Orphan Kittens

March to November is kitten season, the time of year when most kittens are born and shelters are busiest with incoming cats and kittens. If you have found an orphan kitten, preserving its health is a difficult job requiring prompt action. 

Before you take any action, be sure the kitten or litter of kittens you have located are truly orphaned. Sometimes well-meaning people unknowingly separate kittens from their mother, making matters worse instead of better. This information will help you determine if you are dealing with an orphan situation.

Mother Cats

The mother cat usually remains continuously with newborn kittens for one or two days after giving birth. She may leave the nest for short periods of time after a few days. Even well cared for domestic mother cats with litters indoors may leave the nest for several hours at a time about two weeks after giving birth. 

Feral mothers, needing to hunt for food, will leave the nest for intervals at a much earlier stage.

Also, a mother cat will often pick up and move her litter to a new location, especially during the first few weeks after birth. Establishing a new nest is part of the cat’s instinctual behavior to safeguard her young by not remaining in one place too long.

If You Find Kittens

When you find small kittens without a mother cat present, the mother may simply be away hunting for food or maybe moving the kittens, one by one to a new nest. Don’t immediately assume that kittens are orphans. If the kittens are safe for the time being, observe the nest to see if the mother returns soon. Observe quietly from a safe distance if dealing with a shy or feral mother.

If you encounter a lone kitten, mom may be moving the kittens, and the lone kitten could be either the first to be moved to the new location or the last to be moved from the old nest. 

The goal is to keep a mother together with her kittens for the best chance of survival. Raising a young, "pre-weaned" kitten is an intensive round-the-clock job.