How to Foster Kittens

December 28, 2020   3 Comments »

It’s my favorite time of year – it’s Kitten Season!

That’s right, you read that correctly – Kitten Season. Along with lilacs blooming, the smell of fresh cut grass, and the grill being lighted for the first time – this is the time when an inordinate amount of kittens are born.

I was one of the first fosters to get kittens this season and I sort of feel like they have saved me from slipping into quarantine depression. In March I got 1 momma and 3 kittens who were 3 weeks old. The next day Denver started it’s stay at home order…thank you kitten season. If you have to stay home for a few months, having kittens to foster makes it bearable.

Table of Contents

When is Kitten Season?
Meet my Current Foster Kittens
Preparing Kittens for Adoption
What does it take to Foster Pets
Why Fostering is Perfect for a Frequent Traveler
How to Find Shelters to Foster At Near You
How to Get Ready to Foster Kittens & Supplies You’ll Need
Things You Should Expect as a Kitten Foster Parent
How can you Give up Kittens After Fostering Them – Isn’t that hard?

When is Kitten Season?

Kitten season is dependent on climate and where you live, but in general it begins in early spring and runs through late fall – April to Oct. While cats can give birth at any time throughout the year, the longer daylight hours act as a catalyst for bringing unspayed female cats into heat, resulting in a lot of sexy time for cats. The feline gestation period is about 60 days, so the first litters of the season start arriving in mid-March in Denver each year.

The shelter that I foster for, Dumb Friends League, gets over 2,000 kittens each year brought into their shelter…it’s literally overflowing with kittens. This is one of the main reasons for a foster program, there’s no way the shelter can house that many kittens and take care of them to get them to adoptability.

My 3 Foster Kittens

Meet Miss Marshmallow Fluff, Brave Little Toaster, and Nilla Wafer; they are my current foster kittens, and they are currently all sleeping on my lap as I type this! I’ve had them for 6 weeks now and I’m completely smitten with them. This is the longest I’ve ever had a set of foster kittens, normally it’s just a couple of weeks at a time.

how to foster kittens
Toaster, Marshmallow, Nilla at 9 weeks

These three kittens are my world…they make me laugh, they sleep with me, they entertain me, and they provide me something to love. And I do love them.

Just this morning I woke up because I felt something on my arm. Marshmallow had laid down next to me and propped up a little white, fluffy paw on my arm. I opened my eyes and looked over at her and immediately she started purring, and all I did was look at her.

I don’t think any boyfriend has ever been that excited to see me wake up!

I gave her a little pet and she blinked her eyes. Nilla then came up and also nestled in next to my arm and started licking my arm. Toaster was lying on top of my pillow…I was surrounded by kittens, and we all slowly fell back to sleep together on this lazy Saturday morning. I can’t remember feeling so relaxed and happy on a Saturday morning!

The biggest sign that your cat has bonded with you is repeated and frequent displays of those cat-approved forms of affection: slow blinks, licking, kneading, grooming and head-butting.

Preparing Kittens for Adoption

Shelters can’t put kittens up for adoption until they’ve been neutered. And kittens can’t undergo that surgery until they are 8 weeks old AND 2 lbs. So, my primary job as a foster is to fatten them up to 2 lbs, so that the adoption process can get started.

Sometimes getting kittens to eat is a bit harder than you can imagine. This current set of kittens weren’t really weaned from the momma cat, so I had to introduce them to food for the first time. They often don’t know how to eat it or how to drink water. Sometimes this transition is easy, sometimes it’s challenging.

My secondary job is to socialize them so they are used to being around humans, picked up and handled; hopefully turning them into a loving lap cat that everyone wants! I must admit, kittens are pretty easy to socialize if you can get to them at around 5 to 8 weeks old. They will easily get used to humans picking them up and handling them and just being around. Quite frankly. This is the part of fostering I love…who wouldn’t?!

