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Tips for Fostering Kittens

Updated on May 14, 2009

First of all, spaying and neutering should be done to prevent kittens.

If you have a surprise litter, are fostering kittens, or come across kittens in need of fostering, this hub will provide you with helpful links, tips, product ideas, and tricks.

4-week old feral kitten Rori being held for the first time, with one of her foster moms
4-week old feral kitten Rori being held for the first time, with one of her foster moms
6-week old Knut being held for the first time
6-week old Knut being held for the first time

Catching feral kittens

Many fosters start out as kittens of feral (wild) cats or previously abandoned cats. Unfortunately, many abandoned cats are dumped because they became pregnant. If this is the case, try to lure the kittens or the (tame) mother cat to you and catch the kittens this way. Catching the mother will bring the kittens closer to you, and vice versa. If you catch one first, put it in a closed carrier and keep it outside so that its cries will call the others to you.

If the kittens won't come, put out a live trap with tuna or the smelliest cat food you can find. Live traps will catch the cats without harming them, containing them so you can bring them inside. Many feral groups and animal control groups use the Havahart trap.

Rori eating from a ferret bowl on a human baby lap pad
Rori eating from a ferret bowl on a human baby lap pad

Setting up an inside home

Dog crates and cat playpens (see links at the end of the hub) make excellent inside homes for kittens. They are small enough to provide safety, but large enough for the kittens to move around. The space should be big enough to allow food and water containers at one end and litter box space at the other. The kittens will want to sleep in their litter box, and may poop in the food, but at least the two designated areas should be distinct.

Cover the bottom of the area with puppy training pads (disposable) or human baby lap pads (washable). Provide a small, shallow dish or lid of dry food for weaned or kittens learning how to eat kibble. Provide a shallow dish of water as well. Monitor the water closely and replace it when the kittens tip it over.

Provide a small litter box with non-clumping litter. Clumping litter can get stuck in kittens' paw pads or digested, causing medical issues. Ferret or rabbit litter pans are excellent choices, since they have a cut-out area that the kittens can walk into rather than jumping. Small plastic boxes or personal-sized pizza boxes work as well. Keep the litter box scooped and clean.

Very young kittens need a heat source. It should be small enough so they can move away from it if they get too warm. Some sources, like the SnuggleKitty listed in the links, have a heartbeat for comfort as well.


Weaned kittens or those close to weaning can be offered canned, pouch or dry food. Commercial kitten food is small-sized for little mouths and softer than adult food. This hub has guidelines for choosing quality food.

Bottle-feeding kittens is actually easy to do. Look in the small animal or puppy section at the pet store for small bottles, then cut the very end of the nipple. KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer) can be bought at pet stores as well. There is a weaning formula called 2nd Step for older bottle-feeders and for those learning to lap from a shallow bowl. KMR and 2nd Step come in both premade and powder forms and have clear instructions on the package.

After bottle-feeding, kittens need to be burped. Tap them gently on their backs until they burp. Then take a warm washcloth and rub their bottoms to "potty" them. This needs to be done, because they are too little to pee and poop on their own.

Knut after his first bath
Knut after his first bath
Spooky in his foster mom's lap drying after his first bath
Spooky in his foster mom's lap drying after his first bath

Flea Control and Bath Time

Kittens younger than 8 weeks old should never be bathed with hot water or submerged in water. They should also never have commercial flea treatments. Check cat shampoos to see if they are approved for kittens or use Dawn dishwashing liquid (blue kind).

Bathing and flea treatment can be done at the same time for kittens. First, set up the bath area, usually the sink. Place a small measuring cup and a towel on the counter, along with Dawn dishwashing liquid (the blue kind, not the citrus). Fill up the sink part-way with warm (not hot) water.

Bring the kitten in and shut the door, preventing escape. Hold the kitten over the sink with one hand and pour warm water over it with the measuring cup. Put the measuring cup down and place a tiny amount of Dawn on the back and underside of the kitten, massaging in like shampoo. Do not put shampoo on the kitten's face, ears, or eyes.

Rinse the kitten by pouring water from the measuring cup. Change water when needed and repeat until all suds are gone. Wrap the kitten in the towel and gently rub it dry. DO NOT USE A HAIR DRYER, as this will overheat the kitten.

Make sure the kitten stays in a warm place as it dries from its bath. Many like to curl up on a blanket in a lap while they're drying.

Common Kitten Ailments

Bulging stomachs are a sign of roundworms, a very common kitten problem. Kittens can be dewormed safely, and products for this are available at the pet store. Be sure the product you choose is for roundworms and is approved for kittens.

Sneezing and goopy eyes are common signs of "kitty colds", otherwise known as upper respiratory infection (URI). Medicine is available from veterinarians for this. Kittens with URIs should be kept away from well kittens and cats, as this is contagious.

Young kittens should be kept away from adult cats until the little ones are tested for FIV, FELV, and other diseases. Kitten-proofing a room and/or keeping them in a crate is the best way to do this.

Socializing a Kitten

Socializing is as important to a kitten's growth as feeding or keeping it healthy. Kittens need a lot of daily contact. If the kittens have tested negative for common diseases, they can be around adult cats who will teach them how to behave. They should be socialized to humans as much as possible, too. Hold them while you are bottle-feeding them, pet them while they eat, play with them, talk to them, and have a radio going in their room if they are separated from normal house-life.

Play with them and allow them to play with others. Rough-and-tumble games, supervised play with toys, and chase games/toys are excellent. Discourage biting hands or feet or clawing by squirting with a spray bottle or rattling a jar of coins. Do not spank a kitten or cat, because this will make them afraid of humans. If severe behavior modification is necessary, shut the kitten in another room without playmates for about 10 minutes. This gives them time to calm down, and they will usually go to sleep before their "time-out" is up.


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    • profile image

      Labutlang 6 years ago

      Its really Great to see this site.Give us more interesting and informative stuff.keep doing work like this for the further also..Thanks! Arellis Software

    • KT pdx profile image

      KT pdx 7 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA

      Most mother cats know what to do instinctively, so your job will be to watch that she nurses them often (about every 2 hours is the norm) and help the kittens find the nipples when they wander off. You will want to have an enclosed space, big enough for the mama to walk around and lie down comfortably, lined with blankets over a plastic surface (like a garbage bag) so that you can clean the space easily. That way, you can take up the blankets to wash and replace them without having to clean the floor all the time.

      If it looks like one or some of the babies aren't getting enough food, then you'll have to bottle-feed to supplement. Watch that the mama is cleaning them, and look for the signs of diseases I mentioned in this hub.

      Give the mama her own litter box and bowl, and feed her good quality kitten food (see my hub on how to choose quality food), not adult food, because she'll pass the nutrients on to her babies. When the kittens are old enough, they will imitate their mom's litter box habits. Use non-clumping litter, because clumping will get stuck in the paw pads of the little ones. They will want to eat the litter, so a natural type is best.

      Make sure to socialize the little ones, handling them as much as the mama will let you. Have fun!

    • profile image

      Monique 7 years ago

      This is kind of helpful, but i am going to have a mother cat present. What then?

    • profile image

      tina 7 years ago

      i am going to foster kittens from a shelter and the tips really are helping. Thanks!

    • ronibgood profile image

      ronibgood 8 years ago

      Very good article.