If you have suddenly found yourself joining the kitten rescue squad, don't panic! Many people just like you, are able to successfully rescue and re-home kittens. It's up to everyone to do what they can, and this is something you CAN do. Here are a few tips for success!
1. Take them in--Now.
Don't leave kittens outside. They are in grave danger from many predators, but most often from crows. Time and again, we hear from people who leave the scene and go back, only to find one or more missing or dead. You may have only one chance to help them, so do the kind thing, and pick them up right away. Be sure to transport them as safely as possible--here’s one idea for a quick cat carrier that you can assemble using objects found at discount stores, and here’s another. If you only see one kitten, look around for siblings. Don't remove kittens from mother cats, whenever possible, especially very young kittens. If all have been abandoned together with mom, consider rescuing and re-homing the group--mom will do most of the work.
2. Keep them warm and hydrated
Check the kitten’s body for signs of trauma or ill health, and if possible, take them directly to be checked by a veterinarian. Very young kittens (with eyes still closed) should respond by bobbing their heads up, when touched, while older kittens should actively move around. They should not cry constantly--only when hungry. Dehydration is common, with symptoms being lethargy and lack of appetite. Giving the kitten some sugar water may help temporarily. Mix one teaspoon sugar with a cup of warm water, and put drops into the front of the mouth. Be careful not to tip the head back, so the kitten doesn't choke. Hypothermia is also a common problem, particularly with young kittens, who cannot regulate their body temperature and react dramatically to changes in ambient temperature. Keep the kitten warm, without being too hot, by placing a small drink bottle filled with warm water under a towel near the kitten. If it needs the extra warmth, it will rest near the bottle. Even if the outside temperature seems warm to you, the kitten may still need the extra warmth, particularly at night. Pay special attention to any wounds, which can look small but may involve a serious abscess under the skin. Issues such as wounds, a runny nose or eyes full of discharge, require veterinary attention.
3. Give them food and comfort
Address food and comfort needs before worrying about cleaning the kitten up or removing fleas. A bed with a soft furry blanket in a box or basket, along with the hot water bottle, can really make a kitten feel secure and comforted. Kittens whose eyes are open may be ready to eat soft wet food. Kitten food is best, as it is easiest to eat, and it contains the extra amount of nutrients that kittens need for growth. Warm the food slightly, to make it stronger smelling and more attractive, then place it in a small dish directly under the kitten's mouth. You can also introduce the food, if necessary, by placing a very small dab in the front of the kitten's mouth. If that doesn't work, or the eyes are still closed, the kittens will need to be bottle fed. Do not give kittens cow's milk as it does not have the nutrients needed, and can also cause severe stomach upset. Specially formulated kitten milk is necessary. Find this, along with bottles, in many pet supply areas. In Japan, Esbilac brand in powdered form, seems to be a favorite. Thoroughly mix the powder and water according to directions, initially using very warm water, as cool water can dangerously lower the kitten's body temperature. In order to prevent lumps that can clog the nipple, mix it into a paste with a very small amount of water first, then add water slowly while stirring. With bottle feeding, frequency and patience are key. Sucking is an important part of the feeding process, but it can take young kittens a bit of time to adjust to using a synthetic nipple. Rinse new nipples multiple times in warm water, to remove some of the rubbery smell. Check to be sure the milk isn't too hot or cool, and that the nipple isn't clogged, so that milk can actually flow through it. Also be sure that the hole in the nipple is not too big, creating a danger of choking from a heavy flow of milk. The kitten may resist, at first, but try to gently place the nipple in the kitten's mouth several times. Pull the nipple out, trying to get the kitten to latch on.
Wrapping the kitten in a towel, and rubbing the edges of its mouth with your finger, can sometimes stimulate a sucking response. If the kitten doesn't start to suck, don't use force to keep the nipple in its mouth, which might create a negative association. Take a break and then try again after 10 or 20 minutes. Dropping or syringing milk into the side of the kitten's mouth can be good, in order to provide some nutrition temporarily. But bottle feeding is usually more effective over time, so continue trying to use the bottle. Some kittens respond better if you try a different brand of bottle. Hold kittens upright when bottle feeding, rather than on their backs, to avoid choking or aspiration (milk being drawn into lungs). Feed according to package directed amounts, 6 or more times per day. Healthy kittens should gain weight steadily, should not cry constantly, should be actively moving, and should have round bellies. Check weight daily for steady increase. Kittens need to gain weight every single day. If weight stays the same, there’s a problem. If weight goes down, there’s a big problem. Health issues in kittens move into crisis mode quickly, so vigilance and quick medical attention can be essential. Even under optimum care, some kittens are not able to adapt to life without their feline mother or they may have serious genetic defects. Give it your best shot, and know that you were able to provide some warmth and comfort, at the very least.
