How to foster kittens

How to foster kittens

When Veronika Guttenberger volunteered to foster two orphaned kittens, she knew caring for them would be a big commitment.

“It really was like caring for an infant,” she says, adding that both foster kittens needed to be bottle fed every two hours. “I had to get up in the middle of the night to feed them.”

But she also knew the joy of helping baby cats would be well worth the hard work. “It’s rewarding,” she says. “You’re helping them become healthy so they can be adopted into their forever homes.”

If you share Veronica’s dedication to caring for cats, fostering kittens just might be your calling—but it’s not a decision to take lightly. Read on to learn everything you need to know about caring for foster kittens.

What Is Kitten Fostering?

Animal shelter and rescue staff might not always be available to, say, bottle-feed baby cats at 3 a.m. That’s where foster kitten volunteers come in. Essentially, kitten fostering is when kittens from local shelters are placed into temporary homes where they will be safe and cared for until they are ready to be adopted, says Randa Richter, media and partnership relations at SPCA Florida Adoption Center in Lakeland, Florida. This helps shelters provide the best care to kittens, who need lots of attention in their first few months.

Foster kittens can range in age from neonatal to a few months old. The size of the litter varies as well. Sometimes a volunteer is asked to foster just two kittens, and other times it’s a whole litter along with the mother cat. Naturally, the level of care required also changes from litter to litter. “Some kittens in need of fostering are malnourished and underweight or require medication,” Richter says. “Fostering is especially important for kittens that need around-the-clock care.”

While it is preferable for foster caregivers to have some experience with animals, it isn’t a requirement, Richter says. If you’re interested in kitten fostering, Richter recommends reaching out to local animal shelters, rescues or welfare agencies to see if they have foster programs and take the next steps to get involved. At SPCA Florida, for instance, prospective foster caregivers fill out an application on their website. Afterward, a foster coordinator contacts them to get a better idea of what level of care they’re comfortable with, Richter says. Then, when the need arises, they can match the foster caregiver with kittens based on their care needs.

Foster Kitten Supplies

Fostering kittens requires time in your schedule and space in your home, such as a bathroom, office or extra bedroom, Richter says. While SPCA Florida provides foster caregivers the supplies they need, not every shelter may have the resources to do that. In that case, you’ll need:

  • A cozy bed
  • A heating pad, especially if the kittens are orphans and don’t have a mama to keep them warm
  • A carrier for transportation and vet visits , soft kitten food, or kibble depending on the kitten’s age (Get a complete guide to feeding kittens here)
  • A nursing bottle, if needed
  • A litter box
  • A cute cat-themed mug filled to the brim with coffee to keep you going (OK, this one is more of a suggestion.)

Be sure to ask your shelter or rescue which supplies they will provide and which you are responsible for obtaining.

Caring for Foster Kittens

While the level of care will depend on your foster kittens’ age and health, all kittens require proper nutrition, regular veterinary visits, socialization and of course, lots of love, Richter says.

Many shelters and rescues will check on foster kittens regularly to ensure all their needs are being met. For example, SPCA Florida has a veterinarian on staff who their foster caregivers typically see weekly to ensure the kittens are gaining weight and growing, Richter says, and the cost is completely covered. Prospective foster parents should ask how often they’ll need to check in and about any related expenses.

Foster kitten caregivers will also need support, as they’re sure to have questions. SPCA Florida, for example, provides an emergency foster phone line 24 hours a day and an active Facebook community where foster caregivers can seek advice from other, more experienced foster caregivers. Many other shelters and rescues offer similar services, and advocates like Hannah Shaw, aka the Kitten Lady, provide tips and advice online.

One of the most frequently asked questions Richter says she gets from first-time foster pet parents is how long they will have their foster kittens. Basically, kittens will stay with their foster caregivers until they’re healthy and weigh 2 pounds, she says. Kittens usually gain about a pound a month, but she notes that it can vary.

