By Mary Anne Miller

Photo ©Karen Lawrence 2010During Kitten Season every year, cat rescuers are besieged with phone calls. A reoccurring question asked pertains to kittens seen outside. Callers express concern into whether or not the kitten is feral. Is it safe to bring indoors? Is it diseased? If left alone, will mom return?

The answer to the question about what to do is complex. Every situation is different depending on the age of the kitten, location, the presence or absence of predators and the overall appearance of the kitten. Kittens spotted outside stranded and alone are oftentimes labeled "feral." Not every outside kitten is feral, but if unaccustomed to human touch, they will act afraid. Hissing, spitting and backing away from you are triggers, survival instincts the kitten possesses. This behavior alone promotes the label of "feral."

When asked: "If you found a stray kitten under your bushes, what would you do?" The following cat experts offered their advice:

Louise Holton, President/Founder of Alley Cat Rescue, Inc.-

"This is sometimes difficult to answer. If the weather is inclement, then the kitten could get cold. Err on the side of caution and bring the kitten in and warm her up, before you start giving food. You can keep looking out for the mother....under bushes, under places where a mother could possible hide her kittens. If she is still nursing, she will take the kitten back. If the kitten is older, better to keep her and raise her yourself."

Ellen Perry, author of Maverick Cats: Encounters with Feral Cats and TNR: Past, Present and Future: A History of the Trap- Neuter- and Return Movement:

"My response, to one and all, would depend on where you live. Are there hazards for this unprotected kitten - outdoor predators, and, of course, cars and even people? If so, immediately move the kitten to a secure place, and set a humane trap for its mother. Call a few neighbors to see whether this stray kitten might be theirs. If no one speaks up, I'd take the kitten (and, if possible, its mother) to the vet for an exam and be neutered."

Cimeron Morrissey- Founder of Project Bay Cat, Foster City CA

"First, I mutter a few choice expletives because of the shock of finding a homeless kitten and my frustration that no one spayed mom. Then I put my Rescue Cap on: turning into a woman who can magnetically draw a scared kitten out, cure her hunger and turn her into a lovable, adoptable pet. I quietly slip out of the car with a towel and cat food while whispering sweet nothings. I put some food near her. When she finally approaches the food, I quickly scruff her, burrito-wrap her in the towel and take her inside. As I cradle her and feed her baby food from my fingers, I make plans for a spay appointment. Then I ask my husband to make dinner because before this evening is over, I'm going to begin socializing this kitten and catch the mom getting her fixed quickly, reducing the chances of finding another homeless kitten in my shrubs."

Before you respond to a seemingly homeless kitten, ask yourself several questions:

  • What is the weather like? Cold and wet ...rescue
  • Warmer weather you might want to wait to see if mom shows up.
  • How old does this kitten look? If both eyes are closed ... rescue.
  • Are the eyes runny, does the nose have discharge ... rescue
  • Is the coat unkempt ... rescue.
  • Is it injured ... rescue.
  • Are there outside predators? Any unkind humans in the area that might hurt this baby ... rescue.
  • Have any tomcats been spotted in the area? (Toms kill kittens) ... rescue
  • Outside kittens are susceptible to fleas, ticks and worms, those parasites quickly harm, even kill a kitten ... rescue.
  • How is the kitten acting? Sick kittens huddle and look miserable, healthy kittens stay alert and move about.
  • Have stray cats been spotted recently that might be the mom?

For more information about what to do with stray kittens please visit

Mary Anne Miller is an award-winning writer and member of The Cat Writers' Association. She shares her home with many rescued strays and socialized ferals. Her websites include and


Contact Us


Share with your followers.

For Kids ... About Cats

The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.
This program is supported by
The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.


Cat Care | You and Your Cat | Cats in Need | Cat Breeds | Catnip Center | Boutique | About Us

CFA | Privacy Policy

©CatsCenterstage 2010-2016
This program is supported by The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.