Caring for orphaned kittens is extremely rewarding but also very time-consuming.
Very young animals may require bottle- or syringe-feeding to survive. They must be kept separate from resident animals.
We value your dedication and appreciate your willingness to make this lifesaving commitment to these animals.
Stock Up on Supplies
PAWS Chicago will provide:
- Formula/Milk Replacer
- Any necessary medications
You will provide:
- Small litter box: For the litter; an oblong cake pan or a shallow cardboard box is perfect.
- Litter scoop
- Newspapers: Keep several layers of newspapers in the bottom of the box or area where the kittens will be located. These will come in handy as the kittens begin to roam around the room and litter box.
- Food bowls: You will need two bowls—one for wet food and one for dry food. The more cats you have, the more bowls you will need. It’s important that every cat has access to his food at all times, unless directed by our medical staff.
- Food bowls: You will need two bowls—one for wet food and one for dry food for the mom. For the kittens, any relatively flat saucer will work. The larger the litter, the larger the saucer should be so that no one gets crowded out. It’s important that every cat has access to his food at all times.
- Water bowl: Use ceramic, porcelain or stainless steel bowls, which are heavy and impossible to tip. Do not use plastic; it is difficult to disinfect. It’s also important that every cat has access to clean water at all times.
- Scale: This may not always be necessary, but it can be helpful in tracking the kittens’ weight, which should increase approximately 4 oz. per week.
- Bedding: Old towels make the best bedding! We suggest making a nice, warm sleeping area by using a cat carrier or tipped over box.
- Heating pad: Unless the nursery is at least 85° and your kittens are two weeks or older, you need to supply extra heat.
- Clean towels and blankets: These will serve as the bedding/nest for your foster kittens.
- Toys: Disposable and easily sanitized toys are a must! We also encourage cardboard scratchers or a scratching post.
Set Up Your Foster Room
You will need to keep your foster family in one room. The foster room is where your foster family will eat, drink, eliminate, sleep and play.
Choose a room in your home that can be easily temperature controlled (no drafts or open windows). We highly recommend that this room have floors that are easy to wipe up and mop. Bathrooms are often the best choice—just don’t forget to put down the toilet seat!
The family should be kept in a large box or cat carrier lined with a towel for easy cleaning.
In the room, place the litter box as far away from the cats’ food as possible.
Disinfect the room before the new family is introduced to it. The most effective disinfectant is a fresh dilution of bleach at the following ratio: ¼ cup chlorine bleach and 2¼ cups warm water.
Make Sure It’s Safe
Kittens and cats are curious, playful and often mischievous. Don’t leave anything out that your foster pet can chew, swallow or break (electrical cords, hair ties, glassware, etc.). Look for places where your foster can hide and be sure to block access to those areas.
One tip: Lie down on the floor and look at your safe space from your new foster’s point of view to ensure it’s completely safe.
Caring for Your Foster Mom and Litter
Keep your foster cat isolated from any other animals in the home unless otherwise discussed.
Young children should not handle the foster kittens. Everyone should wash their hands after handling animals, fecal waste or litter boxes.
- Health checks
It is crucial that you monitor your foster cat’s appetite, attitude, energy level and appearance every day. We encourage our foster parents to keep a log. If something seems off or different, it’s easy to go back and pinpoint when the problem began.
It is very important to keep the kittens warm. A heating pad is ideal for doing this. Place the heating pad under half of the carrier so they can move away from the heat if they need to and set it to medium. The more kittens in your litter, the better able they will be to keep warm by sleeping together in a heap.
We ask that you weigh your kittens at the same time each day and keep track of any gains or losses. Ideally, kittens gain 0.25-0.5 oz. per day. If your kittens are not eating or are losing weight, please contact our foster team right away. We will likely need you to bring your kitten in immediately for a medical check.
- Urinating and defecating
If kittens younger than two weeks old are not urinating and defecating, they need to be stimulated. Stimulation should be performed every few hours (often right after feeding) by gently rubbing a warm wet paper towel on the kitten’s anus and genital area. They will eliminate into the paper towel. It is important to do this prior to feeding. Otherwise, the kittens will not eat well.
Kittens need to be fed every two to four hours. We will provide the formula for feeding the kittens. It should be given at the kitten’s body temperature, about 100 degrees. Once the can is opened or the powder is reconstituted, unused formula should be kept refrigerated and discarded after 24 hours. Never give a kitten cow’s milk (or anything else besides the specified formula).Kitten cleaning: Keeping kittens clean in the absence of their mother is extremely important. A flea comb will get rid of dried feces in the fur. You can stroke a kitten with a warm, damp cloth, using short strokes to mimic a mother's tongue. Be sure to dry him well so he can't chill. Cat litter and dried feces can become caked on the underside of the tail or between the kitten's toes. This may be softened and removed by dipping the kitten's back end into a basin of warm water.
Cats should be fed at least twice a day. Please feed the mom the food we have provided. If she refuses to eat her food, please contact us . We will help you determine your next steps. Wash her wet food dish between servings.
Scoop the litter box in the morning and evening. Clay litter should be changed every other day for two kittens or daily for two or more kittens or if the kittens have diarrhea. Note stool consistency.
All foster cats crave playtime. We recommend two play sessions per day with interactive toys like wand toys. Discourage play with hands, which can lead to bites. Change your foster’s environment daily by adding new objects and toys.
Socialization starts the moment a kitten born. Even before his eyes and ears open, it’s important he gets used to new scents and understands that gentle handling is normal and pleasurable. Between two to four weeks of age, it is important that kittens are handled on a multiple times a day. This causes their ears to open earlier, encourages them to leave the nest box sooner and makes them more likely to be affectionate.
Kittens will need routine visits with our veterinarians regardless of their health. They need to be vaccinated every two weeks. Please check with your foster coordinator to find out when they need to be brought in for their next vaccine.
The Feeding Process
It is best to feed the kittens one by one on a countertop. This allows them to feed with all four feet on the counter and their heads level, much as they would if they were nursing from their mom. Some kittens prefer to nurse standing on their hind legs while holding the bottle. They will require a little support from you in this position.
Gently open a kitten's mouth with one finger and place the tip of the nipple on his tongue. If he won't eat, try stroking him. Pull lightly on the bottle to encourage vigorous sucking. Tilt the bottle up slightly to prevent the kitten from inhaling too much air. Do not force the kitten to nurse and do not allow him to nurse too fast.
Avoid feeding a kitten while he is cradled on his back. If the fluid goes down the wrong way, it may end up in his lungs and cause severe illness or death.
After each feeding, the kitten should be burped. Hold him against your shoulder and gently massage his back or pat it lightly.
How Much to Feed Them
Overfeeding kittens is as dangerous as underfeeding. Keep an eye on your foster kittens at feeding time and monitor how much each is eating. If you see signs of diarrhea, separate them until you find out which one is sick.
Your foster kittens generally will not regulate their own food intake. If they need more food, they may whine or suck on their littermates. But they will not stop eating. Overeating can cause nausea and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and loss of appetite and ultimately serious illness and even death.
A good indication that they are getting enough to eat is the size of their bellies. They should be filled out after a meal, but not bloated.
Keep an eye on your foster kittens at feeding time and monitor how much each is eating. If you see signs of diarrhea, separate them until you find out which one is sick. Call PAWS Chicago at XXX-XXX-XXXX right away for further instructions.
A kitten should gain 7 to 10 percent of his birth weight each day. That is about 10 to 15 grams a day.
A kitten must weigh at least two pounds and be eight weeks old before he can be spayed/neutered and ready for the Adoption Center.