Other common questions pertain to bottle feeding and weaning kittens, litter box training and common health issues, she adds.

Dr. Robyn Barton, DVM, adoption center veterinarian at the SPCA Florida, says upper respiratory infections and parasites are the most common medical conditions to expect. Kitten foster parents should reach out to their shelter veterinarian if they notice sneezing, eye discharge, congestion or worms in the stool. If a kitten has diarrhea or isn’t eating or drinking, caregivers should see their shelter veterinarian immediately, she says.

“Kittens are extremely susceptible to dehydration because they’re so tiny,” she says. “They can be normal one day and within 24 hours, take a turn for the worse.”

Finding a Fur-ever Home for Your Kittens

Guttenberger ultimately adopted one of her foster kittens, a “foster fail” that Richter says isn’t uncommon. But while it is definitely a happy ending, she adds, it shouldn’t become a habit.

“Giving up your foster kittens to adoption is bittersweet,” she says. “I foster a lot of kittens and if I adopted them all, I wouldn’t have enough space in my home to foster the next baby that needs my help.”

At SPCA Florida, adoptions take place through their foster coordinators, not the foster caregivers themselves, but caregivers have plenty of ways to help get the word out. Some take charming photos and videos of their kittens to share on social media. Others recruit family, friends, co-workers and neighbors to spread the word. One volunteer even rented an RV and drove her foster kittens to their new homes in Illinois and South Carolina, says Megan Allan, foster care manager at SPCA Florida.

“Foster caregivers are really dedicated animal people,” she says. “They want to find the perfect match for their baby.”

For volunteers, the sweetness of parting outweighs the sorrow

Whether you spend a long weekend or months sharing your home with a foster pet, it’s easy to get attached. The secret to letting go when the time comes — and it will — is focusing on the many positives.

Ask anyone who fosters a cat or a dog, and you’ll hear over and over again that they do it because fostering saves lives. When a person fosters one or more pets from an animal shelter or rescue group, he or she is opening up cage space for more animals — offsetting the some 2.7 million animals in shelters that are euthanized each year.

“When people foster pets, they are getting them ready for their forever homes by socializing them,” said Bridgett Knote, the intake and foster care program coordinator at the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in New York. “Socialized pets spend less time in our adoption center. They get adopted quicker because they are comfortable being around people. What’s equally important is the feedback we get from our foster parents about the behavior of the animals in their homes.”

Foster parents are required to take notes about the animals’ behaviors, temperaments and health, and share that information with the rescue group.

“In even the best animal shelters, pets are stressed,” said Marc Peralta, executive director at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles. “In a loving home — even though it’s temporary — pets can relax and be themselves. Our foster parents see the pets’ true nature. Foster pets benefit because they get more attention, care and exercise, and they learn how to behave around people and, in some cases, other pets.”

You’ve decided to open your home to kittens in need. Make sure they feel welcome by creating the perfect environment for them to thrive.

If you’ve been thinking about fostering cats, and you’ve read our interviews with foster moms Nikki and Danielle, you might be ready to take the next step and get involved. But before you contact a local shelter or rescue group that has kittens in need of a foster home, check out our tips below so you can set up the perfect environment where your kittens will be able to feel safe and comfortable.

Set Aside an Area in Your Home for Your Kittens

Rather than letting your foster kittens have access to your entire house, it’s best to set aside a particular area where they can be safe and secure, and where you can easily keep an eye on them.

Ensure the space is set to a comfortable temperature for your kittens. Being able to clean the area with ease every day is definitely going to be necessary as well. And keep in mind, too, that you’ll need to thoroughly sanitize the space if your kittens are ill. Sanitization will also be required after your kittens are adopted and before you introduce a new set of foster babies.

Ideal Environments for Kittens of All Ages

Kittens at different stages of their development will have different requirements, so you’ll need to tweak the space as needed.