What does it Take to Foster Pets

It takes a special person to be a foster parent for pets. I loved this description from my shelter:

If you have a place in your heart and home for animals—but you’re not prepared to adopt—consider fostering. Our Homes with Hearts foster care program lets animal lovers bring pets from our shelters into their homes on a temporary basis to prepare them for adoption. We know it can sometimes be a challenging experience – in the love you invest, the commitment it takes, and, eventually, in saying goodbye to a pet that you’ve nurtured for an extended period of time. But know that what you do matters. Every pet that’s fostered has a better chance at a happier and healthier life ahead with a forever family.

Dumb Friends League
foster kitten 5 weeks old

Why Fostering Pets is Perfect for a Frequent Traveler

I used to have a cat when I had a typical corporate job. I loved my cat, but when I started traveling, I had to give her up – and giving up a pet to travel was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. The good news of this story though is my friend who agreed to take her had her for 12 more years and my cat lived until 20 years old. All ended well, but I’ll still never forget the feeling of driving home without my kitty feeling as if I had abandoned her to go travel.

Foster kitten 6 weeks old

A number of years later I had a friend who fostered cats and got me acquainted with the whole idea. I didn’t even know there was such a thing! I knew at that time that if I ever got a home again that I would want to foster. After all, it’s the perfect thing for a person that is constantly traveling. You get all of the joys of having a pet, but you don’t have the long-term commitment of having a pet. And when you travel as often as I do, you really can’t have a commitment to anything.

You are typically asked to foster kittens for 2 to 4 weeks at a time, so you can make yourself available to take on fosters whenever you are home. When you are home, you have a pet, and when you are gone, you are free.

How to Find Shelters to Foster at Near You

When I moved to Denver, I simply went to Google and started searching for cat fostering. It won’t take you long to find the shelters in the area who are looking for fosters. This is how I found Dumb Friends League in Colorado. However, I suggest before you just jump into it, you do your research.

Once you get your search results – I do recommend you thoroughly research each option. Call them, talk to them about the program, or find out as much as you can online. Not all shelters need fosters all the time and only take people at certain times of year, etc – so be prepared that every shelter is different.

Location is Important

It’s really rare that you pick up your foster kittens and then keep them until they reach 2 lbs and take them back. Often shelter kittens come with a variety of illnesses and that means frequent trips back and forth to the shelter to get them checked up or to pick up medication or to get vaccinations. I made sure to look for shelters that were somewhat close to me to work with.

Ask What Supplies are Provided

My shelter, Dumb Friends League, provides everything you need to take care of the kittens or any animals. I think this is actually rather rare. Many shelters I contacted didn’t provide supplies, that was something you would have to go out and buy; food, litter, litter boxes, carriers, toys, etc.

eating kitten
Learning to eat can be a messy experience

This was a big consideration for me because I didn’t have a lot of money to take on all of the extra supplies and more importantly, I didn’t have a lot of space to keep all of those supplies when I didn’t have kittens.

Dumb Friends League provides litter, litter boxes, food, cat treats, toys, carriers, food dishes, bottles, formula, cotton balls, blankets, and toys. It’s really quite incredible. Then when I take the kittens back to the shelter, I also take most of the big things back until I get more kittens. This really helps me preserve space in my small studio apartment.

Apply to be a foster at Dumb Friends League Denver

How to Get Ready to Foster Kittens

The main thing to get ready is a small space in your home. It’s best for kittens to start off in a small enclosed area. I use my bathroom and closet as they are connected and it’s an area that I can pretty easily clean and I can’t lose them!

Losing them is a real issue! If you’ve ever moved a cat to a new place, they generally freak out and hide under the bed for a few days or some other small dark spot where you can’t find them! With little kittens – it’s even harder to keep track of them!

You’ll also want a number of old towels and blankets they can cuddle up in and if they are 4 weeks or younger a heating pad is also a good idea.

