Pet Fostering: Supplies for Cat and Kitten Rescue

Sometimes you set out to rescue a stray or sign up to foster animals; sometimes pets in need come find you instead.  This article will give you a checklist of supplies to keep on hand to help the cats and kittens that need your help.

Mama cat and four 3-week-old kittens
Mama cat and four 3-week-old kittens
A friend helping rescue our first foster:  a 4-week-old kitten
A friend helping rescue our first foster: a 4-week-old kitten

My first rescues were feral kittens that a friend saw running around in our neighbor's yard. Neither she nor I had any experience rescuing or fostering cats, but we knew they would not make it on their own. We had no trouble catching them; smelly canned tuna makes excellent bait for young, hungry animals. My husband, our friend and I got kitten formula and bottles, fed the little ones around the clock, and adopted one out. The other kitten stayed on as our pet, along with our four adult cats.

Since then, we have helped foster and care for 24 cats, some of them as young as three weeks. All of these came to us from sources outside the shelter system, and many would not have survived in a regular shelter due to socialization issues or age. Most have been adopted to good homes, some are awaiting adoption, and some have been neutered and returned to their outside homes as ferals with caretakers.

Supplies for young kittens

Taking care of kittens is one of the most rewarding types of feline rescue, as you see the growth of your little charges and watch their personalities emerge.

Fostering kittens with no mother cat is a special challenge. It requires feeding every 2-3 hours, burping, pottying with a warm cloth, and constant socialization.

Fostering kittens with a mother cat present is easier, but you still need to monitor the whole litter to make sure that the mother is nursing all the kittens. If the mother is not nursing, try holding her and help the kittens latch on until she gets used to the idea. If this does not work, then you will need to feed the kittens.

These supplies are needed for kittens up to 8 weeks of age:

  • Kitten formula
  • Animal nursing bottles and nipples
  • Soft blankets
  • Soft washcloths or rags
  • Crate, fence or box
  • Weaning formula and high-protein dry quality kitten food

These supplies are recommended:

  • Lap pads or washable pee pads with vinyl layer
  • Dawn dishwashing liquid
  • Pet-safe heating pad or buckwheat pillow, covered
  • Nature's Miracle stain & odor remover
  • Lid for use as a litter box (for kittens 5 weeks and older)
  • Non-clay litter (for kittens 5 weeks and older)

Follow the directions on the kitten formula for feeding amounts and frequency. Only use kitten formula, as baby formula for puppies or humans can cause illness in kittens. Potty kittens after feeding by rubbing a warm washcloth on their bottom until they defecate. A mother cat licks her kitten's anus after nursing, because they cannot go potty on their own until they are at least 4 weeks old.

At 3 to 4 weeks old, kittens begin to climb and explore their world. Until then, they can be contained in an open-topped box, but after then a large dog crate, a cat playpen, or an inside playyard is best when you are not with them. As they get older and bigger, you will be able to judge when you can let them out of their container unsupervised. Also see my hub on kitten-proofing your home.

For more information on fostering kittens and why I recommend the other supplies, see my hub on fostering kittens.

Supplies for older kittens and adult cats

Kittens older than 8 weeks eat, sleep, and play more than adult cats, but most of the supplies needed are the same.

These supplies are needed for cats and kittens 8 weeks and older:

  • Quality kitten or cat food
  • Litter box (lower sided or with a ramp for kittens)
  • Cat litter (non-clay for kittens)
  • Litter scoop
  • Food and water bowls
  • Scratching post and/or kitty tree
  • Toys
  • Brush

These supplies are recommended:

  • Advantage or Frontline flea control
  • Dewormers for roundworms and tapeworms
  • Nature's Miracle stain & odor remover
  • Litter box wipes
  • Dog poop bags (for litter box waste)
  • Pet first aid kit
  • Carrier or crate
  • Cat bed, pillow and/or soft blankets

Kittens who are just learning how to use the litter box tend to eat the litter. This is normal, and should be monitored but allowed. Clay litter is harmful if eaten, so biodegradable alternatives are best.

My hub about pet products has my recommendations for toys, brushes, and pet placemats.

Supplies for feral cats

Feral cats have special needs and should be cared for as wild animals. If you care for them, keep them in a separate room (the bathroom works nicely) where they will not be bothered by the normal household routine or other humans or animals. Ferals should ideally be kept inside only when and as long as necessary for illness or neutering. The one exception to this is socializing, which can be done with feral kittens up to 12 weeks old or strays-turned-ferals who are still semi-socialized.

