How to Care for Foster Kittens

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

02 April 2019

Why are kittens put into foster care?
Kittens are put into foster care for different reasons, some of which are:
  • They are too small/young to be adopted
  • They are recovering from illness
  • They are recovering from surgery
  • They are undergoing rehabilitation  
  • 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

While some of the kittens require specialised care, most just need a lot of care, love and attention. It is important to note, though, that you shouldn’t take on foster kittens that you are not capable of caring for, for whatever reason. For instance, if you don’t know how to bottle feed a kitten at all, it’s best to learn the skill first before taking on a whole litter of kittens that have not yet been weaned.

What do I feed the foster kittens?
The shelter where the foster kittens come from, will most likely have a specific food that they not only feed the kittens, but want you to also feed the kittens. It is important to follow the shelter’s lead, as certain kittens may need specific diets depending on their health and wellness.
If the kittens are still being weaned, however, you will need to feed them either only kitten milk replacement (not cow’s milk!) or a both food and milk replacement. The shelter or your vet will also be able to tell you the exact amounts you need to feed them according to their ages.
This article will tell you more about kitten nutrition.

Should I play with the foster kittens or just leave them to play with one another?
You should definitely play with the kittens — and play as much as possible! Kittens not only need the stimulation of playing and learning to “hunt” those catnip mice and balls, but also need to become used to human interaction.
Human interaction can be very difficult if the foster kittens hadn’t been exposed to humans during the first weeks of their lives and usually takes a bit of time to settle down and learn to trust humans. With some love, care, and patience, however, you will find that most of the kittens that you foster turn into lovely kittens. Although each kitten will still have their own personality, you will soon see that they become used to humans (and may even allow them in their territory, play with them, and share their toys!).

How will I know that there is something wrong with one of the foster kittens?
While caring for the kittens, it’s important to keep a close eye on them and their development. This is especially true when there is a whole litter of kittens and a fading kitten may go unnoticed for some time.
Symptoms to look out for, are:

When do I need to take the kitten to the vet?
If you notice the above symptoms, or symptoms like difficulty breathing, a swollen belly (not a full belly after having eaten), or any change in their personality, you need to take the affected kitten(s) to the vet. For instance, an ill kitten may hide or not want to be touched — a sure sign that they need a vet’s care if you had been able to touch them and play with them before.
However, you will also need to take the foster kittens to the vet to:
  • Get spayed or neutered (desexed)
  • Get dewormed and have parasites removed
  • Have their overall health and growth checked
  • Get their vaccinations
  • Get treated for fleas and/or ticks if necessary

If the kittens were rescued from the wild, they may also have to have certain tests done, depending on their age, to check for specific illnesses like Feline AIDS. The sooner illnesses are discovered, the better for the kitten as they will get proper treatment for their illness.
These costs are covered by the shelter where your foster kittens are from, though, and are not covered by the kitten foster carer themselves.
If you rescued kittens from the wild yourself, it is very important to take them to the vet for an overall health check-up, for vaccinations, for spaying or neutering, deworming, etc.
This article explains how spaying and neutering works.

Ready for become a foster carer? Here's a guide to the basics of kitten foster care, as well as how to become a kitten foster carer.


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