How to Pet Stray Kittens: Steps and Safety Rules

Nothing can be more irresistible to a certified cat lover like you than the innocent and curious stare of a stray kitten. It can be so enjoyable and rewarding to see the happiness on its tiny face as you scratch its chin and cheeks. Although it may have been your habit for some time now, you may still want the question “is it OK to pet stray kittens?” answered.

As a general rule, petting stray kittens is OK if they look friendly and healthy. Contact with unhealthy stray kittens may put one’s pets at risk of getting infections and diseases from them. Sometimes, even clean and healthy-looking stray kittens can still carry bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

What’s nice about stray kittens is that, unlike feral kittens, they are open to being approached and petted. This is why it is very much possible to adopt these furry cuties and turn them from homeless felines to house pets.

Unfortunately, when it comes to bringing home stray kittens, let alone petting them, things are not as easy and simple as they seem.

There are some things you need to bear in mind, such as they could be someone else’s pet or harboring serious health-related concerns that can be transmitted to other animals, including your pets, without much trouble.

No matter if it’s customary for you to spend a few minutes with every stray kitten that you run into on the streets or you are thinking about playing with some homeless ones for the first time, read on. Below, you will come across some of the most important matters you need to know about petting stray kittens.

Warning Signs to Look For When Petting Stray Cat

stray kitten

Before you decide to touch, hug or carry a stray kitten, it’s a must that you look for some telltale signs that you can indeed pet it without any complications. The ultimate goal for petting a stray kitten is for you and the baby cat, too, to have a wonderful time and not the both of you end up stressed and frustrated unnecessarily.

Especially if you have pets, the last thing you would want to happen is for your four-legged friends to acquire an illness or disease whose causative factor you could get from a sick stray kitty cat.

Refrain from assuming that this is something that you need not worry about since your pets are canines and not felines. Certain cat diseases can be passed onto dogs! Some of the things that dogs can get from cats include skin diseases such as ringworm and mange, as well as parasitic worms such as roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms.

Here are some signs that you should avoid petting a stray kitten for your pet’s sake:

  • Crusty and swollen eyes. Eye problems in stray kittens are pretty common because their immune systems are still weak, and they are always exposed to microbes and irritants. One eye-related issue in little cats is conjunctivitis or pink eye, which is highly contagious, especially if it’s the viral kind.
  • Discharge from the nose. Nasal discharge in kittens can vary in appearance, depending on the cause. For instance, discharge that’s clear and watery is usually due to exposure to allergens or irritants. On the other hand, discharge that’s green or yellow is caused by a bacterial or viral upper respiratory tract infection.
  • Ear debris. Does it seem like the ears of the stray kitten have coffee grounds? Then it could have ear mites — tiny parasitic insects that eat earwax and ear oils. Ear mites can cause a baby feline to scratch aggressively all the time, which can cause bloody and infected sores on its ears.
  • Bald patches and crusts. Because of where a stray kitten lives, it’s quite easy for the tiny animal to develop all sorts of skin infections and diseases. Some examples include ringworm and mange. Many skin problems in cats can cause itchiness, which is why it’s not unlikely for the kitten to have secondary infections.

Note that not all health-related concerns in stray kittens have manifestations that you can easily spot. In most instances, the only way to know the complete health status of stray kitty cats is by taking them to the vet.

Besides clues about its health, you should also check out things that can reveal the current mood or temperament of a stray kitten. It’s not a good idea to pet one that’s not in a particularly good disposition. Otherwise, the little cat could end up feeling more upset and even stressed, and you could wind up frustrated and hurt.

Consider yourself lucky if the stray kitten that doesn’t want to be petted simply takes off — that’s so much better than you getting tiny scratches and bites.

Here are some indicators that you should leave a stray kitten alone in the meantime:

  • Flattened ears. If the ears of a stray kitten are pointing backward or flattened against its head, it’s a definite sign that it’s feeling frightened or nervous. Either way, one thing remains true: the terrified kitty cat is telling you to stay away, or it would attack you if necessary, even if it’s several times smaller than you.
  • Growling or hissing. Steering clear of a growling dog is always a smart move. Well, it’s also wise to leave a growling stray kitten in peace. In some instances, the stray kitten will hiss, just like a snake, if it’s angry or afraid. No matter the case, back off and save the animal from going through unnecessary stress.
  • Wagging tail. A dog wags its tail if it’s happy or excited to see you. On the other hand, a cat wags its tail if it’s unhappy that you’re around. Needless to say, you should avoid petting a stray kitten that’s lashing its tiny tail back and forth, especially if it looks like a brush bottle due to the hair standing on end.
  • Arched back. It’s customary for felines to arch their backs when they feel threatened. This is to make them appear larger and thus scare away the enemy. Alas, a stray kitten doesn’t realize that it won’t look bigger than you no matter how hard it tries. However, a baby cat will also arch its back if it enjoys being petted.

The presence of the mother of a stray kitten is a complete game-changer. That’s because it’s not just the little cat that you should consider but also its mom that could be observing you.

If the stray kitten looks like it’s in the pink of health, it’s very much likely that its mommy cat is breastfeeding and grooming it on a regular basis. There is a possibility for the mom to attack you if it thinks that you are about to harm its baby. In some instances, however, the mother may simply take its little one to a different location when you go away.

Petting a Stray Kitten: Four Steps

petting stray cat
image credit: Canva

Provided that the stray kitten appears healthy and is open to being approached and its mom isn’t around or doesn’t seem to show signs that it’s about to scratch your eyes out, it’s perfectly OK to attempt to pet the little cat.

But don’t just charge at the stray kitten and grab it. If you pet it the wrong way, you could lose its trust and confidence — this could cause it to run and hide or exhibit signs that it doesn’t like you, such as the ones we talked about earlier. When it comes to petting a stray kitten, there are steps that you should take for the benefit of both parties.

