How To Rescue And Care For An Orphaned Feral Kitten
I recently rescued an orphaned kitten. In this post, I will share what I learned and share some things to help you rescue and care for an orphaned feral kitten. Hopefully, you can learn from some of my mistakes!
It was a blisteringly hot day in September. The forecast was for the temperature to soar to 115F. As I was walking around the neighborhood on one of my regular dog walks, I heard faint crying from a kitten in the engine compartment of a car that hadn’t moved in quite a while from the looks of it.
When I first heard the meowing, I was walking three large and sometimes aggressive dogs. So, I asked a worker on a nearby construction site for help. He could hear the kitten but couldn’t see it or get to it. He was more interested in going back to work, though, and quickly gave up. He was, after all, working. So, I would need to come up with a different plan.
Since it was so hot, I was worried that the kitten would die in the hot engine compartment. I took the dogs to their home, just a few blocks away, and picked up cat food, water and headed back as quickly as possible.
When I returned, I could still hear the kitten but it wasn’t as loud. I knocked on doors to try to find the owner of the car. One of the neighbors asked if I had tried to open the door. Maybe it was unlocked?
I didn’t want to mess with someone’s car. But, I was afraid the cat was dehydrated, overheating, and might not survive. So, I figured that it was worth a try. When I pulled on the door handle, to my delight, the door opened and I quickly popped the hood. I could see the kitten. But, it retreated further into the engine just out of reach.
Around this time, another neighbor pulled up and said that he knew the owner of the car and asked what I was doing. I explained about the kitten, he called the owner of the car and parked. Then he went to his trunk, put on some gloves, and came over to help!
After many attempts, the helpful neighbor tried from several different angles until he was able to grab the tiny little kitten and then handed it to me and said, “okay, here is your cat”.
My cat? I guess I hadn’t thought about what I would do if we actually were able to free him from the car!
Then I loaded him into my car and headed to the vet. Of course, the vet was closed for lunch and would return in a couple of hours. So I brought the tiny, scared kitten home. I was glad that I didn’t have far to drive. The kitten was squirming and trying to escape my grasp. He was small enough to hold with one hand though and we were home in just a few minutes..
I had two kittens and two dogs of my own at home already that I wanted to keep safe and healthy. The rescued kitten was covered in fleas, probably had worms as most kittens do, and surely had not been vaccinated yet. It was also very unhappy with me and terrified of its new surroundings. I gave it a couple of baths with Dawn dish soap because it seemed too small and young for flea shampoo. Dawn dish soap is supposed to be good for fleas. I guess I would soon find out.
I didn’t eliminate all of the fleas with the Dawn baths. But, there were far fewer. Next, I put the kitten in my bathroom to separate it from my personal pets. My animals were healthy and free of fleas, and I hoped to keep it that way. I put food and water out for the kitten, and I hoped it would be fine in the bathroom while I waited for the veterinarian to finish his lunch and figure out what to do next with this tiny animal.
I went back to the bathroom about 30 minutes later, and the kitten had disappeared! I had no idea how. The door had remained closed. I couldn’t believe it. I searched the cupboards. I took everything out of every cabinet and still couldn’t find the kitten.
As I mentioned earlier, it was very hot this day. I was worn out from my rescue adventure. It took about an hour to free the cat from the car and I was overheated and very tired. It had been a very hot week and I wasn’t tolerating the heat as well as I usually did. Now, I didn’t even know where or how the kitten had escaped. So, I tried to take a short nap.
Then I heard meowing again. I rushed to the bathroom and still could not see the kitten. This kept happening. Still, no kitten could be seen.
I couldn’t take the kitten to the vet if I couldn’t find it! I was worried because the food and water were out and didn’t seem to be touched. I had to go back out of the house to walk a few more dogs. I came home around 5:30 pm and still couldn’t find the kitten. I was getting really frustrated and worried.
I turned off everything in the house that made noise so I could hone in on the sporadic meowing that I could still hear. It sounded like it was coming from the bathroom wall! But how?!?!