Supplies You Want to Have on Hand as a Kitten Foster

You don’t need much, but there are a few things I would recommend to have when you start to foster kittens:
This list contains some affiliate links. If you choose to purchase items through these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the costs of running this site

  • Old pillows, towels, and blankets
  • Big, soft heating pad – I recommend something that is machine washable
  • Non-toxic cleaning supplies like Method Bathroom cleaner
  • Puppy pads can also be helpful if you have kittens under 4 weeks
  • Wand Feather Toy I know I said toys aren’t necessary – this is really the only store bought toy that they play with. Most of the time they are happy with boxes, bags, ribbons, strings from shoes, etc.
  • Stain/Odor Remover for the accidents (link)
  • Scratching post/pad is probably a good idea too if you are fostering a lot and want to protect your furniture
kitten toys
They love the feather wand!

Things You Should Expect as a Kitten Foster Parent

Shelters Don’t Just Give Foster Kittens to Anyone

how to be a foster for kittens
I love ‘kangaroo’ kittens!

I started my quest to foster kittens in January of 2018. I filled out the first online form and hit ‘submit’. I was super excited to start this journey. However – I learned pretty quickly that this wasn’t going to be a quick experience. After first running background checks based on my initial application, I then had to come in for a monthly foster/volunteer orientation. After that I had to come in for an in-person interview the next month. Then I had to come in for a specific kitten fostering workshop for a weekend. Next I had to set up an appointment for someone to come inspect my home.

Then…I was finally in the system and was able to foster kittens! The whole process took me 5 months before I was fostering my first kitten!

Granted, every shelter is different, but I actually like that they prepare you so well and ensure that you have an appropriate place to have the kittens.

Often you Have to Quarantine the Kittens

Don’t think that you are going to bring new kittens home who are 3 to 6 weeks old and simply let them run wild in your home. Since many of the kittens are found outdoors and left at the shelter, they could have worms, or any other sicknesses. You will need to keep them confined to a small area and keep them away from other pets if you have them until you can be sure they are healthy.

Plus – quite frankly it’s just good practice to confine them to a small space at first (see above). A bathroom is perfect, and it’s easy to clean up messes normally. However there have been a few times where I woke up to mewing kittens and found one of them stuck in the tub. Somehow they got in the tub and then couldn’t get themselves out!

Kittens stuck in the bathtub
Stuck in the tub…

You Should Expect Poop…Lots of Poop

After fostering kittens for 2 years now, the one thing that is a constant among all of my kittens is that they normally have diarrhea at some point during my time with them. And being totally honest – it’s the part I hate the most. Granted diarrhea is never fun…but with kittens who are also just learning how to use the litter box, it’s even worse. These cute little, fluffy, innocent kittens are pooping machines!

I can’t tell you how often I’m down on my hands and knees watching over the kittens as they use the litter. My hand is poised right over the top of them so as soon as they are done and start to look they are going to move I quickly pick them up like a giant claw game before they can step in the diarrhea and then proceed to track it all over my apartment. Let’s face it – I can be there watching over them every time they poop…so inevitably I’m cleaning up poop being tracked all over.

Let me just tell you, it’s not fun when you wake up in the morning and find poopy paw prints all over your bed sheets. Or, worse yet – just a pile of poop on your couch. This is also why you want to confine them to a small space that’s easy to clean at first!

Also – if you have multiple kittens sharing a litter box often you have to figure out who is doing what. That means watching a lot of litter box action. I never planned on having kids and being a mom, and I certainly never thought I’d be watching a creature poop with such anticipation in my life! Sometimes even cheering them on when they get it right and cover it up like a grown kitty!

Sometimes You Get to Name Them

I may never get the opportunity to name a child, but I do get plenty of opportunities to name kittens. Many times, the kittens are brought in abandoned and done have names yet. I pick them up and they are just numbers on a piece of paper. I love to observe them for a week or so and see what names come to me.


Sometimes I get name ideas from people who follow them on my Instagram stories too!