The following is a quick step-by-step guide on petting a stray kitten the right way:

Meet Each Other Halfway

Especially if the spot is right next to a busy street, it’s a terrible idea to approach a stray kitten and surprise it. The little cat could run in the wrong direction, such as toward the path of a speeding vehicle!

Cats, including kittens, consider the area immediately surrounding them as their personal space. And it also matters to them a lot that they are in control of their personal space. This is why you should avoid approaching a stray kitten and invading its personal space, especially if it doesn’t trust you yet.

What you need to do is get closer to the stray kitten without marching into its personal space.

Remain in place and wait for the young cat to notice your presence. Refrain from making large and quick movements the moment that it starts observing you — the stray kitten is trying to figure out whether you are a friend or foe, and the wrong body language can easily make it conclude that you are the latter.

If the stray kitten feels that you could be trusted and it’s in the mood to be petted, you’re in luck. Chances are that it will slowly come closer to you to get to know you more.

Sit Down or Crouch

Because you are a hundred times bigger, it doesn’t come as a surprise why a stray kitten may find you threatening.

Earlier, we talked about the fact that cats, kittens and adults alike, arch their backs to make themselves bigger each time they feel threatened. Well, you should do the complete opposite — to keep the stray kitten from feeling that you are a threat, make yourself smaller by either sitting down or crouching.

Now that you look smaller and less threatening, it’s time to win the trust and confidence of the little cat completely. You can do this by smiling. Believe it or not, a stray kitten can recognize a smile. And if there’s a smile on your face, it will make the young feline want to interact and spend time with you.

Similarly, you can talk to the kitten. It doesn’t matter what you say to it. As a matter of fact, you can make up words, such as when talking to a newborn. What matters is that you talk to the stray kitten in a gentle and friendly way.

Consider yourself fortunate if the stray kitten replies with a meow. Needless to say, it’s communicating with you. Adult cats do not meow at one another. On the other hand, kittens do meow at their moms to tell them things such as they are hungry, in the mood for some play, or not feeling well.

If the stray kitten gives a high-pitched meow, you can rest assured that it’s happy to see you.

Let the Kitten Smell Your Hand

When trying to get to know people, you ask all sorts of questions about them. Since stray kittens cannot talk, they attempt to get to know humans in a different way. And it’s none other than by smelling them.

To let the stray kitten know that it’s perfectly fine for it to attempt to get to know you by taking a whiff of your scent, hold your hand out toward it. Gently extend your index finger, too, to encourage the baby kitty cat to kick off the getting-to-know-you phase. You can think of this as extending your hand to another person to shake his or her hand.

Patience is something that you will need to have if the stray kitten is extremely shy. That’s because it may take it a while to come close to your fingertip and smell it.

Do you have a pet cat or dog? Then make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly after petting them. It’s for the fact that the stray kitten will be able to detect the smell of your pet. If the furry animal senses that the scent is from a massive cat or dog, it may back off and feel that you are not someone to trust.

But if the stray kitten likes you based on your scent, it will rub its face against your finger and, ultimately, the rest of your hand. It’s simply leaving its scent on you as a gesture that the two of you are now best friends.

Eventually, the kitten may rub itself against your arms, legs, feet, etc., to leave its scent all over you.

Rub It in the Right Places

touching cat
Image credit: Canva

Once it seems like you have completely won the full trust and confidence of the stray kitten, there’s only one thing left to do. And it’s none other than petting the whiskered creature.

Because different kittens react to being petted differently, consider starting small when petting a stray kitten. Gently scratch the top of its head. This will give you an idea of how the kitten would react to pets — it’s the best place because kittens love to be petted right there, and it’s far from the mouth of the baby cat.

When the stray kitten is already accustomed to you, it’s time to gently scratch it where it loves to be scratched:

  • Cheeks
  • Chin
  • Ears
  • Back
  • Tummy
  • Tail

Are you planning on adopting the stray kitten sooner or later? Then it’s a good idea to get the little cat accustomed to you and your petting, too, by spending time with it on a regular basis.

It’s when a stray kitten is 12 to 13 weeks old that you should welcome it into your home. Taking it away from its mom too early is wrong. That’s because it can keep the young feline from learning all sorts of fundamental cat skills, such as grooming itself and pooping in the right place.

Besides, at 12 to 13 weeks of age, a stray kitten is already fully weaned, which means that you will not have a difficult time feeding it — all you have to do is give it kitty food that you can easily get from a pet food and supplies store.

Just Before You Pet Some Stray Kittens

There could be infections and diseases hiding behind the boundless innocence and adorable awkwardness of stray kittens. Unless a veterinarian carries out a thorough assessment, it can be challenging to determine whether or not these tiny animals are carriers of bacteria, viruses and other pathogens using your eyes alone.

Besides, although they look friendly and charming, not all stray kittens are as approachable as they seem. Making the mistake of petting the wrong kitten could leave you with tiny, but nonetheless painful, bites and scratches.

Make some much-needed observations before you pet some stray kittens. It’s for the benefit of all parties concerned — you, the four-legged cuties and your pets.

Petting stray kittens that are hesitant to be petted by a complete stranger can put them under a lot of stress. It can also expose you to illnesses and diseases that your pets could get.

Before petting stray kittens, check that they are healthy and willing to spend time with you. And after petting them, wash your hands before you head home and greet your pets that are gladly welcoming you back. If you have cats or dogs, it’s a must that you take their health and safety into account, too.

Or you may take the stray kittens to the vet if you would like to adopt them or an animal shelter if you would like them to end up in the homes of cat-loving families, hopefully.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The Pet Rescue.

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