I got down on my belly and looked everywhere I could from the kitten’s POV. And then…I spotted the problem. Tucked under my bathroom vanity, above the baseboard was a small unfinished hole in the wall between the wall and the vanity that was only visible from this angle on the floor. the hole was about 3" square. I had never noticed this bit of unfinished carpentry before now. Surely it was too small for a kitten to fit into.
But, when I stuck a wooden spoon into the hole, I felt the kitten and heard it. It was also not going to come out on its own. I was afraid that the kitten would die in my bathroom wall. So, I gathered tools, saws, my drill and started to cut a larger hole, careful to not injure the kitten. I felt like I was going to pass out. My hands were starting to tremble and shake. I hadn’t felt well all day. I would later find out that I was having problems with my thyroid that made me intolerant of heat and very weak. But, I didn’t know it at the time. I just knew that I needed help.
Several weeks later, I would be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism caused by Graves Disease. All of the weird symptoms were caused by this. I am on medication for this now and feel much more like myself.
So, I walked upstairs to my neighbor, who is always drilling something or building something, and asked for help. He was happy to help and we have become friends since our little kitten rescue adventure. We freed that little bugger and I put him in a crate where I could keep a closer eye on him after I bottle-fed him. Luckily, he was hungry and ready to settle down.
The small kitten was so tiny that I thought he was younger than he actually was. He bit the nipple right off of the kitten bottle. His eyes had changed color already too. So, he was at least 3–8 weeks old. I mixed the formula into the food and he was happy to eat that by morning. I did some Googling and added a heating pad to the crate, a small disposable litter box, and some water. The crate that I used was for my border collie so there was room to be on the heating pad or not. This is important and I will share why in a few paragraphs. My border collie dog, Betty, loved the little kitty. She has surprised me with her affection for cats. I had no idea until I brought one home.
Very young kittens cannot self-regulate their body temperature, and the queen cat(mama) keeps them toasty with her body heat. Suppose the queen cannot come back to her kittens. They will die of hypothermia in a relatively short period of time (depending, of course, upon outside temperatures and the kitten’s age).
If the queen cannot come back to the kittens, they must have a source of warmth. A heating pad works well for this. It is also helpful to keep kittens of similar ages together so that they can snuggle up to each other for warmth. With a heating pad, make sure that they have enough room to get off of it so they don’t get overheated.
Kitten Formula — For very young abandoned kittens, kitten formula is available at pet food stores. You can buy it in powder form or canned — just like human baby formula. The kitten formula is formulated for kittens, and they need to be fed every 2–3 hours.
For older kittens with their teeth, kitten food will be fine. When I adopted my personal kittens at eight weeks old, the rescue group recommended having dry kitten food available all day and offering wet kitten food twice a day. Wet food helps keep kittens hydrated because of the added moisture.
With a feral kitten that isn’t familiar with cat food yet, mixing in some kitten formula can help get them started eating cat food.
Tiny kittens need to have their bellies massaged after every meal. Their mothers would instinctively lick their bellies to help them urinate and defecate. Their tiny bodies cannot do this independently for the first few weeks. So, if there is no mama, they will die without belly rubs to help them eliminate waste when they are tiny. Once they can eliminate waste on their own, this is no longer necessary.
Have a small shallow box with some kitty litter in it. Cats instinctively know what to do in kitty litter once they are old enough to crawl around and go potty by themselves.
Once the excitement of the day wore off, I posted a photo of the kitten on my social media that night and shared his story. One of my customers was interested in adopting the little guy, and there are days that she says that wishes she could return him to me. I know that she is joking though. She and her husband have grown to love the little guy. She had an elderly cat that recently passed away and the kitten has a very different disposition.
He is quite the character now, and I hear that he runs circles around their house every morning and tries to ride their cocker spaniel. He is healthy, growing, and full of personality.
If you need to find a home for a rescued kitten because you cannot keep them, carefully consider the prospective new owner. I rehomed the kitten I found to someone that I personally knew would provide an excellent home.
Always be careful rehoming a pet to a stranger. Adding a rehoming fee will weed out some of the bad characters. You don’t want to rescue a pet and then place them in a bad situation. If this seems overwhelming, contact a rescue organization for help.