  • If you’re fostering bottle babies that are 0-3 weeks old, placing them in a box, bin, or carrier with an opening at the top is recommended (keep the top open). A plastic bin without a lid is a nice idea because it’s see-through, the sides are tall enough that the kittens won’t be able to get out, and it’s easy to clean. Place a soft blanket inside, along with a kitten-safe heat source, such as a heating pad that’s set to low or a microwavable heating disk, that can be placed under the blanket. A stuffed animal, such as one that has a battery-operated heartbeat, can also provide much-needed comfort by mimicking the presence of a mama cat.
  • If you’re fostering kittens that are 3-8 weeks old, a soft-sided playpen that has mesh sides and a zippered mesh top is a great place for your fosters to continue growing. The playpen should be easy to clean, and it should be able to keep the kittens confined and safe. In addition to the blankets, heat source, and comforting stuffed animal, though, you can also line the bottom of the playpen with potty pads in case messes occur. Add in a shallow litter box (this could be as simple as the cardboard tray that canned cat food comes in), and fill it with a kitten-appropriate, fragrance free, non-clumping litter. Your kittens will also start weaning during this period, so shallow food and water dishes should also be placed in the playpen, making sure that they’re a good distance away from the litter box. And, as your kittens grow, you can even provide them with a hideaway, a little cat bed, and kitten-safe toys.
  • Once your fosters are old enough to leave the playpen, they can have their own dedicated room, if you have one for them. One thing to think about: it’s best to avoid keeping your foster kittens in carpeted areas, as carpets are harder to clean and sanitize. Ensure the room doesn’t contain any hazards, such as places where a little kitten might get stuck. Even tall furniture can be dangerous to a kitten who could fall from it. You also want to remove small objects, toxic plants, strings (such as those on blinds), and cords, as a few examples of things that could harm your kittens. Set up a shallow litter box, food and water bowls, and other essentials, such as a small scratching post and cat bed, making sure everything is easy to keep clean.

Fostering to Save Lives Doesn’t Require a Ton of Space!

There are so many wonderful reasons to start fostering cats in need. And now that you know a few of the best ways to set up the ideal environment for the kittens that you’ll be caring for, you can be one step closer to saving lives and uniting kitties with their forever families.

Almost every day I get emails from animal shelters begging me to care for kittens until they’re old enough to go up for adoption. Shelters (the term I’m going to use for both independent rescues and municipal facilities) are desperate for foster homes to take what I call “tweans”— weaned but too young to survive in a shelter.

Gemma Smith, the administrative manager of the ASPCA Kitten Nursery New York City, says foster homes allow underage kittens to grow up protected from disease and excess stress they may face in shelters. Kitten fosters feed and socialize kittens, weighing them regularly to make sure the little furballs are on a healthy track. I know when I take these little guys, I’m a lifesaver. You can be, too.

Pick a Shelter

If you want to add hero to your resume, reach out to your city/county animal shelter about their fostering oppor­tunities. Or, talk to an associate at your pet supply store about independent groups that hold adoption events onsite. Attending these events gives you a chance to talk to volun­teers and get info.

Every shelter and rescue organization has different policies, so ask the shelter some of the following questions to see if it is a good fit for you.

  • How long will I be expected to foster the kitten?
  • What are the specific needs of my foster kitten? (Frequent vet trips, medicating, feeding frequency, socialization.)
  • Do you cover veterinary expenses?
  • Where is your vet? Where do I have to pick up medications? (If you have to drive 45 minutes every time the kitten needs shots or medicine, I can assure you, it’s a pain. Been there.)
  • Will I have any say if euthanasia is necessary?

It’s likely you’ll be expected to provide day-to-day supplies as well as transportation to and from the shelter, veterinary clinic and adoption events.

Create a Resort

Gemma says, “It’s best to keep a new foster kitten separate from resident pets to give them the adequate space to grow and play safely while they adapt to their new envi­ronment.”