These supplies are needed for ferals:

  • Leather gloves
  • Humane trap
  • Trap cover (a blanket or towel works nicely)
  • Newspapers
  • Small amount of smelly canned cat food or tuna

These supplies are needed for socializing feral kittens or pets-turned-feral:

  • Food and water bowls
  • Open litter box
  • Cat litter
  • Litter scoop

These supplies are recommended:

  • Radio tuned to a talk show or sports station
  • Band-aids (for you in case of scratches)
  • Nature's Miracle stain & odor remover (will take out all traces of spraying)
  • Large dog crate
  • Soft blanket or lap pad

To make your feral guest more comfortable, put him or her in a small room by themselves.  Bathrooms without toilet paper work best.  If your guest is being cared for as part of a T-N-R (trap-neuter-return) effort, leave the cat in the trap and cover it with a towel or blanket.  Turn a radio on so your guest will hear human voices.

If your guest is a feral kitten or former housecat-turned-feral, you may let them out of the trap.  Provide a litter box, but do not expect them to use it.  Most cats will, but some who feel threatened will go elsewhere.  Provide a large dog crate, lined with a soft blanket or a lap pad, and leave the crate door open so the cat can go inside its "house".  Do not use a trap for this.

If you are responsible for finding homes for the cats you foster, be sure to write out an adoption contract and visit the home before sending any of your adoptees there.  Charge an adoption fee to dissuade people who will not take care of their pets or who are trying to acquire animals for testing or kitty mills.  We always bring along the adoptable pet on the home visit to make sure it will do well in the home.  The adoption contract we use is based on Petfinder.com's Pet Promise Certificate.

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Comments 12 comments

Candie V profile image

Candie V 7 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

Great Hub! We got our first cat, she was feral and living in a friends yard with 15 other ferals. Once we had her spade she settled into one of the best cats, the next was adopted from the pound as a kitten.. the first became the kittens "mom".. it's been a great fit! Thank you for this hub!


KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 7 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA Author

You're welcome, Candie. Our former feral kitten, Rori, is now the alpha cat of the house! She's also a great "auntie" to the foster kittens.

P.S. Did you ever read my other hubs on feral cats? I think you commented on one of them, but I can't remember.


Candie V profile image

Candie V 7 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

I will check them out again! When are you coming up for a visit?


KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 7 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA Author

I will be coming through Seattle on the evening of Aug. 16th after a dance camp, not sure what time. Other than that, I don't know when I'll be anywhere north of here until November. So probably around Thanksgiving, if you're going to be around then? If you come down here, let me know as well.


wordscribe41 7 years ago

Great hub! I miss fostering cats, but my husband doesn't. Now I choose to volunteer in the community, as both are important. You sound like me, though. I always have cats who just find me. Or animals in need just cross my path. Perhaps it's because I can't turn a blind eye, as some can. I end up running my own shelter here from time to time and finding homes for cats and dogs. I wouldn't have it any other way, though. But, boy do I miss the kittens.


KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 7 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA Author

Thanks, wordscribe. We've fostered at both ends of the spectrum: 3-week-olds to 19-year-olds. The kittens are my favorite, too! Adult cats stay with us only about a week before we find them homes, unless they need to be socialized more. Kittens stay longer, because we get them so early (unfortunately), but that means we get to see them come into their own as individuals. Senior cats are the toughest because you know that they only have a limited time with you, and you don't know how limited it will be. Our 19-year-old cat was one we had for about a year, providing hospice care for her, and most of that she had very bad dementia and respiratory issues. She was happy, and that's what counted, until the last couple months. Even so, we cried a lot when we put her down. The next group of fosters were kittens, and cheered us back up.

I cry every time we adopt one out, sad to see them go, but knowing that we gave them a good start and got them a happy forever home.


wordscribe41 7 years ago

I just found homes for a couple of cats my friend discovered in an apartment complex, so I don't know of any good homes right now. But, feel free to email me when you're looking for a good home in the future. Or, let me know if you need any help at all. Obviously, we're neighbors. I have some friends pretty plugged into the "cat community" here who are great at finding homes for kitties.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

great hub. I get new knowledge about kitten world. thanks for share.


stars439 profile image

stars439 6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

Wonderful hub. GBY


davia  5 years ago

I have a 11 month old mother of 3,4 week old kittens.I am 7 months prego and moving to washington and cant take the babies or mom with me i need to find a good home for them all can you help me please?


KT pdx profile image

KT pdx 5 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA Author

Davia, where are you located now? Check with shelters, animal rescues, etc. in your area. You can also post on Craigslist, do a search on Facebook (if you're on there) for fosters & rescues in your area, and put up flyers at local veterinarian offices and pet stores asking for foster/rescue care. At that age, they all need to be kept together. Shelters may be over-full right now, because it's the height of kitten season, and many shelters ask you to pay something as a surrender fee. Good luck!


AnnaCia profile image

AnnaCia 2 years ago

Very, very good article. Thank you for the information. Keep the good work.

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