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How To Tell If Kittens Are Abandoned

Hello, my name is Tricia K. I currently own 3 cats, Bubba is 5, Firefly (aka Bug) is 3, and Scrappy is 7/8 months old. I have been volunteering for a rescue called “Lost Paws of Lancaster” for about 3 years, fostering for about 2 years. I have worked at That Fish Place – That Pet Place for almost 2 years as a cashier. I enjoy learning new things about all animals and applying what I learn to help others.image

When you volunteer for a cat rescue, the season of spring is more commonly known as “Kitten Season”. This is the time of year that we begin getting phone calls asking us to take in pregnant or nursing moms and their litters of kittens. The more common call, however, is for “abandoned kittens.” I put quotes around it because more often than not the kittens aren’t really abandoned.

Unlike human children, who are rarely without a parent in sight, kittens can be left alone for hours at a time and the mom usually isn’t far off. In fact, mom may even be watching you. People often don’t realize this and tend to automatically assume that mom has left the litter to starve. They then decide to take things into their own hands and “help” which isn’t always in the best interest of the kittens.

How To Tell If Kittens Are Abandoned & Need Your Help

  • Unless the kittens are in immediate danger, don’t move them. Mom may just be out getting some dinner, or taking a break. (You’d need to take a breather too if you had so many babies at once!). If you have to move them, make sure it is nearby where mom can see or hear them calling for her.
  • Keep an eye on the nest from a distance for 12 to 18 hours to determine if they’re truly abandoned. Depending on how old the kittens are, moms can stay away for hours at a time. It can be hard to tell if mom slips in and out when you aren’t looking. A way to help tell if the mom has returned is to sprinkle flour around the area. If mom comes back she will leave paw prints in the powder.
  • Don’t be alarmed if some of the kittens go missing. This is probably a good sign. Active Moms will move their kittens from place to place if they feel they are in danger.
  • If hours pass and the babies are dirty, fussy and loud, it is safe to consider them abandoned. It’s important to remember to wait an appropriate amount of time and to stay calm. A lot of people panic and want to scoop the kittens up and care for them right away. However, caring for kittens, especially young ones that don’t eat solid food, is a lot of work that most people aren’t prepared to take on. It is also more dangerous for kittens growing up without a mom and the comfort and milk she provides. Whenever possible, keep mom in the picture.

What if Mom Doesn’t Return? What now?20150502_220009

  • If you have truly abandoned kittens, and you are not prepared to take on the responsibilities of motherhood, feel free to call your local rescues. Please keep in mind that kitten season is a very busy time of year. Rescues exhaust their resources very quickly and you may be declined. Fosters for bottle babies (kittens without mommas that cannot eat solid food yet) are always in short supply because they are a lot of work.
  • If you are able to foster the litter the rescues may have a waiting list that you can be put on to help your kittens and lighten your load.

Even if the rescues can’t take in your litter they may have tips and tricks to make your go at being a momma cat much easier.

This Kitten season, Please be patient and do what you can to help appropriately. While it’s hard to resist a pile of adorable, cuddly kittens, letting Mom handle their care is sometimes the best option.


  1. avatar

    Great article! We had kittens born just outside once, we just kept an eye on them to make sure momma was nearby taking care of them.

  2. avatar

    This is an excellent article about cats and the fact that kittens may be left alone for short periods especially when they are in the wild.
    I have a friend that volunteers for a rescue organization and she is one of their main cat trappers. Occasionally in trapping and fixing and returning feral cats some kittens are encountered that need to be rescued and bottle fed.
    The feral cats are always returned to the place where they were found but sometimes the kittens can have a chance to be adopted.

  3. avatar

    One of the most heartwarming thing to see is a mother caressing her child. It’s sad to see kittens getting abandoned by their mother, but that’s just animals, they have their own behavior. This is great article to read. Thank you.

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  4. avatar

    Excellent Article! Thank you for this information. I am always worried about this sort of scenario, would you clean the kittens when you find them dirty?

  5. avatar

    Thanks for the great article.Too many people move kittens as soon as they find them, which could do more harm than good.

    I would say the most important thing to do is ensure the kittens are safe, then wait to see if the mother returns. As you say, she could just be out somewhere having a rest!

  6. avatar

    This is an excellent article. Thanks For Sharing a great article with us. And the interesting fact about kittens may be left alone for short periods especially when they are in the wild.

  7. avatar

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  8. avatar

    Hi! Thanks for the very informative article! Not so many people know how to properly handle delicate issues such as this when they come across it.

  9. avatar

    I recently found a kitten in the middle of the road, I had a heated debate with my father about how this kitten was most likely abandoned cause a small kitten like my little man shiro wouldn’t have been able to be in the road where he was with out someone putting him there. is it most likely he was abandoned or lost?

  10. avatar

    Thank you very much! I have a kitten situation in my hands and I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing by waiting. I’ll keep an eye on them and hopefully the mother turns up 🙂

  11. avatar

    A stray momma cat give 5 litters 4 months back , suddenly I see momma cat not around past 4 days . Looks like she has gone away to give another set of kittens some place ! I am giving kitten food to to the babies . They were fed even while the mother was around by kitten food . They don’t let anyone come near them . I want to get them to come closer to human touch . How do I go about ? Also want to know if mother cat may come by ?? Please guide . Thank you

  12. avatar

    Hello, yes, a very good article but I am confused. How long can a newborn kitten be left alone? One statement says “keep an eye on the nest for 12 -18 hours” and another states “after a few hours and babies are fussy …” . A mama cat has moved three of the four in her litter and the one kitten has been alone for 5 hours. Am I to wait another 7 plus hours before considering the kitten abandoned? The kitten has been/ is fussy.

  13. avatar

    I found a white albino kitten in my shed.We are going to adopt it if it’s mother don’t come back.How long do albinos live it’s white with blue eyes

  14. avatar

    Their are 3 cats in my back yard they seem about the age of a teenage cat, I fed one then suddenly 2 more came, is their by any chance the cats have a mother because I have a lot of greenery and obstacles in my yard so it’s hard to locate if their is a mother, also I try to approach the cat putting my hands out since I fed it leaving the food but it runs away. Should I try to take care of it or leave it alone?

  15. avatar

    Hi thanks for the information..just found out 1 kitten behind file shelf…i think it abondone by its mommy. Now almost 10 hrs the kitten sound out load..i just took it n give some milk( got this from pet shop of course)

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