Several of us here at TB -- Nik, Darcy, and Matt (and his wife Rox) -- foster kittens in our free time. It's a fun way to do something good and help people (kittens are people too, of course). It's once again "kitten season" (the time of year when cats are most likely to give birth) and we've asked Penny, the most accomplished kitten fosterer we know, to share some of her tips on fostering kittens. Perhaps this guest post will inspire you to foster or help you out if you're already fostering. - Darcy
When I first began, I had no idea how much fostering cats and kittens would change my life and that of my first resident cat (of my adult life), Shadow. Fostering is both rewarding and challenging, often simultaneously.
There’s a call to action going around social media:
There are many ways you can help.
If you can’t adopt, foster!
If you can’t foster, volunteer!
If you can’t volunteer, donate!
If you can’t donate, help spread the word!
I personally find fostering easier than volunteering though I’ve done quite a bit of volunteering for a range of organizations over the years. Why? I can do it in the comfort of my own home on my own time! Yes I need to coordinate it with my local shelter, but I can work that around my schedule.
One benefit to fostering is that it can be very time friendly for the harried who wish they could adopt. You can successfully socialize kittens and improve their chance at adoptability in a week or two. Not every foster situation requires a long term commitment or that you foster continuously. I take a break for business and vacation travel each year. By having a range of volunteers to call, it allows rescue groups to have seamless coverage for kittens in need.
Another benefit I can’t easily describe: it’s about how I feel when working with kittens. They give me back much more than the basic services I provide them. Yes, I provide a safe shelter and reliable food. I teach them that humans can be kind, playful, and give great snuggles. In return they give me unconditional love. It’s impossible to describe until you’ve experienced it -- the first time a nervous kitten climbs into your lap and falls asleep or starts to purr. Please see Tip 5 for Return Day.
I am not an expert in fostering or in felines. In this, my fourth year of fostering, I have gathered some tips based on my experiences that I feel confident sharing.
Tip 1 - Call your expert
One thing I am quite skilled in, and I think is the most important thing when dealing with kittens: I have the number of kitten experts on speed-dial. I do not hesitate to contact them at any hour of the day or night. Similar to human babies, kittens can't tell us if they're sick and those ills an adult might recover easily from could be life threatening to a kitten. If I'm unsure. I call. If I'm still unsure, I call back.
This happened recently. At the end of March I began to foster a mum with her week-old kittens. In my opinion, this is the best fostering scenario. The kittens have mum so I don't have to do 2am feedings and in general they are happier and healthier. The mum has a nice safe place to raise her kittens. Three kittens opened their eyes within hours of each other. The fourth didn't have both open. While it is possible for kittens to not open both eyes at the same time, even though there was no sign of infection, this didn't feel right. As instructed, I watched and called back the next day. No one was worried, but said I could bring the kitten in to be checked. Turns out my gut feeling was right and kitten needed some assistance getting the eye open due to an infection sealing it shut. He went on medication and is now seeing life through both eyes.
Tip 2 - Constant cleaning
While you don't need a spare bathroom, it is an easy room to clean and disinfect. While I lean toward pet-safe products, I still rinse everything with water after any cleaning mostly to make it smell more neutral and not add stress to the kittens.
Kittens don't quite know what everything around them is yet and I have watched them go for a swim in the water bowl, walk through the canned food, and then play in the litter box. I have a stash of towels and blankets that are in constant rotation through the super clean cycle on my washer.
Disposable gloves in my size and disinfecting wipes (the scrubby ones are my favorite even if they're more expensive and not as environmentally friendly) are my best friends during kitten season. Food tracked around the room is one thing, fecal matter needs extra care.
Which leads directly to my next piece of advice:
Tip 3 - Be ready to talk about poop
This is not for the squeamish. Many kittens come with worms and a kitten with diarrhea needs care. They can quickly become dehydrated.
What's the best thing to do? Call your kitten experts. I've found different veterinary practices approach the medications differently. The biggest thing is to keep a kitten who is struggling warm and hydrated. While a little one may be eating canned food with no problem, I do sometimes add in KMR (kitten milk replacement) if they have the runs while we wait for the body to rebalance.
Depending on the number of kittens and their medical status, I often clean the litter boxes multiple times a day, at a minimum in the morning and evening. If everyone is normal, then I'll scoop at my normal time.
Tip 4 - Nocturnal play
Cats and kittens are nocturnal. While I work at home and am able give my kittens attention throughout the day, they are most eager to play in the evenings. Play with a variety of toys, both for solo play and with you. Fishing rod toys or thick ribbon-like tails (note: not ribbons) are very fun to chase. I take my kittens on field trips throughout my house to get them used to new spaces and smells. Once kittens are socialized and comfortable around me, I try to invite friends over (in a range of ages and personality types) for them to meet.
Tip 5 - Return day
The most common responses when people learn I foster kittens is: "it must be hard to give them up" or "I couldn't do that, I'd keep every one". I get it. Trust me I do. Each and every kitten I've fostered is unique and while two cats rule us, and others have tempted me, I can do the most good by helping every kitten be ready for their forever home with a family able to devote themselves to them. That doesn't make "return day" easy. Either I try to get more fosters immediately (often in the same carrier) or I handoff the carrier and run out to the parking lot while I repeat that I can't keep everyone.
One thing that will assist your shelter placing the kitten is to help answer questions that a potential adopter may have. Write up a bit about if they're a lap cat or independent, if they have a favourite toy, what treats they favour, and other similar basic questions. It doesn't need to be very detailed but it will help everyone be confident in the shelter and as they transition to their forever home. Shelters are scary so it can help adopters know how to help their kitten be happy, relaxed, and comfortable.
Many thanks to the employees and volunteers of Westchester Humane Society at New Rochelle for being supportive as I foster and also for helping me add to these tips!
Kitten Foster Manual (Best Friends)
How Old Is That Kitten? Kitten Progression: At-a-Glance
Fostering for the ASPCA
Taming Feral Kittens
Penny's current foster kittens.
Matt and Rox's foster kittens.
Nik and Darcy's foster kittens.
—Penny Shima Glanz spends her days spinning yarn and code into memorable projects. Small businesses rely on her for practical technology solutions. Designers rely on her to sample, test, and edit their handknit and crochet patterns. She loves muddy trail runs, fosters kittens, and lives in Westchester, NY with her husband and two resident cats. www.pennyshima.com
Feel free to follow the adventures of her foster kittens on Instagram as @JustEnoughKittens.