Spirit staff Pet Advocate
Now that our clocks are turned forward and despite what the thermometer says, spring is almost here and cat aficionados everywhere eagerly await the arrival of kittens. Like all other animals, it seems that every year when temperatures get warmer, kittens seem to come out of every backyard, shed or anywhere that the momma cat could find shelter.
Many of these kittens unfortunately won’t make it to their first birthday. While a large number of pregnant cats have homes, there are quite a few who are homeless, have never been to a veterinarian and for whom the future looks very grim.
“What can I do?” you may be thinking? You can become a foster pet parent to a momma cat and her kittens. Becoming a foster parent to homeless cats can be a very rewarding experience. Foster care for cats basically requires patience, a compassionate nature, a flexible lifestyle, and some experience with and knowledge of cat behavior.
Below are some general tips that may ease your transition into foster life with not only the momma cats with kittens, but cats of various ages.
Fostering Adult Cats:
- Don’t give a new foster cat the run of your house right away. Start out by confining him to a bathroom or spare bedroom to start. If you have cats of your own, keep them separated until the health of your new charge can be verified.
- Provide a cozy bed, a bowl of fresh water, and a clean litter pan at all times.
- In the beginning, approach your foster cat slowly, cautiously, and in a non-threatening way.
- Don’t allow a cat to go without eating for more than a day. Note that fasting can have serious health consequences in cats. If your foster cat has to be coaxed to eat, try tempting treats like canned salmon or tuna.
Fostering Nursing Mother Cats:
- Provide a box big enough for everyone, with sides tall enough to keep the kittens from falling out but low enough for the mother cat to get out.
- Line the box with several layers of bedding so that you can peel away layers as the kittens soil the top layer.
- Let the mother cat feed and care for her kittens as long as she is actively engaged with them.
- Provide a nutrient-dense diet for the mother cat. Kitten food is ideal. Offer food several times a day, or consider keeping a bowl of dry food available to her at all times.
- It’s normal for the mother cat to want time away from her kittens between feedings. Once the kittens start exploring, you can keep them contained in one room with a baby gate that the mother can easily jump over.
- Kittens will begin trying out moist kitten food at about four weeks of age. If any seem slow to begin feeding on their own, you can help out by putting a bit on your finger to let them smell it.
Fostering Orphaned Kittens:
- Kittens will soil their nest box daily, so use disposable cardboard boxes and washable or disposable bedding.
- Use a heating pad on one side of the nest box only, so that kittens can move away if they get too warm. It is important to keep the pad at a low setting.
- Buy commercial kitten formula and a feeding bottle or syringe that holds between two and four ounces. Feed slowly! (NOTE: Ask your veterinarian, shelter or rescue group to show you the ideal ways to bottle feed kittens.)
- Sterilize feeding bottles with boiling water before filling with kitten formula.
- Don’t warm formula in the microwave – it creates hot spots that might burn the kitten’s mouth. Instead set the filled bottle in a bowl of very warm water to raise it to the right temperature.
- Feed kittens while they are resting on their tummies. Tipping them on their backs to feed can cause them to aspirate fluid into their lungs.
- Newborn kittens need to nurse every two to three hours.
- Until the kittens are about three weeks old, they need help with urinating and defecating. After every feeding, use a damp, slightly rough terrycloth washcloth to stimulate the anus and urinary openings.
- By four weeks of age you can introduce some solid food. Strained baby food meats or premium canned kitten foods are a good choice early on.
- As soon as the kitten starts eating solid food, a bowl of water should be available at all times.
- Kittens open their eyes at about two weeks and are moving around on their own by three weeks.
- Veterinarian care is also very important for these cats but it can be costly. Look for organizations that provide low cost or even free (if you are lucky) veterinarian care. You want to make sure that the mommas are spayed and any male fosters are neutered as soon as possible to avoid any future litters.