I have been raising foster kittens for the last 20 years or so and have for the most part raised some nice, healthy babies. Some foster kittens I have raised have been as young as 1 day old, while others ranged from 8-12 weeks of age. The newborns are of course a bit harder to raise; taking a lot more time, effort and money but they are so worth it! The newborn foster kittens require a lot of attention with bottle feeding, stimulation to go the bathroom often, bathing as needed, socialization, etc.
Feeding Your Foster Kittens
I like to use the KMR (kitten milk replacer). The powder lasts longer than the premixed stuff and it’s a good deal more bang for your buck. For the dry you use 1 part powder to 2 parts water. Make sure the formula is warm before you feed it to the kittens. Test on your wrist first to make sure its not so hot it’ll burn them, or too cold that it could cause belly problems. I sometimes add dry baby cereal into the formula to make it a bit more filling as well as a small amount of baby food. The baby food isn’t added until they are a few weeks of age. You won’t get a lot of sleep during this period. In the beginning, the newborn foster kittens eat every 2-3 hours then I start lengthening the time between feedings when they get to be about 3-4 weeks of age. Also at this age, I start adding in gruel to their regiment. For me I use dry Purina kitten Chow soaked in water until mushy. I then take some of that, add in some Gerber chicken or turkey baby food and some of the KMR formula. I put it on a flat small dish and coax the foster kitten(s) to try it. You might need to put some on your own finger and place it in the mouth of the kitten first. Also they aren’t good at putting their heads down to eat off the dish, so I hold it up to their mouths at first. It is kind of messy because they often just plunk their faces right down in the mush so it gets all over their faces, especially in their noses. Be quick to clean it out so they don’t choke. Bathing is going to be added in now at almost every feeding. Wash off the food on their ears, faces, feet, legs and anywhere else they splatter it. If the food isn’t removed, once it dries it can irritate the skin and sometimes the fur comes out once it is finally removed. Also the act of cleaning is like their own mothers grooming them, so they often really enjoy it. When starting dry food I usually feed my foster kittens Purina kitten Chow when they are about 4 weeks of age. Offer it free choice. Some eat earlier than others so you never know when they will start. Any good quality kitten food is fine, but it is good to get them weaned onto the dry as soon as they are willing to eat it.
Each kitten is different and I never know how each one will react to the food, whether it be the formula, baby food, or kitten chow. Most of my foster kittens either get diarrhea or constipation. I know if the foster kittens have been nursing off mom, then come to me the change of diet usually causes the diarrhea, but sometimes if they eat too much at one time it can also happen. I try not to allow them to “pig out” but if often happens. When the diarrhea happens, I use Culturelle added into their formula. Culturelle is a probiotic capsule that can be found at any pharmacy. I open up the capsule and estimate 1/8-1/4 capsule into bottle for each kitten at each feeding. A few days of this usually helps firm up the stool. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the foster kittens that get constipation. If after a few days of not producing stool, I sometimes have to give a warm soapy enema to the baby. I just add a few drops of dish soap to a few ml of warm water and put in a small syringe. (usually a 3ml syringe). Lubricate the end and gently insert into the rectal opening and squirt in a small amount at a time. Since I am in the Veterinary field, I feel qualified to be able to do this without harm, but I would advise Veterinary care if you aren’t comfortable with doing this. After the enema, I stimulate again with cotton ball and usually the result is stool..lots of stool.
Litter Box Training
Next I guess is litter box training. I start around 3 weeks of age just by placing them in a box with litter. I push around litter so they can smell it. I move their feet in it to get them used to digging, etc. As my foster kittens get a bit older, I stimulate them to urinate by gently rubbing a wet (warm) cotton ball over their vulva or penis until they pee a bit. Usually by 4 weeks of age they “get it” and go in the box and go to the bathroom on their own. The first time they have a bm in box is always a bit of a undertaking with them making all sorts of cat noises..some not being so happy sounding! They start with lots of scratching, moving around, vocalizing, scratching and moving more. Eventually it happens, and the look on their face coupled with the grunts are priceless. Your babies are growing up! 🙂 Let them cover up the stool. Foster kittens will usually get some on their feet. Don’t fret, but clean them off once they accomplish their mission.Now often they do make some mistakes, but they can’t help themselves. They will often go urinate or defecate on the floor, especially if they aren’t near the litter box. They don’t know yet to go look for it. It may be beneficial to keep them close by the box until they are accustomed to using it.
Socialization and Veterinary Care
I try to have foster kittens socialized with other cats, dogs and children as well as having them be comfortable with being picked up, toted around and cuddled. I like my babies to be as well rounded as they can be before they get adopted out around 7-8 weeks. I like them to be efficient in using the box, eating dry food well and most importantly being deemed healthy by the Veterinarian.
I have my foster kittens wormed at the ages of 3 and 7 weeks as well as have a stool sample checked for intestinal parasites. We look for roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, giardia and coccidia which are all parasites kittens can get. I won’t let my foster kittens go unless they are free of any parasite. External parasites like fleas, mites, or ringworm are also checked for. They will be free of any of these before they go to their new home as well. They get their first distemper vaccine at 7-8 weeks of age, and can also be tested for feline leukemia and feline aids at that time. I would recommend another test be done when the kitten is a bit older since often the kitten can have a false positive due to maternal antibodies.
The time between getting newborn foster kittens and the time when I say my farewell can be sometimes be a grueling few months, but it is so worth it when you see the baby thrive and grow and become a well adjusted kitten. It’s always a sad time for me when the day arrives for them to go to their permanent home, but that’s a part of being a foster parent and I wouldn’t change anything.
I hope my experiences in raising foster kittens might be helpful if you are ever put in a situation of raising kittens or newborns. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to ask.