Tips for Being a Good Cat Foster Parent

Many people find that becoming a foster provider for homeless cats or kittens is a rewarding and fulfilling 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 care.

Tips For Fostering Adult Cats:

  • Don't give a foster cat the run of your house right away. Start out by confining him to a bathroom, spare bedroom, or finished basement at first. If you have cats of your own, keep them separated until the health of your foster cat 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. Give her a chance to become accustomed to her new surroundings.
  • Don't allow a cat to go without eating for more than a day or two: 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, or strained baby food meats.

Tips For Fostering Nursing Mother Cats With A Litter Of Kittens:

  • Provide a box big enough for everyone, with sides tall enough to keep the kittens from falling out, but low enough that the mother can come and go easily.
  • Line the box with several layers of bedding so that you can peel away layers as the kittens soil the top layer.
  • As long as the mom is actively engaged with her kittens, let her do the work of feeding and caring for them. Take your cues from her - a foster cat may prefer that you stay away from her kittens for the most part.
  • 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. And don't forget to keep a bowl of fresh water near by 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. Other weaning tricks involve putting a bit of food on the kittens' face or paw so that they lick it off, or trying strained baby food meats in lieu of kitten food.

Tips For Fostering Orphaned kittens:

  • Kittens will soil their nest box every day, so use disposable cardboard boxes and washable or disposable bedding. (Make sure the sides of the box are tall enough that very tiny kittens cannot tumble out.)
  • Use a heating pad on one side of the nest box only, so that kittens can move away if they get too warm. Keep the pad at a low setting, and wrap it well in blankets or towels.
  • Buy commercial kitten formula and a feeding bottle or syringe that holds between two and four ounces. Feed slowly!
  • Sterilize feeding bottles with boiling water before filling.
  • 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 hot 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 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. If the kitten doesn't show interest right away, gently smear a little on its face so it will lick off the food. Work up to dry kitten chow, perhaps moistening it a bit at first.
  • As soon as the kitten starts eating solid food, a bowl of water should be available to it at all times.
  • Kittens open their eyes at about two weeks and are moving around on their own by roughly three weeks.

Photo: Drew Anywhere