Louise Holton, founder and President of Alley Cat Rescue and one of the pioneers in the TNR movement in the United States, says to prepare a warm welcome for your incoming houseguest, set up an isolation room in a small bathroom or quiet cage equipped with:

  • Food
  • Toys
  • Litter Box
  • Scratcher
  • Bedding
  • Hiding box

Since isolation room sounds awful, consider it a kitten resort. A one- to three-week resort stay (depending on instruc­tions from the shelter) protects your own pets from parasites and diseases the kitten may be carrying and allows the kitten a quiet place to get accustomed to the sounds and smells of your home. If you simply let him out in the house, he’s going to feel overwhelmed. He’ll hide and potty wherever he feels safe.

Dr. Cynthia Rigoni of Houston’s All Cats Veterinary Clinic plus the veterinarian for the Houston Humane Society teach him to tolerate touch by gentle neck scratches using 18-inch back scratchers.

Monitor Health

Because they’re so tiny, a minor medical issue can quickly become a full-blown emergency. Dr. Rigoni says to monitor the kitten every day. “If they’re eating, peeing, pooping and playing, they’re healthy.” Always be on the lookout for signs that your kitten feels poopy (See sidebar above). When you partner with a shelter or rescue, they usually pay the vet bills, providing you arrange clinic visits with them. Shelters have vets on staff or have arrangements with specific vets. These vets provide deep discounts, whereas out-of-net­work vets (to steal a term from the health-insurance industry) charge full price. If you simply take the kitten to your personal vet, you may be stuck paying the bill.

How to foster kittens

©NickyLloyd | Getty Images

Avoid Foster Failure

The essence of fostering a kitten is caring for him as if he were your own, then letting him go. Getting attached is a hazard of the gig.

Naming a pet is an intimate act and creates a deeper bond. I never name my fosters, at least not names that are meaning­ful to me. I call them Tabby, Callie or Spot after a physical attri­bute or, better yet, ask the vet tech to name them.

Sure it’s hard to say goodbye. Even after 2,500 farewells, I still shed some tears. But I know he’s going to a happy home. There will always be another kitten who needs my help. If I keep this cutie, I’ll have to look at those shelter photos and know I could have saved one of those kittens. That’s powerful incentive to let him go.

When it’s 911 time

If you notice any of these 9 symptoms, get in touch with the shelter veterinarian:

ACC relies heavily on our network of foster parents to help decrease our on-site population and work with the amazing pets we have at our three full-service shelter locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Get involved today and find yourself a furry friend to share your home with!

Take your first steps with the ACC Foster Team by signing up for one of our Virtual Foster Orientations! If you’re interested in fostering a cat or kitten, click here. If you’re interested in fostering a dog, click here. At this time we do not have specific orientations for rabbits or guinea pigs – please sign up for the cat orientation if this is what you’re interested in.

If you don’t see an available date that fits your schedule, check back often! We will be hosting virtual orientations at least once per month.

We look forward to working with you soon!

Kitten Season:

Kitten Season continues into the fall! While it sounds adorable, Kitten Season is a time when we’re flooded with thousands of boroughbred kittens that need YOUR help. Our next Virtual Kitten Foster Orientations is on September 28 at 7PM. Click here to sign up! We are especially needing fosters that can pick up and drop off from our Brooklyn Care Center.

Foster FAQ:

Who can foster? Just about anyone! You must be at least 18 years old to participate in our Foster Program. Additionally, if you lease or rent, you must get permission from your landlord prior to signing up to foster a dog.

What animals can go to foster? We work with each animal individually to find the best placement and set them up for success. The greatest need is usually for large breed dogs, adult cats, and seasonally for underage kittens (under 8 weeks old).

What does ACC provide to foster parents? We will provide basic supplies for your foster pet including food, toys, cat litter, harnesses & leashes etc. We will also send you home with any medication your foster pet is on. We are available for behavior and medical support, as well as helping you find adopters for your foster pet.