Sometimes You’ll Need to Take on Adult Cats

In Denver, kitten season only runs until October. I had a couple of kittens in early December last year, but it’s rare that it goes that late. This means that in the winter it’s pretty slow. You might want to take that time to relax, or you may want to take on other adult cats who need foster time. Last winter I had an adorable older cat named Oscar for a few weeks. He was lovely and a really chill responsibility compared to the kittens!

You Apartment/House Will Turn into a Kitten Playground

I woke up one morning and looked around at my living room. There were no less than 4 boxes strewn around, Styrofoam peanuts all over the floor, ribbons laying around, tissue paper crumpled up, a couple empty toilet paper rolls, and 3 shoes with shoe laces pulled taut; it looked like a tornado went through my living room. In actuality it was a tornado of little kittens.

I honestly have no idea why cat toys are even manufactured when their favorite things to play with is boxes, bags, and crumpled up paper. The big hit for this current litter of kittens was a little box full of Styrofoam peanuts that I must have picked up at least 35 times just to be tipped over again.

Kittens play more than adult cats; the play whenever they aren’t sleeping. And they don’t need fancy toys, boxes and bags are the best thing you can give them to entertain them for hours. They chase each other, climb the furniture, pound on each other, wrestle, find little places to hide and try to scare each other, they are adorable.

It’s amazing how little 1.5 lb kittens sounds like a herd of wildebeest when they are running around chasing each other. Jumping on the couch, playing in the windows, and running laps around my apartment over and over again. All of this playtime activity explains why they nap so much!

If you work at home like me, don’t expect to get any work done when they are awake. The distraction of kittens is real. But I adore it. I find myself laughing aloud all the time as they chase and play with each other learning their own abilities and limits.

How Can You Give up Kittens After Fostering Them – Isn’t it Hard?

This is my most frequently asked question. The answer is yes, it’s heartbreaking.

I cry…a lot. Sometimes I even have one of those sobbing cries where you can’t breathe it’s so emotional.

But, despite all of the tears and heartbreak, it’s worth it every time.

Fostering is a job. I have a responsibility to get these kittens to a place where they can be adopted and then my job is to give them up to the adoption system and take on the next batch. Someone has to do this job in order to provide kittens out to be adopted. It might as well be me; it is a perfect thing to do for someone who travels frequently.

Plus…I’m allergic to cats, so I can deal with it for a few weeks at a time, but living with a cat all the time really effects my allergies.

If I were to become a foster fail and keep a couple of them, then I really wouldn’t be able to take on more as I live in a small place. And if I can’t foster more that may mean that more kittens don’t survive or find a home. People have to foster in order for shelters to give these kittens to find a fulfilling life.

One of the hardest yet most rewarding things for me in this process is that by the time I give them up, they are really good kittens. They are social, they are eating, they are sleeping with me in my bed, taking naps in my lap, they are pooping in the right place…but it was a long road to get them there. And even though I share a lot of the journey on my Instagram stories, I don’t really share all of the struggles of getting them to this fun kitten point for their new owners.

See my foster kittens grown up with their new families!

sleeping with kittens
It takes a while to get to this point of them sleeping with you!

When I have to say goodbye and get another batch, I’m back at square one again. And they cycle starts again. I think it must be like being a teacher of 1st graders. You work all school year to get them to the point where they are good students, and then you start all over again next year.

Saying Goodbye to my Foster Kittens

Before I give them up, I talk to each kitten individually and give them a little pep talk about life and remind them to be good kittens and love their new family. I hope that they will remember me. I tell myself they will.

And then I cry.

kitten nap

The sadness lasts anywhere from 2 days to a week.

However, I also know the sheer joy I feel when I’m on the way to the shelter to pick up a new kitten to foster. I’m elated. I wear a perma-grin. That elation lasts for much longer than my sadness.

I think that’s the key.

There will always be sadness in our lives.

However when I foster kittens, the happiness outweighs the sadness, and that’s really what we are all looking for in life, isn’t it?


How to foster kittens
How to foster kittens

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