Friday 20 October 2023

Can I keep a stray kitten that came into my house?

Stray kitten walks into your home - what to do?
Image: MikeB

There are two major aspects to the question. There may be more. But this is what comes to my mind: there is the legal aspect namely does somebody own the kitten that came into your home. You don't want to be accused of theft, do you? That goes to answering the question in the title but there is a second aspect; one of animal welfare. You will have a compulsion if you are a sensitive individual concerned about animal welfare to adopt the kitten if in a place to do so. To at least look after the kitten and then rehome them. There will always be pressing welfare issues under these circumstances.

This is a complex question actually. You're going to have to find out whether the kitten is owned which would be unlikely under the circumstances and I'll tell you why. And then you're going to have to look after the kitten and protect them before adopting them if that's feasible and legal or before rehoming them all reuniting them with their owner. You can guess the complexities.

Unowned almost certainly

Perhaps I am making it more complex than it really is because I am sure that in 99% of cases when a kitten comes into a home, they don't have an owner because their mother is a stray or feral cat nearby and their kitten has come in for warmth and feeding. Their mother might also come into the warm and/or other kittens. 

Health often poor

The typical scenario is that kittens under these circumstances are in a bad way with upper respiratory infections, often, and they are commonly flea infested. There is work to do on health issues.

Wait and see

You could just look after the kitten if you want to adopt them and carry on as normal. You can wait and see what happens. Sometimes these things resolve themselves in a natural way over time. For example, if the kitten does have an owner, the owner will come around perhaps and chastise you for stealing their cat at which point you will return the cat to them. All you might argue that you should keep the kitten because you've looked after them and they are in a better place. You will play that card as it arrives.


There may be legislation by which I mean local rules in your neighbourhood as decided by city administrators or county administrators or perhaps even state laws if you live in the United States of America. You might wish to check the local laws on this but I don't know of any federal laws which dictate how you should handle this situation.


The natural and normal thing to do is to take the kitten in and look after them. Of course, you might not be in a position to look after a kitten for various reasons. You might have too many cats already. You might have a dog that doesn't like cats. You might have a husband who doesn't like cats or if you are a man, you might have a wife who doesn't like cats. You have to take these things into consideration.

Microchip scanning

As to ownership, you might scan the kitten for a microchip. This would depend on how old the kitten is. If they are very young then they won't be micro-chipped probably. If they are a sub adult by which I mean a kitten that is somewhat grown-up, they might be micro-chipped. You can buy microchip scanners on Amazon quite cheaply. Or you could take the kitten to a veterinarian for a checkup and they scan at the same time.

In fact, this is what normally happens. If the first thing to do is to check for ownership and in parallel the next thing to do is to check the health problems then the natural consequence of those obligations is to take the kitten to a veterinarian for a quick check and scan for a microchip.

Due diligence

If there is no microchip and if on the face of it there is no owner, you can go home and look after your kitten. Or, if you might do due diligence on ownership and knock on a few doors and ask whether they have a mother cat who has given birth to kittens and if so, you can tell them that you have a kitten and can you keep her. That may be the way it pans out. There is an obligation here to try to find the owner but I don't think it extends to trying massively hard. It's just a natural step to take.


If you can't keep the kitten then you might take them to a shelter for rehoming. Or you might rehome the kitten yourself by talking to people you know. I would tend to prefer the latter because you can't always trust shelters as sometimes, they are euthanised even when healthy. But kittens are very adoptable normally and therefore there shouldn't be a problem in this regard.


The bottom line is that it comes down to whether there is an owner and if not whether you want to keep the kitten and look after them as an adult for the rest of their lives. This is a big obligation and if you've not cared for cats or pets until that moment then you would have to think about this seriously as a cat will change your life. It restricts you and you take on a responsibility in terms of expenditure (it can be quite expensive) and in terms of time and commitment. It's a big step like I say. I wouldn't take it casually.


  1. I have a 4 month old kitten identical to these cats. Same markings, same facial features, same tilted eyes. She is part of an accidental litter from a tabby mother and unknown father (not my mother cat). I live in British Columbua Canada. I'm confused how she can be one of these cats. Can you offer any explanation?

    1. Hi, sorry but your question does not make sense. You refer to 'these cats'. Nowhere in my article do I refer to cats in the plural and I certainly do not specify the appearance of more than one cat. So, no idea what you are getting at. Could you clarify. Thanks for commenting.


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