How do I get my foster pet? We are not able to transport animals to and from foster homes unless there is an emergency, so we do require that our foster parents be able to pick up pets from one of our three full-service care centers (Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island) and be able to bring the pet back if a medical emergency arises.

How long will I be fostering for? We generally ask for a minimum of two weeks and the maximum is open ended. For shorter commitments, we have BoroughBreaks which allow you to take a dog out just for the day, or Straycations that help us get animals out of the shelter and into a home for a few days!

Can I foster if I have other pets? Yes you can! We do require that you separate your resident pet from your foster for the first 2 weeks. We are happy to provide advice on safe and slow introductions once the separation period is over.

Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue has many opportunities for potential foster caregivers.​ Providing foster care saves lives by opening up space at the shelter to take in more cats and giving cats with medical or behavioral needs a chance to heal.

We always need fosters to work with under-socialized/shy cats, older cats who need a break from the shelter, cats on special diets, and shelter animals with medical issues. Fostering an adult cat can be a short-term or long-term commitment.

RMFR always needs fosters for kittens too young to be in the shelter. Foster kittens may or may not still be with their mom and could require bottle feeding.

For the safety of our fosters and their foster animals, we do not accept applications from fosters outside of the Denver metro area during winter months (November to March).

If you match the criteria below, please fill out an application.

How to Become a Foster Caregiver

Anyone interested in becoming a foster caregiver is required to meet the following requireme nts:

You must be over 18 years of age.

All members of the household must agree to fostering a cat.

You must own your own home or have permission from your landlord to have cats.

If you already own cats, your cats must be current on their FVRCP vaccine and have been spayed or neutered. We will call your vet to verify; this for the protection of your own pets.

You must have a separate "safe room" where your foster animal(s) can stay for the first 10 days (standard quarantine period) while adjusting to your home. This must be a place away from your current pets in case your foster cat becomes sick or stressed.

Understand the risk of zoonotic (transmissible to humans) diseases and disease transmission to other pets.

Cats must stay indoors and can not be declawed while in your care.

You must be comfortable giving medication if required.

You must be able to handle some fractious behavior or adjustment problems that might arise in a new space.

You must be willing to bring the foster animal back to the shelter at the end of the foster period, when an appointment has been made for medical care, or to meet a potential adopter.

Adopters of an animal in foster care, including the foster party, must go through the standard adoption process at the shelter.

Fostering is simply nurturing a shelter pet in your home for a period of time. The majority of animals fostered are litters of kittens. Kittens and, very rarely, puppies come to the shelter stray or abandoned and are too young and fragile to be placed in permanent homes. They need the security of their littermates, they need special care, and they need to learn important lessons from each other.

That’s where you come in. Just like kids, kittens and puppies learn to get along with each other by playing. They learn limits, they learn tolerance, and they learn not to hurt each other — too much! This littermate interaction is essential for the healthy development of puppies and kittens. Fostered litters also learn about the home environment — other cats, dogs, and kids. When they return for adoption, they are often the most outgoing, confident animals in the shelter.

Other animals that may need fostering are animals recovering from surgery, or those that for some reason need time in a home before being adopted. This is particularly true of some of the dogs that come in and haven’t truly been part of a “family”.

Some dogs just benefit from getting out of the kennel for a “sleepover” or a weekend break. You can help make a difference in the life of a shelter animal — and have a lot of fun, too!

In terms of commitment, the length of time an animal requires in a foster home is entirely based on the individual animal. Animals can be fostered anywhere from one to two weeks, to a few months, and rarely, a year or more. It is all based on the animal and your desired level of commitment. We do require foster parents to commit to at least one foster pet (or litter) per year. Foster parents are individuals too, and while one family may foster many litters of kittens in a year, another may take on a dog waiting for a special operation, or a litter of bottle-feeding kittens in our peak season. All of your time spent caring for foster animals is valued more than we can say. You help us save lives!