4. Help them to toilet
Very young kittens need help toileting, and cannot eliminate without stimulation, so may die without this help. Place the kitten on its back, in the palm of your hand, and tap the genital area with a tissue gently. You can use a tissue dipped in warm water, but don't use packaged wet tissues, as the chemicals included are not always safe for kittens. Help young kittens to eliminate after every feeding. Watch out for continuous diarrhea, which requires veterinary care as it can dangerously dehydrate kittens. A few common causes of diarrhea are bacteria in the living space, diet irregularity, and/or parasites. Start by bringing a small sample of the kitten's feces with the kitten to the vet, who can check for parasites, bacteria or digestion problems, and provide appropriate medication. Human medications and supplements are often unsafe or even very dangerous to use on cats, so do not medicate without veterinary supervision. A small amount of mashed boiled or steamed pumpkin can be added to wet food to lessen the symptoms of diarrhea but it will not address any underlying cause.
5. Keep them clean
Since orphaned kittens are without the protection of antibodies in their mother's milk, they are very susceptible to bacterial infections, so their living space and bodies must be kept very clean. Change bedding or cage lining frequently. Wash your hands before handling, and use a warm wet washcloth to clean the area around the kitten's mouth after feeding. If not cleaned immediately after eating, food or milk on the face or neck will harden and be difficult to remove afterward. Feces residue may also need to be cleaned away from the leg and tail area. If the kitten must be bathed, do it after the health is stabilized, and keep the kitten warm at ALL times. Use kitten safe shampoo, but keep water and shampoo away from the kitten's face. Shampoos like Nolvasan, containing chlorhexidine, are good for removing bacteria. Use a blow dryer or heater (at a distance) while toweling dry, keeping the kitten continuously warm until dry. It's better to discuss flea treatment with a vet, as some types may be too strong to use on kittens. Do not use flea collars. Flea combs are safe, and can be used to remove fleas manually.
6. Keep them safe and social
Give the kitten(s) a safe place to play and live. Use a shallow litter tray, with a type of non-clumping cat litter that has larger pellets, so that the kitten does not accidentally ingest it. Cages can sometimes be convenient to use for kitten care, as they address safety issues for the kittens when not supervised. Make cage life more comfortable by adding a loft bed. If you have young children, explain how fragile kittens are, and supervise all interaction. Tragic accidents can happen when young children are left unsupervised with pets. This is a good chance to instill empathy in your child, and to provide instruction on how kittens should be held and picked up, specifically not around their stomachs or necks. Friendly kittens are much more likely to be adopted, and some kittens will need more help with socialization than others. Gently play with the kitten, without scaring or stressing it, and interact with it often to encourage this process.
7. Start looking for a home
If you are able to give the kitten a good home yourself, consider doing that. It's often very easy to take cats with you, for those living abroad. However if you aren't able to provide a home yourself, get started on re-homing right away. It's easiest to find homes for kittens while they're young. Think up a cute name, and write up an interesting profile. Make attractive posters to put up at schools, shops, veterinary clinics, etc. If you only have English or foreign language ability, post classified ads on popular expat websites and magazines. If you have native language ability, post on local or regional rehoming sites (for example http://www.satoya-boshu.net/ or http://www.pet-home.jp/ in Japan). In any case, always check potential homes carefully. Do not post ads for “free kittens” as this attracts the wrong kind of people. Though most people responding to ads for kittens are genuinely interested in adoption, there are also people with bad intentions out there, who are searching for free cats and kittens. Consider asking new adopters to pay some of the previous veterinary costs, which can indicate a sincere investment in ongoing wellbeing. Always go to the home, check that the address matches the identification, and watch how potential guardians interact with the kitten. Be absolutely certain that the kitten will be spayed or neutered. Re-homing without insuring spay/neuter only creates the possibility of the tragic and unnecessary cycle of unwanted kittens continuing on to future generations.
8. Prevent other kittens from winding up in the same position
Pat yourself on the back. Helping when there is such an obvious desperate need, is the kind and good thing to do! Now take a look around the area. Kittens are often found in places where stray cats congregate, and starting a TNR project in the area is the most effective way to make a difference. Trapping stray cats for spay and neuter gives them the best chance for a healthier, safer life. It also stops the needless reproduction and suffering of kittens. For more advice or assistance in helping cats or kittens see General rescue tips and pics and Rehoming advice or feel free to contact https://japancatnetwork.org/.