It’s hard to think of anything else quite as cute as a kitten.
With their big eyes, tiny necks, and perky ears, a new kitten looks just like a living bobblehead doll.
Add a kitten’s awkward gait and uncontrollable curiosity to the mix, and you have a sure-fire recipe for heart-melting cuteness.
Sadly, there are thousands of kittens living in animal rescue shelters waiting for good homes. Until they find their forever homes, they’re left to learn the ways of the world from inside a cubicle surrounded by chaos.
While animal rescue professionals do their best to care for kittens and give them as much socialization time as possible, nothing beats raising a kitten in a home with a human family.
By being a cat foster parent, you can help foster kittens become properly socialized, minimize feline anxiety and the numerous health issues that stress can cause, and prepare that kitten to be accepted into a forever home.
If you’re considering being a cat foster parent, here’s what you need to know to earn that “#1 Foster Mom” coffee mug.
Helping Kittens Learn the Ropes
As a cat foster parent, your job is to help your foster kitten learn how to live with humans and adapt to changes in a healthy way.
If you don’t plan on homing your foster kitten through adulthood, your foster kitten will be adopted by another individual or family when the time is right. That sort of drastic change can be difficult on a cat, so teaching your kitten how to cope with change is crucial.
The best time to socialize a kitten is between the ages of three and nine weeks. Hopefully, your kitten will still have access to her mom during this time, but many rescue kittens do not.
However, don’t let that window deter you from being a cat foster parent to an older kitten. All kittens need love and guidance and are capable of learning new social cues.
Positive Reinforcement, Not Punishment
In the early stages of kittenhood, your adorable little friend is taking in every bit of information from her environment that she can. With you being one of – if not the only – other living things to learn from, she’s going to take your reactions to her behavior very seriously.
Start by finding a cat treat that your kitten loves. Then, use that treat and positive attention to reward her whenever she does something or encounters a new situation that you want her to repeat.
For example, a great foster kitten will know how to travel in a cat carrier like a champ. Practice with your foster kitten by encouraging her to walk into her cat carrier on her own and giving her a treat. Close the door, give a treat. Sit with her with the door closed, give a treat. Pick the carrier up, give a treat. Place the carrier in your car, give a treat. Drive around the block and return home, give a treat.
While that may seem like a lot of treats, what you’re actually doing is making sure your foster kitten associates things that often stress out other cats – like traveling – with positive feelings.
You can use the same technique to take your kitten in to visit the vet, even if it’s just for a quick exam without any shots, to introduce her to a new family member or another pet,
Meeting New People
One of the most difficult things for many cats – kittens and adults – to overcome is the fear of meeting new people.
However, if you teach your kitten at an early age that new people are not to be feared, you can dramatically reduce your fur baby’s anxiety and help her transition to a new home smoothly.
Recruit a few friends to help you get your foster kitten used to new encounters. Start by having one friend come over and ply your foster kitten with treats, positive attention, behind-the-ear scratches, and toys.
A week or so later, have two people come over. The next week, invite three. If your kitten seems spooked by more people, continue the process until she comes around. Sometimes it takes a shy kitten a few opportunities to make friends before she’s willing to come out of her shell.
Foster-Parenting Must-Have Supplies
If you plan on being a repeat foster parent, first of all, good for you! It’s not easy to part ways with a dear feline friend when she’s ready to move on to her forever home, but remember that you’re doing your foster kitten and her new family an incredibly selfless service that will bring joy to them both for years to come.
As a cat lover, you probably know that cats are incredibly territorial. Just the smell of another cat can cause your foster kitten anxiety, especially if she is young and separated from her mother. Therefore, it’s important to use supplies that won’t carry the scent of one foster kitten to the next.
If you can’t afford to purchase a new litter box for each foster kitten, use strong litter box liners (we like these) as a barrier to prevent smells from permeating as much as possible.
Use laser pointers and edible treats as toys rather than plush toys that can easily absorb oils and saliva.
Have a “one kitten, one blanket” policy. Each kitten gets her own new blanket to lay on in her favorite perch. Not only will this help your kitten feel at home in her own space, but also it will provide some consistency when your kitten goes to her new home and gets to take her blanket with her.
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to completely eradicate the subtle smells left behind by a previous foster kitten, but these supplies will help you make a significant improvement for your next little one.
If you’re a cat foster parent or thinking about providing a home to a foster kitten in need, we commend you. Have questions? Post them in the comments below!
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