Fostering a kitten
June 15, 2021 10:59 PM   Subscribe

As of this evening, I am fostering this little kitty. He's four weeks old (weaned) and has "a kitty cold" for which I'll be giving him an antibiotic. I've never fostered before, or cared for a kitten at all, but I have had adult cats. I'm reading everything I can, but I would love your advice on caring for and socializing a little bitty kitty, and being the best foster mom possible. Thanks!
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
He's adorable!

I haven't fostered a kitten, but I did raise my cat from a 3-4 week old. He is a most marvelous meowcat, but there are a few things I'd do differently if i could go back in time. I'd:

* Halter train him when he was a bitty kitty so I could take him outside. We had a huge to-do about him even wearing a collar as an adult and I'm not about to even try a harness at this point.

* Get him used to someone touching his paws. As most cats seem to, he hates having his hind paws touched. But it would be better if he'd learned to hold still and accept it in case someone needs to trim his claws or assess a foot. So, manipulate this kitty's tiny wittle paws on a regular basis.

* Ditto teeth. I would love to be able to brush my cat's teeth every day rather than dreading the inevitable vet teeth cleaning procedure at some point, but I would be taking my life into my hands. So, open your kitten's mouth and rub his tiny toofs on the regular. Let him know that's just a thing that happens to cats and it's no big deal.

* I wouldn't let my mom reward him with dry food she kept in a jar and called "cookies". He eventually decided that dry food (treats!) is what he wanted to eat all the time. It's been a struggle to even get him to eat wet food for dinner. So, I'd advise you to feed your kitten multiple different types of food and not use food as reward.

* I would expose him to more different people, earlier on. I think he might be less scared of new people if he had had a wider range of experience with humans as a kitten. I think it would be good to let your kitten be held and played with by as many (responsible) friends and family members as you can.

Most importantly, tell your kitty what a wonderful animal he is and how much you love him multiple times a day. Cats collect loving words and compliments in a special hidden pouch, and one day when they've reached their special magic number, they enter adulthood as happy, confident cats. Make sure your kitten fills his compliment pouch before he gets adopted.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 11:53 PM on June 15 [24 favorites]

Practice handling his ears/paws/tail/mouth as much as possible, as well as holding him on his back. Makes it much easier later on when they need to be examined and doctored if they're used to things like this.
posted by mochi_cat at 11:54 PM on June 15 [5 favorites]

My god.

Seconding the above.
Handle in gradually differing environments, gradually include varieties of people and animals (after proper vaccination)
Considering playing ASMR or music while you're away.
Offer altering food, begin with wet food if possible.
Introduce a variety of toys as stimulation. Cats are wonderful, so toys can be made of paper/household items or store bought.

Congrats! What a keeper!

..are you sure this is a foster situation.
posted by firstdaffodils at 12:38 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]

Yeah, head off the usual problems early - lots of carrying around too. Get him used to gentle tummy massages, it'll help his digestion and set him up for a lifetime of the belly not being a trap.

And lots of stimulation. No, more than that, especially when he's a little bigger. Toys lying around are good but playing with a wand or laser is better because interactive. Let him watch you in various situations too.

The owner of the famous Maru / box cat recently adopted a kitten and I'm impressed how many things she's doing right raising Miri - you can check out her YouTube channel.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:41 AM on June 16

Kitten Lady on YouTube. And she has a book.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:44 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]

One more thing to add to the list of things to get him used to: Brushing his fur! He may be too tiny now, but when he's a little bigger. Some cats naturally love brushing, but if they don't, it can be a pain.

But definitely getting him used to his teeth being brushed, being handled/picked up, and touching his paws. My cat is generally very well behaved/eager to please, but it has been a struggle to try to get him to learn to let me clip his nails and brush his teeth. (I adopted him as an adult). And while he'll let me pick him up, he clearly hates it and is super uncomfortable with it.
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:39 AM on June 16

What a cutie pie! Just a couple of tips:

don't wear shoes around him-- they're awfully fast and get underfoot super easily

Keep him clean. Even though weaned, he's probably young enough to be a dirty little bean and a bit of grooming with a damp cloth will also help keep him healthy. And if you wipe his face after each meal, it will help him get the idea by himself.

You may need to do some work to teach him to use the litter pan, but patience with this will be appreciated by his eventual owner.

Play play play play play-- let him climb on you and near you. I'm not a big fan of things like laser pointers for a young kitten, but YMMV. Just make sure he can't eat whatever you give him-- yarn not a great idea.

