Famed 19th-century French writer Jules Champfleury observed, “A kitten is the delight of a household. All day long a comedy is played out by an incomparable actor.” These adorable, fluffy feline “actors,” however, require a lot of attention and care to ensure they grow up to be healthy cats. Kittens under eight weeks old are not ready for adoption due to extremely vulnerable immune systems and the need for almost constant care. This is why fostering kittens is tremendously rewarding because pet foster parents are not only ensuring the well-being of foster kittens but also provide critical contact with humans that will make adoption possible. The task of fostering a kitten, however, requires a commitment, and prospective foster parents should be aware of the unique needs of kittens.
The path to kitten foster parenting can be through a shelter, rescue or agency; or by chance after finding a newborn kitten or litter outside. Regardless of how you become a foster parent, you are playing an important role in animal welfare, particularly during the spring and summer, which is the peak of feline breeding season. Sadly, an estimated 1.4 million cats are euthanized each year.1 Providing a loving foster home for a kitten will not only help that kitten but also allow shelters to care for additional animals in need.
PREPARING YOURSELF AND YOUR HOME FOR A FOSTER KITTEN
Welcoming any new pet into your home requires preparation, and your entire family including any furry family members will need to make adjustments. First, you should consider the time and commitment necessary to care for a foster kitten. While pet foster placements are meant to be temporary, there is no way of knowing when a forever home is identified; and every effort should be made to commit to fostering until an adoptive home is found to avoid the trauma of moving a foster kitten unnecessarily.
Second, your home must not only provide a safe environment for a foster kitten, but your lifestyle and schedule must be able to accommodate the new member of the family. Because kittens are so vulnerable to disease, kittens should not be exposed to other pets until core vaccines have been administered beginning at about six weeks old and boosters until 16 weeks.2 To keep young kittens healthy requires a safe, warm space away from other animals. You may also want to create a nesting box or small bed for maximum comfort. Also, depending on age, kittens need attention every 2-3 hours. This includes bottle feeding and stimulation to encourage urination and defecation. At about five weeks, kittens will no longer need stimulation, but will still require feeding every 6-8 hours until they reach eight weeks, which is also the age that kittens are ready to be adopted.
Finally, foster parents will need to have kitty supplies to go along with the love and attention of the foster family. Make sure to have a heating pad with a soft blanket or cover, a shallow water dish, a shallow litter box, and an area clear of anything dangerous to a curious kitten. Foster parents should also be aware that kittens can start eating moist cat food at approximately five weeks old and will start showing interest in cat toys around seven weeks.
HOW MANY TIMES A DAY SHOULD YOU FEED A FOSTER KITTEN?
After you have welcomed your foster kitten home, you should establish a routine. Most importantly, a kitten must be bottle-fed kitten formula regularly based on age and size. Never feed a kitten cow’s milk or human baby formula. The following chart provides a general guide for feeding,3 but you should consult a pet care specialist to discuss a schedule based on the kitten’s weight:
- 0-1 weeks: every 2 hours
- 1-2 weeks: every 2-3 hours
- 2-3 weeks: every 3 hours
- 3-4 weeks: every 4 hours
- 4-5 weeks every 5-6 hours
- 5-6 weeks: every 6-8 hours
- 6-8 weeks: every 8 hours
Kittens can become dehydrated very easily, so it is important to stick to the feeding schedule and monitor weight and growth. Also, be careful not to overfeed the kitten because kittens can only take small amounts of food at a time. As mentioned, you will need to stimulate your kitten after each feeding until about 4-5 weeks old, when the kitty should begin using the litter box. Also, it is important to introduce your foster kitten to the litter box as early as possible.
MAKING SURE YOUR FOSTER KITTEN IS HEALTHY
Healthy kittens should see a veterinarian for a wellness exam and vaccinations no later than eight weeks old. If your foster is from a shelter, rescue, or agency, your foster kitten should have already been examined. The foster care program coordinator will advise you of any special medical needs, medications, and the schedule for follow-up visits.
In the case that you found an abandoned kitten, you should make sure that the best decision for the kitten is to take the kitten home. First, check to see if the kitten is truly orphaned or abandoned. If the kitten looks clean and plump, then a feline mother is probably providing care. However, if the kitten looks dirty, underweight, or sick, you should take the kitten to a veterinarian for evaluation. Stray kittens, especially newborn kittens, may need immediate medical attention and there is a possibility of spreading disease to other animals, so always have a medical evaluation before bringing a stray kitten inside your home.
Second, you should also be aware that feral cats are not the same as stray cats. A feral cat is a wild animal, and has not had human contact. Feral kittens, however, may be tamed with early contact with humans and socialization. Often, it is difficult to tell if a kitten or cat is feral, so you should be careful when approaching, especially if you are trying to remove a kitten.
If a feral kitten seems to be well cared for by a mother cat, then you should probably not try to take the kitten away since there is no need. However, you can report the feral cat family to an organization that helps feral cats. These organizations provide humane care and services to feral cat colonies including T-N-R (trap, neuter, return) and greatly improve the lives of feral cats and kittens.
On the other hand, If the kitten appears to be feral and has been abandoned or looks unhealthy, the kitten may need to be trapped to ensure your safety and the safety of the kitten. This can be difficult because a feral kitten will be instinctively afraid of humans based on genetics.4 Most animal rescue organizations or local animal control agencies will be able to assist you to ensure a safe capture. Fortunately, feral kittens can be tamed if socialized before eight weeks old, and with a nurturing and patient foster parent, tamed feral kittens can be adopted and grow to be wonderful family pets.
Fostering kittens is very rewarding. Even though kittens need a lot of attention, they also provide tremendous joy. Since there are so many stray cats in need of homes, every kitten foster placement makes a big difference. Opening your heart and home to a foster kitten is a wonderful opportunity to help a kitten grow to become a healthy cat and find a forever home.
1 Increasing survival rates of rescued kittens [Online Article], Retrieved May 10, 2020, from https://kittencoalition.org/news-events/statistics/
2 Vaccinating your kitten, 2012, [Online Article], Retrieved May 10, 2020, from https://www.petmd.com/cat/centers/kitten/health/evr_ct_kitten_vaccination_schedule
3 Fostering 101 [Online Article], Retrieved May 10, 2020, from http://www.kittenlady.org/fostering
4 Trapping tips and TNR [Online Article], Retrieved May 10, 2020, from http://www.communityconcernforcats.org/resources/trapping-tips/