One day, you’re sitting on the couch at home when suddenly you hear a feral kitten crying outside. You want to help, but you are unsure of what to do.
The first thing you can do is to provide some food, water, and shelter so that the cat can receive some comfort.
However, if you are thinking of bringing the kitten to a shelter or even fostering the kitten, there are certain factors you should consider before making the leap.
This article will equip you with the knowledge on what to do with a crying stray cat, when to get help, and whether you can foster them.
Why does a feral/stray kitten keep crying outside? (3 reasons)
She may be hungry.
A well-fed kitten usually keeps quiet so as not to attract predators. However, a hungry kitten will cry, so her mother will feed it.
It is normal for a mother cat to leave her kittens while hunting or scavenging for food. She will return in a few hours to care for her kittens.
Remember that if a mom cat is afraid of people, she will not approach her kittens with you around.
She may be sick.
Cats living outdoors are susceptible to flea infestations, parasites, and disease.
Kittens that are sick are lethargic and will look thin, and have unkempt fur. If they have an upper respiratory infection, they will have nasal and/or ocular discharge.
The eyes might be closed shut with crusty dried discharge. They could also have vomiting or diarrhea.
A sick kitten should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
She may be injured.
An injured kitten will cry because it is in pain or discomfort. Small kittens usually stay in the nest, so the likelihood of injury is low.
However, older kittens are very active and will explore their surroundings.
Injured kittens may be limping and have trouble securing enough food. They may have visible wounds and will be less active than a healthy kitten.
An injured kitten will need medical attention.
What to do if you hear a cat crying outside? (5 important tips)
Tip 1: Provide safety, food, water, and shelter
If you hear a cat crying outside, the first thing you can do is make sure it is safe. If the kitten is in immediate danger, you can move it to a safe space nearby.
Provide it with food, water, and shelter. Do not feed it milk or food that is not suitable for cats.
These foods could make the cat ill. Very young kittens may not be able to eat kibble yet; they will need wet food instead.
A shelter can be a box or any large container.
Tip 2: Your own safety first
It is important to approach the cat or kitten with caution. Some feral cats and kittens are extremely fearful of people.
A scared kitten will growl, hiss and spit. They may scrunch down to appear small, stand up, and get poofy to appear intimidating.
You should not try to corner or grab a fearful cat or kitten. Very young kittens will scratch and bite, leading to injury and infection.
If someone sustains any cat injuries, they should seek medical attention immediately.
Tip 3: Assess health status
Usually, you don’t have to touch the kitten to tell if it is injured or sick. There is a lot that you can tell just by looking.
Are there any visible injuries? Is there nasal or eye discharge? Is the kitten limping or not moving?
Check the left ear. Feral cats that have been TNR’ed (Trap, Neuter, Release) will have the tip of the left ear missing indicating that they have received medical care and are spayed or neutered.
Tip 4: Get help if needed
Now that you have assessed the situation, you can decide whether it is a good idea to get help from an animal professional.
If the kitten is sick or injured, it will need medical attention as soon as possible.
If it is in critical condition, you can take it to the nearest veterinarian for immediate care; otherwise, most rescues can provide medical care for minor illnesses or injuries.
The section below will provide more details to help you decide whether you should bring a feral kitten to an animal shelter.
Tip 5: Make vet appointment before trapping the cat
Some kittens will be sick or injured but will still be too aggressive to be handled safely.
These cats will need to be trapped. That is the safest way for everyone involved to get the cat to the vet.
It is important to have a vet appointment or other plan ready before trapping the cat so that it spends the least time possible in such a confined space.
Most rescues have traps and people with experience trapping feral cats.
Should you bring a feral kitten to an animal shelter?
So, you have found a healthy feral kitten that doesn’t need medical help, and you hate to leave her outside.
You may think taking the kitten to an animal shelter is the best idea, but you may be wrong.
Animal shelters may not be the best place.
If the kitten has an ear tip and is healthy, the best thing to do is to leave them outside.
This kitten has already been spayed or neutered and has received medical care. Feral cats and kittens are not interested in spending time with humans.
If the kitten does not have an ear tip yet, you can arrange with a rescue or shelter to get them TNR’ed.
Taking a healthy kitten to a shelter should be the last resort. However, it may be the only option if the kitten is sick or injured.
It is important to consider that some shelters will euthanize animals due to lack of space. Therefore, avoid taking a kitten to an overcrowded shelter and opt for a no-kill shelter whenever possible.
Kittens are vulnerable.
Taking her to an animal shelter may cause her stress and expose her to diseases and parasites from other cats.
Kittens are already vulnerable to disease because they have immature immune systems. The stress of entering a crowded shelter will make her further susceptible to getting sick.
Becoming sick can be a death sentence for a kitten. Their little bodies are simply not strong enough to fight off diseases like distemper and calicivirus.
Kittens also require a lot of care and attention and need to eat every few hours, and unweaned kittens need to be bottle-fed.
Animal shelters usually do not have the time or resources to provide this level of care.
Mom could be nearby.
If the kitten looks healthy and well-fed, the best thing to do is to leave it where it is. Mom cat will be around, and she can provide the best care for her kittens.
If you are unsure that mom is around, you can sprinkle some flour around the nest, allowing you to see her footprints when she returns.
Mom might be too afraid to approach her kittens if you loiter around them. Instead, you should leave the nest and return in a couple of hours to check on the kittens.
Don’t be surprised if mom decides to abandon the nest you found and moves her kittens to a safer space.
Should I foster the feral cat?
So, you found this crying kitten and are considering fostering her. Fostering can be very fulfilling but requires a lot of work and can be emotionally taxing.
The objective of fostering is to provide a temporary home for the animal to grow up and be cared for. However, there is always the risk of foster failure, which is when you decide to keep the cat permanently instead of having someone else adopt it.
I personally don’t see a big problem with foster failure, as long as you get the kitten healthy, vetted, and adopted to a loving home.
Kittens that are less than 8 weeks old require 24-hour care. They must be bottle fed every 2 hours with kitten milk replacement formula.
They also need to be stimulated to go to the bathroom and require a heat source to keep them warm.
This is a lot of work and requires someone who has the experience, is committed, has a lot of free time, and doesn’t mind waking up every 2 hours at night.
Kittens older than 8 weeks are weaned but still need a lot of care. They will need to be fostered until they reach 2 pounds of weight and can be safely spayed or neutered.
They will receive vaccinations, deworming, and flea treatments.
Friendly kittens adapt well to living in a home. However, feral kittens must be socialized before they can be adopted. This requires a lot of patience and one-on-one time with the kitten.
When to TNR
If a kitten is older and feral, it is best to get them TNR’ed. Trying to socialize an older kitten is stressful and does not guarantee that the kitten will become a friendly, adoptable cat.
Most rescues and shelters have a TNR program which involves setting traps and taking the kitten to the vet to be spayed or neutered.
They will also be vaccinated and treated for worms and fleas. Once they recover from their operation, they are returned to the same place they were found and released.
Deciding what to do when you come upon a crying feral kitten can be difficult.
Luckily, there are many rescue organizations that can provide help and guidance. Sick or injured kittens should be taken to the vet for medical care.
Healthy kittens under 8 weeks of age are best left outside until they no longer need the mother cat’s constant care.
Once they are weaned, friendly kittens that can be socialized and adopted should go into foster care.
Feral kittens that are fearful of humans should be TNR’ed so they can live healthy lives outdoors.
Most rescues and shelters have programs with the resources, experience, and support you will need. There is no shortage of cat lovers out there, and they are always willing to help a feline in need!