Found or Foster a Kitten
When “kitten season” rolls around we, many animal charities including PAWS, are inundated with telephone calls and emails about kittens. Kittens that have been abandoned, kittens that need homes, kittens that have appeared out of nowhere.
With so many questions asked about what to do with these kittens, let's try and answer as many as possible.
If you do not find the answers you are looking for here or would like more information on fostering please contact us in our Contact Us section.
If the mother cat is around and they are in a safe spot leave them where they are. Do not disturb the mother’s care of them. If she senses you as a threat she will move them and that move may place them at a greater disadvantage.
If the mother cat is not around she may be moving the litter (one at a time) to a safer location or taking a break. Keep a careful watch to see if she returns. If the weather is warm and they are in a protected area they should be fine for a few hours. If the mother does not return then is the time you might need to intercede.
If you do decide to intercede you must either find the kittens an appropriate foster home or commit to the job of foster parent yourself. This is a very large responsibility but one that is so rewarding. If you decide to foster a kitten or kittens you must prepare your mind, your heart and your home.
Although these kittens will only be with you a few short weeks the work will be non-stop and intense. If the kittens are neonatal the fostering will be a 24/7 commitment for at least the first 4 weeks. Until that age, kittens depend on you for help in all aspects of living.
If you have other pets make sure they are up-to-date on all vaccinations. Rabies and FVRCP (distemper, upper respiratory) vaccinations should be given at least every 3 years and Feline Leukemia vaccinations should be administered annually if your cat is going to be in contact with foster cats.
You must prepare a kitten friendly room, such as a utility closet, laundry room, bathroom or spare bedroom. This room should be heated and equipped with washable, disposable or replaceable items. Don’t use grandma’s hand-made quilt or your child’s baby blanket for kittens.
You will need to determine the age of the kittens to be able to give the most appropriate care. Below is a chart to help you determine where your foster kittens fall in approximate age.
At this stage kittens are virtually helpless. Their primary focus is on eating, sleeping and staying warm.
If the kittens are neonatal (very young) you will need a “kitten incubator”. This incubator can consist of a small cat carrier or a cardboard box with a heating pad set at low, running down one side and halfway underneath the box. The other half of the bottom should not be heated so that the kittens can move away from the pad if it gets too hot. You could also use a hot water bottle in the same fashion. Line the bed with a towel. The kitten area must be kept at 85 to 90 °F (29 to 32° C) during their first week of life, then lowered 5° (1 - 2° C) weekly until the temperature is 72 °F (22° C). Use a thermometer frequently to check the heating pad temperature.
Kittens must be fed and often. Infant kittens must be fed a minimum of every six hours to ensure they get enough nourishment. Neonatal kittens twice as often. For proper feeds check the directions provided on the formula package or consult a veterinarian. Hold the kittens in their natural nursing position -- on the stomach -- being careful not to hold the head back as that could cause aspiration of the formula into the lungs. If a kitten hasn't started eating after 24 hours, seek veterinary assistance. After feeding, wipe the face with a warm damp cloth and then dry it off until they are able to groom themselves.
NOTE: If a kitten is cold or slightly chilled never feed it formula or milk. To stabilize him as you warm him, rub a very thin layer of light corn syrup or honey on his gums. Hypothermia is a leading cause of death in small/neonatal kittens. If you find a kitten is cold to the touch, hypothermia has set in. Warm the kitten slowly using your own body heat through a blanket or towel. Do not warm the kitten too quickly as this is also life threatening.
When kittens are with their mother she helps them with elimination. You will need to do this as well until the kitten is old enough (roughly 2 -3 weeks) to go on its own. Not one of more pleasant activities but one of the most important. After feeding, take a moistened cotton ball and gently massage the anal region until they urinate or defecate. It may take several cotton balls for each kitten to complete this process.
After the kittens are 2-3 weeks old, offer their formula to them in a saucer so they will learn to drink. Gradually add small amounts of kitten food to the formula and then decrease the proportion of formula until they are just eating kitten food. Make sure you always have fresh water out for the kittens to drink. This is the ideal time for exposure to gentle handling and new sounds. This is also the time that positive experiences with humans, other cats, and other species should begin.
Even though you have provided excellent care to give your foster kittens the best start in life that is no guarantee against mother nature. In spite of everything you do, one or more of them may die. This can be very disturbing to a foster parent. Please prepare yourself and your family for what “might” happen.
You have cared for these little darlings for several weeks. You taught them to welcome and even seek out human contact; they in turn showered you with their affection and trust. Now you start on an emotional roller coaster. On one hand, you're pleased that they turned out so well and on the other hand, you can't bear to part with them. This is the bittersweet part of being a foster parent – letting go.