Kittens are one of life’s treasures. They’re cute, cuddly, and provide the best source of entertainment. Kittens of adoptable age are the ones seen in shelters in the adoptable kitten rooms, meowing and scratching through the bars of their kennels.
Seeing those tiny kittens, it’s hard to imagine just weeks ago how they were probably being cared for by a foster parent, ensuring they stayed warm and well-fed.
Because animal shelters don’t have staff on-call 24-hours a day, these tiny kittens’ only hope is foster care.
Where do kittens come from?
There are 30-40 million cats living outside in the United States, and roughly 80% of all kittens born in the U.S. in one year are from outdoor, community or feral cats, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Without adequate spay/neuter programs in place, shelters are overwhelmed each year with newborn kittens coming in off the streets from mama cats who are not spayed.
Regardless of how underage kittens come into the care of shelters and rescues, once they are there, they need around-the-clock care.
How young they are when they enter the shelter determines their level of required care. They may also come into the shelter in bad shape, with upper respiratory infections, eye infections, gastrointestinal upset among various other potential conditions.
Kittens all over the United States are in need of dedicated foster parents that can provide them with specialized care in order to grow up and find their forever homes.
Deciding to foster
When making the decision to foster, it’s important to consider a few things:
Who are you living with?
Will they approve bringing home new kittens and having to interact with them, even if it’s only minimal?
What about your other pets?
Can you safely quarantine the kittens from your pets with no exposure between the two?
Are you prepared for the potential heartbreak of taking in a terminally ill kitten, and having some losses?
It’s critical to understand the magnitude of such a decision before impulsively bringing home a tiny kitten when you’re not prepared.
How to find foster kittens
You can find foster kittens by reaching out to local animal shelters and rescues in the area. They may have a dedicated page with information for prospective fosters, or you may find contact information for the appropriate person to ask.
What to expect with your first foster kittens
You’ll be opening your home to some fuzzy, purring, babies for the next few weeks, so prepare for lots of adorable moments.
When taking in your first foster kittens, it is important to come prepared. Bring a carrier, some comfortable blankets, and a heating source.
Depending on the age of kitten you are bringing home, the kitten may not be able to regulate their own body temperature, and warmth is of upmost importance, as kitten’s bodies cannot function properly if they are hypothermic.
Kittens needing a foster home can come in as tiny newborns, needing feedings and assistance using the bathroom every 2-3 hours. This includes overnights.
However, when you are not taking care of them, these young ones spend the rest of their time sleeping in their heated space. This can include a cushions plastic bin with a heat source, a basket, or a playpen. These kittens, ranging from 1-week-old to 3-weeks-old don’t need a lot of space, and can be kept in a small area contently.
If you have to go to work every day, these tiny kittens can stay snuggled up in their carriers all day while you work, and only require a 15-minute break every two hours for a meal and potty break.
Kittens past the age of 3-weeks-old will start to be more adventurous, wanting to explore and hobble around their environment.
Around 4-weeks-old, a kitten will start to learn how to use the litterbox on their own, and will only need meals every 6 hours.
Once kittens reach the age of 5-weeks-old, you can start the weaning process! Introduce a mixture of their normal formula with some wet kitten food. Be sure to monitor their weight, as this stage can lead to weight loss due to insufficient caloric intake with a new form of food and eating style.
Quarantining kittens from the rest of your home
Maybe you have a bigger house with a spare bedroom or office you don’t use often. You can transform it into a kitten room! Or you have a bathroom you can set up your kitten’s things in. Or, all you have is a large space in your living room for a playpen or an enclosure made with plastic panels. Any of these options is fit for kittens!
It is okay to foster in a one room apartment! You don’t need an entire room dedicated to fostering, nor do you even need an extra bathroom. Kittens can be kept in a playpen or small closed off area, as long as they have enough space for food, water, and a litter box, until they are old enough for adoption.
It is important to keep your kitten confined to a certain space for at least 10 days (about one and a half weeks) after bringing them home from the shelter. This minimizes the chances of disease spread through your home if the kittens start to show signs of illness after you’ve brought them home.
If you have your own pets, it is critical to keep your fosters and your resident pets separate for the entire quarantine period, as well as keeping pets up to date on all vaccinations and preventions. Foster kittens very commonly have upper respiratory infections, worms, fleas, and other highly contagious conditions, which is why a quarantine is necessary.
Certain illnesses, such as panleukopenia (a very deadly virus in cats) can live in the environment for prolonged periods of time (months, sometimes years), even after your kittens have cleared their symptoms. Proper sanitization between new litters of kittens is essential in continual fostering.
Kittens are found on the streets every day, oftentimes suffering from illness, parasite infestations, or injury. When they are brought into a high volume environment without enough resources for 24-hour specialized care, oftentimes with additional care due to illness or injury, euthanasia is highly probable; except, it isn’t the only option.
Fostering kittens is not as time-consuming as you would expect, especially if you start with the older ones. A kitten 4-weeks-old and up will often have more independence, able to use the litterbox on their own, starting to eat on their own, and able to entertain themselves, though still mostly sleeping.
If your schedule only kind-of fits the needs of fostering, you can talk to a partner or friend and see about co-parenting some foster kittens together.
Kitten fostering is such a fulfilling experience, for everyone involved! Watching your kittens grow up is so incredible, and watching them find their forever home after helping them get there is immensely satisfying.
The world needs more foster parents, and kitten season is right around the corner! Soon the shelters will be filling up with orphaned kittens who need a warm home until their ready to be adopted. Who wouldn’t want some adorable little nuggets rolling around their living room for a month or two?