Thursday, April 16, 2009

How to foster kittens

well this was a popular search recently.

How to foster kittens.

Seems so daunting doesn't it? Where do you start, what do you need?

Well if you have a shelter or rescue that has a foster program, the foster program coordinator will start you off with their basic guidelines. They almost always provide very easy fosters for the first set or two, and might ask you later to take more 'high risk' fosters once you feel comfortable. A mom with babies, easy. older kittens that are eating on their own, easy. Pregnant moms, easy with special circumstances. Cause things CAN go wrong. Generally pregnancy and delivery is pretty easy and done with out any interveining from you. But occasionally you need to be ready for problems.

So easy. You bring them home. Set them up with a litter box, food, water and toys. When I first started I had a small office that I converted to fit the fosters. I soon realized that it would be easier for me if I could confine them somewhat, and I confiscated my older rabbit cage (still in good shape) to keep the cats confined while they were very small. It was large enough to comfortably house a mom and a few babies, a litter box and food. As the kittens got old enough to show good litter box habits, they got more and more freedom. As I continued to foster, I invested just under $100 in an official cat cage. I like it, but there are times when I like the simplicity of the rabbit cage. Only problem with the rabbit cage is there isn't easy access. If there is a kitten in the back of the cage, I have to crawl through the small door in the front to get to it.

Do you need a cage? no. If the kittens are small and you want to keep them confined, a sturdy cardboard box works great.

I do however recommend that if you have cats of your own that you assign one room to be for fostering, and keep fosters isolated from your own cats. You never know what issues foster kittens can bring into your house. Almost all of the issues that can be a problem are preventable with your own cats being up to date on their vaccines and isolation from the fosters. I am rare in how much I isolate the kittens. Most of the foster parents I know let kittens mingle with their own cats. I've done it. I'll admit it is a LOT of fun and good exercise for older cats. But since I've run into issues I only do it after the kittens have been around for six weeks or more and ONLY if they tend to escape the foster room first. (which despite the addition of a baby gate to the enterence of the foster room door they still do as they get older)

So, basics. New foster parents get easy cases. Not much to do but play with them, snuggle them, get them used to human contact. Helps to have a radio or a TV playing in the back ground when you aren't around. gets them used to the sounds of humans. I had a set that I didn't give background noise to for a while, and they were more shy than normal. Took them a little while each time to warm up to us. So I ended up getting a radio for them, and that disappeared.

another good thing to do occasionally is take them for an outting. I once had a set of fosters that didn't leave my house until they went to get neutered. They got quite car sick, and the whole experience was quite hard on them. taking them out in the carrier and drive around a few times (once a week?) or bring them back to the shelter for a visit.. I bring mine in occasionally for cuddling. I ask the staff if they wouldn't mind cuddling a kitten... which they rarely turn down. I work at a place that I can bring kittens in occasionally, which is also helpful. Going out into the world, then going home to the nest helps build up the self confidence of a kitten. And a self confident kitten makes a nice well adjusted and loving cat.

Over the years I've gotten a few extras for the foster kittens. Climbing trees, cute beds, play cubes, etc. But generally they just want to play with those things you don't want them to, like plastic bags, pop tops from cans, strings from bags of litter :) You need to be VERY careful to kitten proof. Kittens once they get that walking thing down are very much like human toddlers at a birthday party.

Often, when I tell people what I do, they ask how I can do it, how can I give them back. Well I laugh and remind them I now have a multitude of cats, and sometimes they don't go back. One foster parent I know ended up with 12 cats. Most have one or two they end up keeping, but we love cats, and we love our cats, and we know that to keep adding to the household would only cause problems, and would probably end our ability to foster. The other thing I tell people is that when you have a group of kittens, it is a completely different thing than falling in love with one cat a time. Yes, they are adorable, fun and make you laugh, but 5 kittens can get into more trouble than you can imagine, and make big messes (the dustpan and broom will be your best friend) and by the time they are big enough to go back to be adopted you will very much be like the mom of the toddler at a birthday party. I've actually begged the shelter to take back kittens before.

