By Dr. Becker
If you're interested in making a real hands-on difference in the lives of homeless pets, there are many ways to help, depending on your time, resources and talents. One way is to foster a pet, or better yet, more than one. How about a litter of kittens?
Kittens are undoubtedly among the most endearing little creatures on the planet. They’re tiny and goofy and very much in need of guidance and TLC to get off to a good start in life.
10 Tips for Preparing Your Home for Foster Kittens
Please note the following recommendations are for weaned kittens 6 weeks of age and older. Caring for (typically motherless) newborn kittens is a whole different ballgame, which I discuss at length in my article on orphaned kitten care.
1. Get yourself a kitten carrier
Chances are you’ll need to pick up your fosters to bring them home, and there may be a future need to transport them as well, for example, to veterinary visits. It’s a good idea to invest in a carrier to keep the kittens safe and secure.
Most people choose soft-sided carriers for cats, and yours should open from the top and be well-ventilated.
2. Set aside a dedicated space for the kittens that is safe and warm
Kittens are very delicate, fragile little beings and their immune systems aren’t yet fully developed, so safety and warmth are priorities in deciding where in your home they’ll spend most of their time. If you can dedicate a spare bedroom or bathroom, that’s great.
If you don’t have extra space or want a way to contain the kittens for those times when you can’t closely supervise them, you can improvise with a canvas and mesh playpen. It should be portable so you can move it from room to room when necessary, and easy to clean.
A kitty playpen can be the perfect solution to keep your foster fluff balls safe from household hazards, other pets, human feet and rough handling by children.
Your kittens’ space should be outfitted with plenty of soft, warm places to snooze and snuggle. Baby blankets can work well — just make sure to have a good supply on hand since you’ll be changing and washing them frequently.
You also may need to put a heat source in the space to help the kittens maintain their body temperature. You can set a heating pad to low and wrap it in a towel, or use a hot water bottle warmed to about 100 degrees and wrapped in a towel.
3. Decide what diet to feed
You can either leave the kitties on the food they were eating when they came to you, or you may want to transition them slowly to a better diet. This is one of the trickier decisions you’ll need to make, because there are pros and cons no matter which way you go.
For example, if the kittens came to you eating a low-quality dry kitten food (hopefully not!), if you can afford it, you’ll probably be itching to move them to a higher-quality, moisture-rich diet that is much healthier for them.
However, if you know or suspect they’ll be fed kibble back at the shelter or in their new homes and they won’t be with you long, it might be better in the short term for their digestive systems if you don’t change their diet.
My preference is to feed a commercial or homemade nutritionally balanced raw diet approved for kittens, or a high-quality, human-grade canned kitten food.
If you know where the kittens are going when they leave you, and you’re confident their new adoptive parents will be open to feeding a very high-quality diet, then you might decide to get them started while they’re with you.
It’s important to feed tiny kittens from shallow dishes or plates, because most have difficulty eating out of a regular pet food bowl.
4. Potty prep
Tiny kittens aren’t able to navigate a regular size litterbox, so you may need to improvise depending on the age and size of your foster babies. The cardboard trays that hold cases of canned food are a great alternative to a plastic litterbox.
They’re shallow so the kitties can easily step in and out, and they’re also disposable. A cookie sheet with a shallow lip is another option. Choose a low-dust, unscented, non-toxic litter for your litter boxes. It’s a good idea to put puppy pads under and around the litterbox for easy clean up.
Since it can take time for kittens to get the hang of the litterbox and the most efficient self-grooming techniques, you should check your fosters frequently to insure there’s no food, poop or other debris stuck in their coats.
Keep a small brush and a soft cloth that can be moistened with warm water on hand for quick cleanups.
5. Identify all potential household’s hideouts
Kittens are not only curious little beings, but their bodies are fantastically flexible. This means given the opportunity, your fosters will squeeze themselves into spots in your home you may not even know exist. Cats like small, dark, out-of-the-way places.
While a kitty can be easily spotted if she’s concealing herself under your bed, you might think you’ve lost her for real if she finds a cleverer place to hide.
6. Eliminate escape routes to the outdoors
All the windows and doors in your home should close and latch securely, and screens should fit snugly in their frames. Kittens may see something outside they want to investigate, and many a kitty has launched himself against a loose screen and made a quick getaway.
7. Put away anything you don’t want broken
Felines, even little ones, are gifted climbers and explorers, but their considerable acrobatic skills can’t be counted on to prevent a disaster. If you have fragile collectibles on open shelves in your home, you might want to put them away while you’re fostering.
Not only could they knock something precious and breakable off a shelf by accident, they might also decide to play swatty-cake with your expensive stemware or the ceramic angel your daughter made for you at summer camp.
8. Secure dangling hazards
The most potentially hazardous household “danglers” are electrical cords and drawcords on window coverings. You want to prevent your fosters from chewing electrical cords by any means available, and drawcords on drapes, curtains or blinds can present both a choking and hanging hazard. You might also want to raise your window coverings well above floor level to prevent scratching and climbing damage.
9. Remove toxic plants
Many kittens will sample whatever greenery and flowers they get access to. You’ll want to know the plants that are poisonous to cats (there’s a long list) and make sure they’re not in your home. You may also want to find places for safe plants that the kittens can’t get to.
10. Some kitten toys require adult supervision
As long as you’re right there to watch them, it’s fine to let your fosters play with yarn, string or ribbon. But it’s important to keep those items out of reach when you’re not around, as they can be a choking risk if a kitty chews or swallows them.
A huge benefit of fostering is the positive domino effect it creates. The more people willing to open their homes to foster pets, the more pets local shelters can accommodate, and for longer periods. This gives each precious pet the best shot at finding a new home. If the idea of fostering a litter of kittens appeals to you, it’s important to plan and prepare for their arrival and care in your home. Then you can relax and embrace the joy!