If you are interested in becoming a pet foster parent, please complete our online application, and then complete a foster inquiry form based on your foster animal of choice. Once your application and form have been received, shelter staff will email you to move forward as a new foster parent with the Humane Society!

We gratefully accept the following items we are in need of at our shelter:

  • Royal Canin Mother and Babycat or Kitten (Canned & Dry)
  • Snuggle Safe Heating Disks
  • Digital Pet Thermometer
  • Digital Scale with Ounces
  • Unscented Baby Wipes
  • Purina Tidy Cats Non-Clumping Cat Litter

You can also visit our Amazon Wishlist Kitten Registry which makes giving to kittens in need even easier!

As someone who very visibly fosters orphaned kittens on social media, I receive a lot of questions about both their care and about how I fit fostering into my life. One of the most frequent questions I receive is how I feel about saying goodbye once it’s time for a kitten I’ve raised to get adopted. Sometimes this question is posed as though it must be hard for me: “How on earth do you possibly part with a kitten after raising them since they were a newborn?” Much of the time this question is followed up by an assertion that they could never give up a foster kitten, and that because of this, they could never foster.

Here’s the thing: “goodbye” is the goal! “Goodbye” is your parameter for success. If you can take a kitten from being an orphaned infant all the way up through being an adoptable 8 week old, this is how you know you’ve succeeded in saving a life. My entire goal when I take in a new foster baby is to get them fat and healthy so they can get adopted into a loving forever home. I’m interested in saving their lives. I certainly do not foster because I want more cats! Our perspective on the relationship between humans and animals can be pretty self-centered –. we often make decisions based on what’s best for us, and not what’s best for them. We don’t have a terrific framework for how to love someone without possessing them as property. This skews our capacity for meeting the actual needs of these vulnerable kittens, because of course, when a baby becomes orphaned, they don’t need an adopter right away. They need an immediate safe haven so that their bodies can be warm, their bellies can be full, and their tiny lives can have a fighting chance. They need a hero and they need someone brave enough to care for them. They need a kitten warrior.

When we inject these scenarios with so much of our own dramatic emotion (“I would keep every kitten until I had 50 cats!”) it’s an easy way to write off actually helping save lives. It’s very discouraging to hear that people don’t foster because they “couldn’t possibly say goodbye.” Saving lives doesn’t have to be dramatic and it doesn’t have to be hard – it’s about setting a goal and accomplishing it. Set the goal to save a life this year, and celebrate when you do it successfully. Throw a going away party and commend yourself for being the reason that this kitten now gets to know love for the next 20 years. My personal goal is to save as many lives as possible, in a measured, sustainable, and fun manner. This means setting limits and boundaries on how many animals I’ll work with at once, it means taking breaks when I need to, and most importantly, it means getting them fast-tracked for adoption so that I’m not holding onto kittens any longer than I must. Get ‘em in, get ‘em out. Flip kittens like a used car salesman. Rejoice when they leave!

On Saturday, April 23rd, at 10:00am EST, I will be hosting a live stream of a going away party for my current fosters, Bruno and Boop. You’re invited to join us live on YouTube to celebrate the success of these two kittens, who both had such horrifically rough starts to life, and who are now healthy and happy and getting adopted into a fantastic home. meowbox is supplying them with a going away gift which they’ll open live on YouTube, and I’ll be answering all your questions about fostering. Join us live, and let’s send them off with love! If you miss out, you can always watch the recording later. As for this Kitten Lady, I am overwhelmed with happiness when I say goodbye to a kitten. There is nothing as satisfying as knowing you’ve saved a life, and knowing that you’ll be able to continue to save lives. Goodbye is the goal, and parting doesn’t have to be sweet sorrow – it can just be sweet.

Find Kitten Lady on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on her website. If you’re inspired by the project, consider making a lifesaving donation to KittenLady.org.

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