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Fostering kittens is life affirming
and life saving, but it’s also a heck of a lot of work. If you’re willing to
put in the time, though, your heart will soar when you send them off to their happy new homes, where they will hopefully have a chance to thrive because of the
early socialization and care you gave them.
Here’s what you’ll need to have and
know to give them the best start in life.
of effort it takes to raise foster kittens depends in part on how old they are
when you get them. Bottle babies, for instance, will need at least a couple of
weeks of intensive care. Bottle babies are kittens younger
than 3 or 4 weeks. They need four to six feedings daily, round the
clock. Yes, that may mean some 2 a.m. feedings, but, luckily, that stage doesn’t
last for more than two or three weeks.
You can gauge how often to feed
kittens by the way they act when you bring out the bottle. If they’re crying
frantically, ramp up the number of feedings. After the last feeding at bedtime,
place them near your bed so you can hear if they get hungry in the middle of
the night. If you’re lucky, they might give you six hours of sleep before crying
You should have no problem finding
kitten-size bottles at a pet supply store, but if the store is out of stock, seek
out doll bottles at a toy store. To make it easier for the kitten to take in
formula, pierce the bottle nipple with a needle or straight pin. Sterilize
bottles and nipples in boiling water before use. Make like a surgeon and
thoroughly wash your hands all the way up to the elbows before feeding or
The best temperature for formula is
between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Test the temperature with a thermometer
before feeding or shake a couple of drops onto your wrist to make sure it’s not
too hot. If it burns your wrist, it’s too hot for the kittens to drink.
Speaking of heat, it’s important
for kittens themselves to be warm before they eat. A kitten who’s cold won’t be
able to properly digest his meal.
That means if you’ve just brought kittens in
from the cold, food is not their first priority. Warm them with the body heat
from your hands or line a box with towels fresh out of the dryer. Never use heating pads, which can become too hot.
Circulating hot water blankets or a hot water bottle wrapped in a
clean towel are both good options. A 60-watt lightbulb or heat lamp can
be hung above the box to provide a constant and safe source of warmth.
Make sure, however, that the
kitten box is big enough for the
kittens to move away from the heat source in case they become too warm.
Kittens do best with commercial
kitten formula. Never give them cow’s milk, which can cause diarrhea. Kittens
are also prone to dehydration. You can help them take in more liquids by adding
extra water to the formula when you mix it. You can also add extra water to
The best feeding technique is to
hold the kitten’s head steady while applying even, gentle pressure to the bottle. You
don’t want to squirt formula into the kitten's mouth; just make it easy for the kitten
to suck it in.
You can start to offer solid food
when the kittens are 3 to 4 weeks old. Give them a little canned food or
whirl some dry food with water in a blender or food processor. To help the
kittens realize that what you’re offering is good to eat, enhance the odor by
warming the food slightly (mix it well and test it with your finger to make sure there
aren’t any hot spots), adding a little water to it or smearing a little on the
roofs of their mouths. Until they’re 6 weeks old, continue bottle-feeding as well to
make sure they’re getting enough calories.
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