The Basics of Kitten Foster Care

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

02 April 2019

Various shelters and the RSPCA have foster care programs for the animals that are brought to them, including kittens of various ages.
Because shelters and pounds are unable to keep kittens for a long stretch of time because of the sheer number of animals brought to them; foster care can literally be a matter of life and death for a kitten.

What does “foster care” mean and what does a foster carer do?
A foster carer is someone who only takes care of a kitten temporarily (in “foster care”) instead of adopting them for life. The reasons why kittens need to placed in foster care is listed below, but the care can last from a few weeks to a few months.
Once selected as a foster carer, the individual will be responsible for the feeding, shelter, socialisation and any other care the kitten may need. For instance, if the kitten is ill, the carer will need to make sure that they receive and take their medication as prescribed. These kittens also need as much love as possible as many of them come from very troubled or awful situations — even kitten mills.
The kittens will therefore not only have to learn to trust people (some rescued kittens may not have had contact with humans for the first weeks of their lives, for example), but will also have to be spayed or neutered, dewormed, vaccinated, etc. The foster carer, however, doesn’t pay for this, the shelter does. It is the carer’s responsibility to see that they get to the shelter for their vaccinations, however, for example. Being a foster carer is a big responsibility.

What kind of kittens are put in foster care?
There are various reasons why kittens are put into foster care to be taken care of at people’s homes rather than at the shelter itself.

These reasons include:

  • They are too small/young to be adopted — foster carers who are well-versed in bottle-feeding kittens, for example, may foster very young kittens to ensure that they get all the nutrition, love, and care that they need
  • They are recovering from illness — these illnesses can vary, but the kitten will definitely need a loving home where they can rest and recuperate. Healing in a loving home environment is preferred to having a kitten in the shelter  
  • They are recovering from surgery — the types of surgeries can differ. The foster carer will have to ensure that the wound is kept clean, free from infection and that the kitten’s stitches are removed, for example
  • They are undergoing rehabilitation — some of the kittens may have come from kitten mills and the like and would need to be taught that humans can be trusted, how to interact with humans and other pets, etc. Rehabilitation may also be of a physical kind, after a surgery or illness.
  • They find the shelter environment too stressful
  • Their area doesn’t have a RSPCA or other suitable facility
  • The facility in their area is filled to capacity — this often happens during “kitten season”, when large numbers of orphaned or unwanted kittens are taken to the shelters

What steps do I need to take to become part of a kitten foster care program?
The first step — after taking ample time to think it over and discussing it with your family or roommates — is to express interest in becoming part of a local shelter or RSPCA’s foster program through registering on their website or emailing them. You will then be able to fill in application forms to get the ball rolling!
To find out more, read this article on becoming a foster caregiver to kittens as well as the rewards and challenges of the role. Here is a quick guide to caring for foster kittens.


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