First Steps When You Find Kittens Outdoors

Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats

Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies.

You’ve got a decision to make. Your first instinct when you see kittens may be to swoop them up and take them home with you, but that is not always in the best interest of the kittens - or you. Socialising and caring for feral kittens is a time-consuming process which requires devotion, patience, attention and finances. The decision to bring feral kittens into your home should not be taken lightly.

Some kittens may need intervention if they are not doing well. Remember that early weaning of kittens who seem to be doing well may lead to increased mortality or failure to thrive. Although kittens begin weaning prior to eight weeks of age, if it's safe they should remain with their mother until then to learn proper behaviour and socialisation. Ideally they should stay with their mum till they are twelve weeks old in order to complete the development and socialisation process within their family.

Ultimately, you have to use your own judgment depending on the kitten’s circumstances, and your time and resources. The best way to help all of the cats in the colony is to perform Trap Neuter Return - and not spend all your time socialising kittens. Read our TNR Manual for Ireland for help.

Before You Make Any Decisions

Before you decide what you're going to do about the kittens you must consider the time you have available, your adoption expertise and connections and the age of the kittens.


Do you have the time it takes to socialise kittens? You will have to commit to caring for them one-on-one for at least a couple of hours each day, for a period of a few weeks to a month, or longer. If the kittens are neonatal, they will require even more specialised care, including round-the clock bottle-feeding. Make sure you know ahead of time what this entails. Sadly, people often bring feral kittens into their home and then do not take the time to work with them. Weeks, or months, later, they realise that they cannot touch the cats - they have feral cats in their home that cannot be adopted.

Adoption Expertise and Connections

After socialising the kittens, they will need adoptive homes. Do you have the network - friends, acquaintances, organizations - to help you find those homes? Finding and screening homes for kittens takes work. When deciding whether to socialise the kittens or not, consider the paperwork required - adoption fees, forms and contracts - as well as your ability to get the kittens neutered before adoption.

Best Practice

Animal Advocacy recommends early-age spay/neuter. A kitten can be neutered as long as it is healthy and weighs 1kg. Learn more.

Kitten Age

Healthy kittens four months of age or older can stay in their colony, and Animal Advocacy does not recommend attempting to socialise kittens older than this. These kittens should be neutered, treated for parasites and returned to their outdoor home.

How to Estimate Kitten Age

Under one week (~100-200g)

easter-eggs-day-4-march-2012-43Eyes are shut, ears are folded down and kittens are unable to walk. They can purr and make tiny noises. The umbilical cord may still be visible.

One-two weeks (~200-300g)

09-easter-eggs-day-12-2012-36-36Eyes start to open (they are blue) and focus. Ears begin to open and movement is improved to crawling, snuggling, and kneading.

Three weeks (~400g)

19-easter-eggs-day-19-2012-4Eyes fully open and ears are open and standing up. The kitten will start to respond to noises and movement. The first wobbly steps are taken and baby teeth start to come in.

Four-five weeks (~500-600g)

Running, playing, digging, and pouncing occur often. Kittens will start to wean and will be able to lap up formula, eat soft food and use the litter box by themselves. Eyes have fully changed from blue to their adult color (though note this can take up to six or seven weeks).

The GangEight weeks (~900g-1kg)

Kittens look like little versions of full grown cats.

Next Step: Kitten and Mom Scenarios and How to Trap

Read More

Part of Ireland's TNR Manual

How to Help Community Cats

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