least 80 degrees until you can get them checked.
A local shelter or rescue association may be able to refer a low-cost clinic that will check for disease and vaccinate these orphan kittens.
If they are found to be healthy, and you decided you want to be their “mom” for the next several weeks until they go to new homes, then the joy of raising orphan kittens is about to begin!