Post Featured Image
Post Featured Image

Foster Kittens 101

How you can help the tiniest cats

By: Rose Frosek

Last Updated:

Read Caption
Featured Photos: Andrew Marttila

Hannah Shaw, a humane educator known as Kitten Lady, knows pretty much everything about helping orphaned kittens. She’s spent the last 14 years helping countless kittens survive the first weeks of life and find forever homes. Her specialty is neonates or “bottle babies.”

As the founder of the non-profit Orphan Kitten Club, she encourages cat lovers to consider fostering. “Even if all you can do is foster for a week, that alone can be a huge help during kitten season,” says Shaw, referencing the time of year—typically early spring to mid-fall—when shelters are overwhelmed by an influx of kittens.

Worried about how your resident cat will react to foster kitten interlopers? Don’t be, says Shaw, who has the following advice:

Photo: Andrew Marttila

Q Can you foster kittens if you have your own cats at home? Are most adult cats accepting of kittens?

A Most people who foster kittens have cats of their own—including me! It can be easily done as long as you understand some simple protocols. The first thing to understand is that foster kittens will usually have an unknown health history, meaning that they may have been recently exposed to parasites, viruses, and other transmissible diseases, which can pop up over their first days with you, even if they appear healthy at the time you take them home. For that reason, I highly recommend a quarantine period of at least two weeks, during which your foster kittens are kept in a separate space from your resident cats, such as a separate room or a playpen that zips shut. You don’t want anyone “booping” noses or licking butts until the kittens have been with you for at least two weeks, after which it’s generally safer to allow them to meet.

After that, it’s really up to your cat! Many cats won’t want to befriend foster kittens, which is totally okay! Fostering kittens is such a short-term thing that integration is not the goal at all; the goal is to provide a safe space for the kittens to quarantine, grow, heal, learn, and become robust enough to get adopted a few weeks later. If your cat isn’t accepting of fosters, that’s totally fine; I recommend keeping them in a separate space or in a playpen in the corner of a room, as far from where your cat hangs out as possible. Cats will almost always choose avoidance over aggression when it comes to kittens, so give them the option to avoid and they will. Of course, if your cat is seeming curious, or begging to befriend your fosters, that’s a total bonus for their enrichment and socialization! Just make sure you’re keeping everyone—including your resident cats—up to date on vaccines and only letting them meet after the quarantine period has passed.

Q How much work is it? How long do you usually keep fosters for?

A You can foster kittens for as little as a few days or as long as a few months, depending on your availability and the needs of the kittens. In general, kittens stay with their foster parents until they are at least eight weeks old, after which they can be sterilized and move into their adoptive homes. But every program is different, as is every situation! Whatever time you have available, don’t be afraid to reach out and offer to help your local shelter!

 * Shaw is also the author of several cat books, including Tiny But Mighty: Kitten Lady’s Guide to Saving the Most Vulnerable Felines, an invaluable (and very cute!) guide to helping orphaned kittens.

This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Cat magazine. Subscribe today!

Last Updated:

By: Rose Frosek
Comments (2)

Join the newsletter and never miss out on cat content again!

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

By clicking the arrow, you agree to our web Terms of Use and Privacy & Cookie Policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.