How to Be the Best Cat Foster Parent
Becoming a foster parent to homeless cats can be a very rewarding experience. Foster care for cats basically requires patience, a compassionate nature, a flexible lifestyle, and some experience with and knowledge of cat behavior. Below are some general tips that may ease your transition into foster life with cats of various ages:
Fostering Adult Cats:
- Don't give a new foster cat the run of your house right away. Start out by confining him to a bathroom or spare bedroom to start. If you have cats of your own, keep them separated until the health of your new charge can be verified.
- Provide a cozy bed, a bowl of fresh water, and a clean litter pan at all times.
- In the beginning, approach your foster cat slowly, cautiously, and in a non-threatening way.
- Don't allow a cat to go without eating for more than a day. Note that fasting can have serious health consequences in cats. If your foster cat has to be coaxed to eat, try tempting treats like canned salmon or tuna.
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Fostering Nursing Mother Cats:
- Provide a box big enough for everyone, with sides tall enough to keep the kittens from falling out but low enough for the mother cat to get out.
- Line the box with several layers of bedding so that you can peel away layers as the kittens soil the top layer.
- Let the mother cat feed and care for her kittens as long as she is actively engaged with them.
- Provide a nutrient-dense diet for the mother cat. Kitten food is ideal. Offer food several times a day, or consider keeping a bowl of dry food available to her at all times.
- It's normal for the mother cat to want time away from her kittens between feedings. Once the kittens start exploring, you can keep them contained in one room with a baby gate that the mother can easily jump over.
- Kittens will begin trying out moist kitten food at about four weeks of age. If any seem slow to begin feeding on their own, you can help out by putting a bit on your finger to let them smell it.
Fostering Orphaned Kittens:
- Kittens will soil their nest box daily, so use disposable cardboard boxes and washable or disposable bedding.
- Use a heating pad on one side of the nest box only, so that kittens can move away if they get too warm. It is important to keep the pad at a low setting.
- Buy commercial kitten formula and a feeding bottle or syringe that holds between two and four ounces. Feed slowly! (NOTE: Ask your veterinarian, shelter or rescue group to show you the ideal ways to bottle feed kittens.)
- Sterilize feeding bottles with boiling water before filling with kitten formula.
- Don't warm formula in the microwave - it creates hot spots that might burn the kitten's mouth. Instead set the filled bottle in a bowl of very warm water to raise it to the right temperature.
- Feed kittens while they are resting on their tummies. Tipping them on their backs to feed can cause them to aspirate fluid into their lungs.
- Newborn kittens need to nurse every two to three hours.
- Until the kittens are about three weeks old, they need help with urinating and defecating. After every feeding, use a damp, slightly rough terrycloth washcloth to stimulate the anus and urinary openings.
- By four weeks of age you can introduce some solid food. Strained baby food meats or premium canned kitten foods are a good choice early on.
- As soon as the kitten starts eating solid food, a bowl of water should be available at all times.
- Kittens open their eyes at about two weeks and are moving around on their own by three weeks.
Read more about cat adoption, rescuing and fostering on Catster.com.