So, it’s kitten season again and this year you’re determined to get involved and learn how to foster kittens. You’ve contacted your local shelter or rescue, had an interview and home visit and you’re ready to take in your first litter. Hooray! But wait, is your home, and more importantly, are you really prepared?
Caring for a litter of foster kittens is very different than owning adult cats. Sure, you need the basics like food and litter, but a few extra products and some expert know-how from us will help you make the experience as seamless as fostering kittens can be!
A Cage or Enclosure
You’re probably thinking: A cage? Isn’t the idea to get the kittens out of cages? Yes, but ultimately the goal is to give kittens a safe quiet environment where they can grow and be socialized. We’re not suggesting you keep your kittens in a cage for the duration of their foster visit. But having an enclosure where kittens can hide and get food, water and sleep is a great idea… and one that’ll keep you sane. They’ll feel safe in an enclosure and you will too because you’ll know exactly where they are.
Remember this: The younger the kitten, the less space they need. Putting kittens in a large open space confuses them as they’re unable to find their food, water and litter box. In fact, if you see a kitten go to the corner of a room or against the wall and use the bathroom, the space is too big.
Get an enclosure that’s big enough to house a small litter box, bowls of food and water and some toys. When choosing a cage, think height and not width. That way, it doesn’t take up a lot of surface area, but it’ll give your kittens an opportunity to learn how to climb and survey their surroundings from above. Some cages come equipped with ramps, ladders, and hammocks. And here is the ultimate pro tip: Buy an enclosure on wheels! That way you can scoot it from room to room with no problem.
Keep your kittens in their cage or enclosure for the first day or two of their stay, allowing them to wander out in short stints to check things out. This will allow the little furballs to acclimate to you as you learn how to foster each litter of kittens, your home and all of the new sights, sounds and smells they’re now processing.
After a few days or a few weeks, you’ll notice your kittens climbing around the cage, cruising confidently up and down the ladder and maybe even hanging out in the hammock. Now it’s time for them to “graduate” to a small room!
The Small Room
Like we already discussed, kittens are perfectly fine in small rooms, and the bathroom is usually where they wind up for practical purposes. One thing you need to think about beforehand is the bathtub. When they’re really little, kittens can’t get out of the tub, but they grow fast, and before you know it, they’ll be hopping in and out of it. This can be somewhat dangerous, as it’s a long jump up and down for a kitten. Assess the space and make sure your kittens are safe and make any adjustments to the tub or surrounding area to ensure that your fosters aren’t at risk of hurting themselves.
We can’t emphasize the amazing power of puppy pads! Put them under litter boxes, food bowls and inside the enclosure for easy cleanup. You’ll soon learn that kittens are messy. Some of their behaviors include standing in their food(?), walking through their poop(!) and knocking over their food and water(?!). Save yourself the headache of doing three loads of laundry a day and invest in a pack of puppy pads instead. Trust us on this one!
Humidifier and Heating Pad
Kittens are also very fragile, and you’ll likely foster a litter that requires medication and a little extra TLC. Worms, diarrhea and upper respiratory infections (URIs) are pretty common ailments for shelter kittens. Kittens who have URIs benefit from warm, moist air too as this helps them breathe better. Don’t ever add any essential oils, such as eucalyptus, to the humidifier though. Certain essential oils are toxic to animals.
Anyone learning how to foster kittens will quickly see that a heating pad or hot water bottle is a must for a kitten foster parent. You’ll need one or the other for sick kittens or if your home runs cool. It’s important that kittens stay warm. That’s why you frequently see them curled up together or resting on a heating pad when we think it’s hot!
Because kittens haven’t mastered the fine art of being cats, they do things that cats would never do, like eat their own kitty litter. Don’t ask why, maybe it tastes good? Joking aside, this is a serious issue when a kitten ingests clumping litter, because it clumps in their stomachs and can be fatal. Grab the non-clumping kind, which can be a little harder to find. We prefer litter made from newspaper or wood, that comes in pellets instead of granules. It’s cleaner and less of a hassle for you because kittens can’t kick it out of the box and onto the floor. It can be frustrating to deal with this behavior at first but in the end, it’s part of the fun of learning how to foster kittens.
Cat Tree or Some Kind of Cat Furniture
Now that you’re a kitten foster parent, it’s time to surrender to the thought of cat furniture. The reason why these hideous things exist is because cats freaking love them. Hopefully, you’re going to foster several litters, so don’t buy anything too expensive, as they get dirty pretty quickly. (See aforementioned note about kittens walking in poop). Luckily, you can get a small cat tree for less than $40 that will come equipped with everything your kittens need: height, a hangout spot and a scratching post. After your third or fourth litter, you’ll probably want to retire the cat tree. And by retire, we mean throw it in the trash.
Cat Wipes: Avoid bathing kittens if you can. Get bathing wipes for messy or smelly kittens.
Baby Food: A kitten who’s gaining weight is a healthy kitten! Sometimes they’ll need a little extra to get them to eat. Mix human baby food with their kitten food. They love it! Chicken or turkey flavor is best.
Kitten Formula: Again, this is to help kittens gain weight. Don’t ever give a kitten cow’s milk.
Pate Wet Food: Kittens are unable to chew the food that comes in pieces or chunks. Get pate food instead and avoid fish flavors.
Disposable Paper Trays for Food: Get some of these for when the dishwasher is full or if you have a large litter of kittens.