The last kitten I rescued off the street died in my arms (just too starved and weak to make it), so give him a giant kiss for me.
posted by frumiousb at 4:16 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]

Came in here to recommend Kitten Lady as well. Her whole deal is fostering kittens through to adoptable ages. Her videos on various kitten fostering topics are short, informative, and often very cute.
posted by merriment at 4:45 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]

I'd also recommend getting him used to a carrier - feed him in the carrier, leave it out for exploration, etc. It is a struggle to get our adult cats in carriers for travel.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:12 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]

Don't let him play-fight your hands or feet. It's extremely cute and not painful when they are little but it is not as they age.

If there's any way you can add (after he is over his cold) a second kitten for him to play with, that will be super helpful in helping him grow up as a cat and be able to integrate into a new family eventually. They entertain each other and teach each other how to play without hurting each other (and by extension, humans). It makes it easier for them to integrate with other cats in the future if needed. A singlet kitten is going to be a lil weird to other cats if he never gets social interaction with his peers.

Good luck with that cute lil baby!
posted by possibilityleft at 6:22 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

Yeah, definitely see if you can get him with other kittens even if it means giving him to a different org (and he's so cute, I know that's hard). My foster place would easily add a baby to an existing litter so he has playmates. 7 versus 8 kittens isn't really a increased workload.

Failing that, use Kitten Lady techniques to make sure he is learning cat manners along with yeah, getting him as used to human touch and all types of humans as possible. Echoing touching his teeth and paws as much as possible in particular. But he will grow up learning humans are nice which is the really key part.
posted by clarinet at 7:09 AM on June 16

What's the goal of the fostering? Did you get the kitten from an agency, and do you have a sense of how long you'll foster, and where she'll end up getting adopted? Or did this one just end up in your care?

It gives me a little pause (paws) that such a small kitten is without littermates / another cat - obviously I don't know the situation, but for this particular creature's long term happiness, its going to need a kitty friend to live with. I'm sure you'll do really well being a supportive caregiver and companion, but a solo cat from so young... that's hard.

So in addition to all the good socialization tricks above, start thinking about how you are going to introduce this bebe to another cat - regardless of whether you are keeping her around, or will be adopting her out.
posted by RajahKing at 7:31 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

Nthing all the good advice above, especially about getting his adorableness used to all the things possible while he is young. Loud noises - vacuums, dishwashers, etc. My 12 year old "kittens" are foster fails (I've had them since birth) and the best thing I did was get them used to their paws being handled. Except now they actually demand kitty mani-pedis.. if i set up to trim one's nails the other wants in too! Same with the carrier... they'll happily sleep in it by choice when i leave it out, and if i bring it out one will just jump right in, zero wrestling required (the other... not so much, but you cant win them all). I wish, wish wish I had gotten them used to the harness and leash!

Make sure he has places to scratch! Itty bitty kitties are interesting in that their claws are overpowered for their body weight, which is why kittens climbing the curtains is a thing... their little claws can easily support their body weight. Once they get bigger, this wont be the case, but they will still try and shred anything possible... teaching them to use cat trees and scratching posts and floor scratchers will save furniture!
posted by cgg at 8:10 AM on June 16

Yes socialization with other cats is important but what's most important with a kitten that young (and sick) is to get him well. I rescued a stray kitten, a bit older than this (~6 weeks old) and because she was sick I had to keep her separated from my other cats for three weeks. So she was 9-10 weeks old before they interacted and she's learned cat socialization just fine. So if you're truly fostering this lil one and nursing it back to health, and assuming he will be adopted fairly soon-ish, he will be FINE as long as he goes on to a life with another cat/kitten once he's able.

Definitely seconding the interaction with other humans though, if you can. Because of the pandemic I couldn't invite people over to interact with my kitten until recently and she's 7 months old now and runs and hides from any person in our house who isn't me or my partner. It sucks.
posted by misskaz at 8:11 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]

It's better to have more than one kitten together-- when he gets over his cold, maybe the foster agency can find one or a couple of kittens in the same age range to foster together. We had a mixed litter of 7 (from 5 litters) and after a day of hissing, they got over it and were great together.

When you play, don't let him chase or bite your fingers. Redirect to a toy immediately so he learns that fingers are not for biting.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:08 AM on June 16

One (nthed) tip: don't let him play with your hand! Hands are not toys!
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:00 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

Bring him for rides in the car. Very short ones at first. Having a cat that hates the car makes it difficult for travel, moving and vet visits. No reason you can't get him used to a harness, too!
posted by beccaj at 4:47 PM on June 16

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