Taking in foster care kittens is a wonderful experience, but it can be nerve wracking, particularly the first time. Kittens are tiny and fragile, and a new foster parent may be worried about inadvertently harming or neglecting their kitten. Learning as much as you can before you start can help.
Why Are There Foster Care Kittens?
Sometimes a mother cat dies or abandons her kittens. In that case, you may have found a young kitten that still needs milk feeding. Or, a cat shelter may not have room for all the kittens they are given, and ask people to care for them temporarily. In this case, the kitten is usually already weaned.
I've Found a Kitten, What Should I Do?
If you find an abandoned kitten, first make sure that the mother isn't coming back. If there is no sign of her, you should keep the kitten as warm as possible, preferably putting it against your own skin until you can get it to a heated place. Take it to the vet as soon as possible, particularly if you have no experience with fostering kittens. It may need worming, flea treatments re-hydration, or other care. Your vet can also advise you on how old your kitten is and how to feed it.
How do I Feed my Kitten?
If it is a very young kitten, you may have to feed it with an eyedropper, or a special kitten nursing bottle. Buy kitten milk formula (if you can't find any quickly, call on your local vet or cat shelter and ask their advice). Week old kittens need feeding six times per day, while two week old kittens need four feedings per day. Once they are three weeks old, you can reduce it to three feedings per day. At four weeks you can continue with three feedings but begin to give them solid food as well (either canned, or soaked dry kitten food). Usually, if you are caring for a shelter kitten, they will provide you with some food, and instructions.
The amount of milk your kitten needs will depend on how large it is, and this is generally noted on the milk container. Hold the eyedropper or bottle at 45 degrees so the kitten doesn't suck in any air with the milk, and allow him to suckle, rather than squirting the milk into his mouth.
What About the Litter Box?
Kittens can be encouraged to go in the litter box at around four weeks. Put them in there when you see them begin to go, and they will soon get the idea. Before that time, you should act as the mother cat would, and stimulate the kitten by rubbing gently on its stomach, to encourage it to go.
What If my Kitten Gets Sick?
Kittens can die very quickly once they get sick, particularly if they weren't raised on their mother's milk with its natural antibodies. Immediately take your kitten to a vet if your kitten shows:
- loss of appetite
- discharge from eyes, nose or mouth
- excessive sneezing
- other abnormal behavior
Fostering a kitten is a wonderful experience, allowing you to make a difference in a young cat's life. It can be labour intensive, particularly with very young kittens, but the reward of a happy, healthy cat is worth it.