The Guide to Fostering Kittens From Newborn to 6 Weeks - Is Fostering Kittens Right For You?

The Guide to Fostering Kittens Photo by AndriyKo Podilnyk on Unsplash

Thinking of fostering a kitten? Here are a few things you need to consider before taking on this responsibility, and how to provide care for their first 6 weeks!

Kitten season is almost upon us so animal shelters across the country are getting ready. The shelters often get asked to take in more pets than they can handle. Shelters rely on foster volunteers to take care of kittens or other pets which need individualized attention.

If you are thinking about fostering a kitten, there are several things you need to consider beforehand. While fostering can be an incredibly rewarding experience, a poor experience can have lasting impacts to a foster pet.

What to Consider before You Foster

Understand that when you foster a pet, whether that be a kitten or an older cat, the pet is likely leaving a stressful situation, such as being abandoned by their mothers or owners. These situations can leave psychological scars and may cause the animal to behave erratically. Foster parents will need to be endlessly patient and caring in order to bring out their true personality, which can take significant effort.

In addition to effort, make sure you have enough time to foster a pet. If you already lead a busy lifestyle, you may not have the time or energy after a long day to devote to your foster pet. Pets are also expensive. While some expenses may be covered or provided by the shelter, consider whether you can financially handle the expenses not covered.

Lastly, consider the environment where you will be providing the care. If you have existing pets, can they handle having a new animal in the home? Does your home allow for multiple pets, and logistically, is your home big enough to accommodate a new animal friend? These are all questions you need to ask yourself before signing up to become a foster parent.

Why Become a Foster Parent

There are many reasons to want to become a feline foster parent. First of all, kittens are adorable and you will be saving a life. Newborn and young kittens are especially at risk at shelters, as they are vulnerable to any germs or bacteria floating around. Every kitten fostered allows the shelter to take in an additional animal, saving more lives in the process.

Fostering is also a great way to trial whether you are ready for a permanent kitten companion. During this time, you can determine whether your lifestyle can properly support a pet. The realities and responsibilities of pet ownership can quickly set in after the honeymoon period, so a trial run allows you to make a meaningful impact in an animal’s life without the long-term commitment.

How to Foster Kittens

Kittens, especially those who have been separated from their mothers, are very vulnerable in the first few weeks of their lives. If possible, keep kittens with their mothers until at least 8 – 10 weeks old as mandated by law. If that is not possible, here is how we can step in and provide care.  

Newborn Kittens to 4 Weeks Old

Between 0 to 4 weeks old, newborn kittens are completely helpless. Their eyes will be closed and remain closed until approximately 2 weeks old. At this age, they will not be able to control their body temperature so they will rely on external heat sources to stay warm. A heating pad, wrapped in towels and set to approximately 100°F, should be kept near the kitten at all times. Ensure that the heat is constant and gentle so the kitten doesn’t get burned as they snuggle close.

Newborn kittens need to be fed every 2-4 hours. If mama cat isn’t around, the best source of food is kitten milk replacer in liquid form. Place the warmed kitten milk replacer in a bottle with an extra-small nipple and the kitten will nurse from the bottle.

After feeding, mama cats will help the kittens urinate and defecate by stimulating their backside and genital area. An alternative is to use cotton balls dipped in warm water and dab at the genital area. After repeated dabbing, the kitten will be stimulated to urinate and defecate. This is extremely important as constipation is very dangerous to a newborn kitten. If a bowel movement hasn’t occurred in 2 days, please visit a veterinarian to assess why.

Kittens 4 to 6 Weeks Old

Between 4 to 6 weeks old, kittens don’t need a heat source around constantly. However, we recommend keeping one on the side just to keep their home cozy and warm.

Kittens can continue being fed kitten milk replacer every 4-6 hours. However, they should be fed from a small bowl instead of from the bottle. Weaning the kitten from the bottle is an important step to eating independently. This process does not need to be rushed and every kitten will wean off the bottle in their own time. Eventually, you can start introducing wet kitten food into their diet. Wet food is recommended over dry food as kittens may have trouble chewing the dry food and there is a risk of the kitten becoming dehydrated.

At this time, you will notice the kitten has become more alert and aware of their environment. You can start teaching them important basic skills, such as grooming and using a litter pan. You can mimic grooming by taking a damp cloth and wiping their face and feet after meals. This will encourage them to start grooming themselves. Small litter pans filled with kitten-safe litter should also be placed out after meals to encourage them to have bowel movements on their own. Over time, the kittens will pick up these essential skills.

Kittens 6+ Weeks Old

At 6 weeks old, kittens should be between 1.5 to 2 pounds. The kitten will likely have been weaned off the bottle and are gaining more independence day-by-day. Make sure you have a regular feeding schedule, setting out food every 6-8 hours. These are growing kittens and they will be extremely hungry!

Keeping up with the kittens will be the main challenge, as they are incredibly active and curious. Make sure you have enough cat toys and play time to keep them interested. Setting up their first veterinarian appointment is also an important milestone. While kittens should not be spayed until they are older than 8 weeks, a general health check should be done.

At this point, your kitten will be old enough to get adopted out. While it is always sad for the foster journey end, know that over these past 2 months, you have raised a happy and healthy kitten and they will go to a loving home!

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