now, when you get one kitten, or you have a sick or special needs kitten, you are apt to get attached. Which is another reason why you aren't given those kitties when you first start up.

so long post to say you need a warm safe place for them to be and time to love them (and clean up after them). It is oh so easy and so very rewarding to watch kittens grow into healthy self confident cats.

if the shelter or rescue does not provide food and litter, then you will need to provide that. Most take care of medical issues. Make sure you know what you will be responsible for. Find out what their policies as well as their emergancy policies are (because emergancies rarely happen when they are open)

If they do not provide medical care, then be very careful. Because sick kittens can quickly drain you financially. several trips to the vet, several different medications. etc. not all kittens get sick, but it is common.

URI is the most common. usually requires a little liquid medication given once or twice per day (depending on the medication of choice) Young kittens are usually very easy to medicate, especially with liquid. You just need to make sure they continue to eat and play. Any change in that behavior would warrent another trip back to the shelter for further treatment.

Questions? Just leave a comment, I'll be happy to answer them.


  1. Anonymous12:47 PM

    You seem like an expert at fostering! I just picked up a foster kitty last Thursday that was about 7 weeks old. She weighed 2.9 lbs. She was very lively the first day, then had diarrhea every day after and started sneezing and having watery eyes. When I took her back to the shelter for an exam they said she had lost 9 oz. But didn't want to give her anything for her eyes because it might cause more diarrhea. Two days later she had stopped drinking and playing and mostly slept. She did eat better but everytime she did she had diarrhea. I got permission to take her to the emergency vet and for her to stay there until the shelter picked her up the next morning. Did I do the right thing leaving her at the vet? I kept thinking that she wasn't getting better staying with me, but I feel like I abandoned her. Of course, when we got to the vet she seemed livelier (like when you take your car in and they can't replicate the problem). Should I have kept working with her in the hopes she would get better on her own? When is it the right time to release the kitty back to the shelter?

  2. Hi there.

    You didn't leave anyway for me to contact you, so I have to reply to the comment and hope you come back and check it.

    I was just thinking about your question when your comment showed up - which was very interesting to me personally. I love when things like that happen, so I'm going to create a post about this. I hope you do not mind.

    Check it out at:

  3. Thank you so much for your response to my comment. It has helped me feel so much better. The kitty is at the shelter and they are monitoring her closely and they did see some of the same behaviors I was seeing. They also said it was good that I had taken her as if they had gone ahead with her spaying surgery instead of fostering her out for a week or two that she might not have made through surgery. I am trying to visit her every few days while she is trying to get better. Thank you, Thank you!

  4. Anonymous2:35 PM

    I'm on the hunt to figure out what is wrong with my kitten. I got him from a friend who rescued and fostered him from a stray mother who abandonned him. He quickly became litter trained at about 3 or 4 weeks old. When I brought him home at 8 weeks, he was still using the little box. Now, he is 11 weeks and has recently seemed confused about the whole thing. Sometimes he uses it but sometimes he just goes anywhere. I've also come home to find his excrement only a half foot away from his box. Do you have any suggestions?

  5. Hi Anon..

    Like Sara, I have no way to contact you, so I can hope you come back and check this post.

    Young kittens are very much like toilet training toddlers. They play and play until they HAVE TO GO NOW! and if they do not see a box, they will use the closest quiet corner.

    For the next few weeks you can either put small litter boxes - I'll often make litter boxes out of shallow cardboard boxes like those on the bottom of a case of cat food - and put them all around the house in the rooms you let the kitten in, or you can create a kitten room and keep the kitten in there when you are not able to watch it.

    When I am fostering orphaned kittens, I use one room, but I will often have to put litter boxes in each corner of the room to ensure they use the box. For the last few kittens I ended up keeping I would put a few boxes in the upstairs of the house and they had the main litter boxes in the basement. As they grew up, I would eliminate the boxes I didn't want to keep and they learned that it was best to go down to the basement. I did not expect them to know that until after they were six months old.

    Good luck with your kitten!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...