You’ve found kittens. Now, what? The help you get will depend a lot on how well you can describe the situation. How did you find the kittens? Do you think they need your help? How old are they? (Eyes open by 2 weeks, wobbly walk and lapping begin at 3-4 weeks, running and gruel-consistency solid food at 4-5 weeks.) Are the eyes or nose running? Signs of diarrhea? Did you see their mother –or signs that their mother will not return? Where are they located now? Is that place safe? Can the kittens be left while giving help to their mother?
No matter what ingenious measures it takes, it’s almost always better to leave the kittens with their mother —- providing food so she doesn’t have to roam for it, providing a warm shelter protected from intruders, “going with the flow” of what the mother cat herself will tolerate. A mother cat may follow her kittens indoors if you make it easy for her. If at all possible, kittens should not be separated from their mother until they have been weaned at around 6-8 weeks.
First of all, try to find out if the mother will come back for them, or if they are really orphaned. Stand far away from the kittens, if you stand too close, the mom will not return to attend them. Mother cats can travel great distances to obtain food so this can take several hours. If she doesn’t come back and they are truly orphaned, we should take care of them because kittens without a mother to nourish, guard and warm them will quickly die on their own.
If the mother is with the kittens, start feeding her (her appetite will be huge) and provide fresh water at regular times, ignoring people who say you’re only “encouraging” stray cats. Of course, you are — you’re encouraging them to survive. Later, after the kittens are weaned and on to permanent homes, you’ll want to give even more encouragement by having the mother cat spayed, whether you choose to adopt her, offer her foster care until she has a new home or simply return her after spaying to her original location.
If you’re bringing kittens indoors, because they’ve been orphaned or because the mother cat is willing (or trapped) to move with them, set up a quiet quarantine room (a bathroom would do fine) that is free of hazards. For small kittens (under 6 weeks) you may need an eyedropper and hot water bottle as well as kitten milk formula and powder for gruel. Get ready for feedings at least 4-5 times a day. Even a small kitten will also need a litter box. Almost as important as food is warmth (80 degrees or a bit higher for kittens under 4 weeks), free of drafts.
If you want to a complete step by step manual I highly recommend you reading this article by Valerie Sicignano, NYC Feral Cat Initiative