SO YOU WANT TO HELP KITTENS...
That's great! Fostering is an extremely rewarding experience, and with the right tools and information, anyone can learn to save the lives of kittens. Below are my tips for successful fostering.
BEFORE YOU START
Before you start fostering, make sure that you're able to commit to the kittens' needs. Considerations:
Is your household appropriate for young kittens? Is everyone you live with accepting of foster kittens? Do you have a space for them that is safe and easy to clean? Are you able to quarantine them from other animals?
Does your schedule allow for kitten care? Depending on the age and health of the kittens, you may need to be available as often as every 2-3 hours.
Do you have the tools and information you need in order to successfully provide care to the kittens?
If you've answered these questions and feel prepared to take on the responsibility of fostering kittens, fantastic! Let's talk about how to get involved.
WHERE TO OBTAIN FOSTER KITTENS
There are several ways you might obtain a foster kitten. If you are interested in fostering kittens, here are a few ways you might begin:
Contact The Ontario Rescue and let them know you're interested in fostering kittens.
You may find kittens outside and decide you want to help them. If this is the case, please make sure the kittens are truly orphaned before moving them. No one will be a better caregiver for kittens than the mama cat, so make sure that you're giving them a chance to stay with their mom.
When to leave the kittens: if they are clean and plump, the mama is likely nearby. Watch for her and make sure they are being cared for. If so, leave them with her.
When to take the kittens: if they are dirty, soiled, crying, or thin, they are likely orphaned and in need of rescue. If they are in an unsafe situation, such as being exposed to harsh weather or elements, it is appropriate to rescue them. Use your best judgment.
PREPARING FOR FOSTERING
There are several supplies you will need when fostering kittens. For a list of essential supplies look at the bottom of this blog...
You'll want to prepare a home base for your kittens. It's important that this home base be quarantined from other animals, safe and kitten proof, and warm. Your home base should consist of:
A small, climate controlled space with a comfortable temperature and a door that closes, where they can be quarantined from other animals
A heating pad set on low, with a soft blanket covering it completely
A soft blanket for them to lay on that is not directly on the heating pad (so they have the option of moving away from the heat source) very important...
Make sure the area is kitten proof -- you'd be amazed what trouble kittens can get into. For instance, you want to make sure there is not a trash can or toilet they can fall into, a curtain they can climb, a toxic plant they can eat, a small space they can hide or get stuck in.
If the kittens are above 3 weeks of age, a shallow litter box with a small amount of litter please make sure their first litter is a paper substance such as yesterdays news, This is safer for them in case of accidental ingestion. Kittens like to eat their litter when they first learn so you want to make sure they can ingest it, otherwise they could get clogged and die....
If the kittens are weaned, a shallow water dish with fresh water (they will not know how to lap water until they are weaning, so you should not be giving them a water dish until they are at least 3-4 weeks and weaning.)
BRINGING HOME THE KITTENS
When you bring home kittens, the most important thing is to first understand what kind of condition they are in. If you have a sick or injured kitten in need of immediate care, take them right away to the nearest emergency veterinarian or our rescue. A kitten needs emergency care if she is:
Gasping for air, cannot breathe
Suffering from a painful infection to the eyes or skin
Bleeding from any orifice
If the kittens seem in stable condition, bring them home and follow these guidelines:
Much of the time when you get an orphaned kitten, they will have gone too long without food. For this reason, you will want to feed them right away.
Kittens 0-4 weeks with no mom will need to be bottle fed using a kitten formula. Never give cow's milk to a kitten -- this is very dangerous! Learn some helpful tips for bottle feeding orphaned kittens
Kittens 4-5 weeks are weaning and can eat slurry, a combination of formula and wet kitten food.
Kittens 5-6 weeks plus can generally eat wet kitten food. Make sure the can says it is for kittens, and provide fresh water at all times as well.
Show them the litter box ASAP and keep them enclosed in very small space so they can find it at all times.
Kittens above 3 weeks should be immediately placed into the litter box, so that they learn right away where to use the bathroom. If they are already peeing and pooping on their own, they should show interest in the box.
If they are not yet pooping and peeing on their own (which begins around 3 weeks) you will need to stimulate them to go to the bathroom. Learn about stimulating kittens by visiting you tube and searching kitten stimulation. When they are learning to use the litter box, you can do this over the box so they associate the box with using the bathroom.
It is recommended that you use a non-clumping litter, like Yesterday's News, when working with young kittens. This is safer for them in case of accidental ingestion.
Show them their cozy spot
Place them in the area where they can be warm and comfortable. Make sure they have access to the covered heating pad, but also a way to get away from it if they get too warm.
Let them sleep -- kittens sleep a lot, especially neonatal kittens. Give them plenty of time to rest.
GETTING THEM ON A ROUTINE
Get the kittens on a routine. Every few hours, you should be stimulating them (helping them pee and poo), feeding them, and showing them their comfy spot so they can safely sleep. As they get older, you can factor in some play time. Our recommended schedule is as follows:
Kittens 0-1 weeks: bottle feeding/stimulating every 2 hours
Kittens 1-2 weeks: bottle feeding/stimulating every 2-3 hours
Kittens 2-3 weeks: bottle feeding/stimulating every 3 hours
Kittens 3-4 weeks: bottle feeding/stimulating every 4 hours
Kittens 4-5 weeks: weaning and beginning to use bathroom on their own - feeding every 5-6 hours
Kittens 5-6 weeks: weaning, using litter box - feeding every 6-8 hours
Kittens 6-8 weeks: weaned, using litter box - feeding every 8 hours
Kittens 8 weeks +: make a spay appointment and adopt them out!
STANDARD VETERINARY CARE FOR KITTENS
There are certain veterinary treatments that every single kitten should receive, as follows:
FVRCP vaccine is the standard feline distemper vaccine. This is a preventative measure against feline rhinotracheitis virus, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. Kittens receive this vaccine at 6 weeks of age, and then two boosters 3-4 weeks apart.
Rabies vaccine is required by law and can be given to kittens at 8-10 weeks of age.
This is only necessary with kittens who have fleas or flea dirt.
If fleas are present in kittens under 6 weeks of age, chemical treatments can be very dangerous. I recommend washing the kitten with dawn dish soap. Make a ring of soap around the kitten's neck, then work the soap into the rest of the body with warm (not hot!) water. The ring around the neck will prevent fleas from migrating to the kitten's head, and all of the fleas will be trapped in the soap and will die.
If fleas are present in kittens over 6 weeks of age, use a flea treatment that is designed for kittens and be sure that you have the proper dosage for the weight of the kitten. Overdosing a kitten on flea treatment can be fatal.
The most common worms in kittens are roundworms and hookworms, so you will want to use a dewormer such as Pyrantel to deworm the kitten. Be sure to have this properly dosed by a veterinarian or bring to our rescue.
If the kitten has fleas, she likely also has tapeworms. Tapeworms can be eliminated using a drug like Praziquantel. There are also over-the-counter tapeworm tabs available, but be sure you are dosing any medication you administer according to the weight of the kitten.
It is recommended that an FIV/FeLV test be done on any kittens that will be adopted out so that the adopter can know the cat's status. That said, cats can and do live long and healthy lives even if they test positive, so do not let a positive result scare you. Learn more about FIV and FeLV
EVERY kitten you foster should be spayed or neutered before being adopted into a forever home. Kittens can be spayed at 2 months and 2 pounds. Learn more about pediatric spay/neuter
NON-STANDARD VETERINARY CARE
Kittens are extremely vulnerable creatures, and you will likely encounter kittens that need a higher level of veterinary care. For anything urgent such as lethargy, trouble breathing, or injury, please take the kitten to an emergency vet. A veterinarian is the most qualified to support your kitten's health. However, there are some treatments that you may utilize at home. Here are the most common tricks you might need to know, and some tips on when to get a veterinarian involved:
Dehydration is deadly in kittens, causing the organs to shut down. You can tell if a kitten is dehydrated by doing a simple "tent test." Pinch the skin on the scruff of the neck. If the skin immediately falls back into place, the kitten is hydrated. If the skin forms a "tent" and takes a moment to go back down, the kitten is dehydrated.
If you don't have access to fluids, you can also help by syringe-feeding flavorless pedialyte to the kitten. This will help restore hydration and electrolytes to the system.
When to involve a veterinarian: if you don't have access to subcutaneous fluids, or if the kitten is severely dehydrated.Please be careful not to dehydrate as this can be FATAL.
It's normal for a new kitten to go ONE day without pooping, as their body is adjusting to changes in food. However, if a kitten has gone more than two days without a bowel movement, you're going to want to start taking action.
A small amount of mineral oil, found at any drug store, can be used to help loosening the bowels. Just a little spoonful added to the formula for a few meals can make a difference.
When to involve a veterinarian: if a kitten has not pooped for more than 2 days, a visit to a veterinarian is necessary to check for blockages and other issues.
Remember that diarrhea is often a symptom of a larger issue, so if it is persistent, you will want to take the kitten to see a veterinarian to test for parasites and other issues. be sure to give kitten a good amount of fluid as they can dehydrate quickly!
When to involve a veterinarian: if acute treatment at home does not help after 48 hours, you will want to see a vet. A veterinarian can find the underlying cause, and can also prescribe something to help kittens with diarrhea.
Fading kitten syndrome
A kitten that is becoming lethargic or unable to breathe may be fading -- which can lead to death within minutes or hours.
As an urgent procedure, check the gums for color. If they are dry or white, a small amount of Karo syrup can be applied to keep the kitten's blood sugar stable.
If a kitten is too cold or too hot, you will need to slowly and safely get them to a comfortable temperature. Be careful, as doing so too quickly can be a shock to the kitten.
When to involve a veterinarian: if you think the kitten is fading, you should immediately take her to a veterinarian. Read more on google. Educate yourself...
Saying goodbye might be hard, but you can pat yourself on the back knowing that you saved a life. Saying goodbye is truly the best part of fostering, because it means you've opened your home up to be able to save even more animals. I always say I'm happy to see them, and I'm even happier to see them leave!
PetAg bottle kit (your standard kit!)
Miracle Nipple Mini
Snuggle Kitty (stuffed animal with heartbeat)
Fragrance-Free Baby Wipes (for clean up after meals/peeing)
Pedialyte (an essential for dehydrated kittens)
Gas Drops (kitten safe drops for gassy babies)
NutriCal for Kittens (high calorie supplement)
Gerber Baby Chicken Food (for fussy/sick kittens)
Fragrance-Free Natural Dish Soap (for bathing kittens with fleas)
Cotton Rounds (good for cleaning faces)
Soft Toothbrushes (20 pack -- for brushing/grooming kittens)
Microfleece Baby Blankets
Heating Pad (make it doesn't have automatic shut off) always keep on low
KMR Powder or liquid for Kittens and Cats
Babycat Wet Food