A Cat Fostering Primer

I’ve fostered a mother and her litter of five kittens for the local animal shelter, three tiny orphaned kittens on my own, and an adult former stray that I ended up adopting. It’s gratifying to be able to care for needy cats, even if it’s only briefly while they’re waiting for their forever home.

If you have cats of your own, you need to protect them as well as your foster cats by learning about feline diseases and their possible transmission throughout your cat family or even to you and your human family.

Some cat diseases, such as feline panleukopenia (aka feline distemper), rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and chlamydia, are all highly contagious but avoidable through a combination vaccination (called FVRCP-C) administered at about six, twelve and sixteen weeks. Rabies can be contracted by outdoor cats, or even by indoor cats if they come into contact with bats, but both foster and adopted cats can be protected with a rabies vaccine, first administered at about four months of age. Feline leukemia virus is detectable through a lab test at about twelve weeks, and, if negative, it is preventable through two vaccines. If you find yourself with a FeLV-positive foster cat, you may be putting your other cats at risk. Check with your vet for the best approach to this problem.

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and feline immune deficiency virus (FIV) can also be transmitted from cat to cat. There is an intranasal inoculation for FIP that unfortunately may not be very effective, and the vaccination for FIV is very problematic. Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite in the feces that can be a real danger for immune-compromised people or pregnant women as well as other cats. Campylobacter is another bacterial intestinal disease that affects both humans and cats.

If you’re fostering kittens, make sure they have their first FVRCP by the age of eight weeks, repeated at twelve and sixteen weeks and sixteen months if they’re still living with you. If you’re fostering an adult stray and have no clue about her health history, it’s wise to bring her to the vet for a checkup and the basic shots (FVRCP) plus a Feline Leukemia test. Ringworm, ear mites, ticks, fleas, cheyletiella (a skin parasite that can also infect humans) and intestinal parasites are other potential problems for you and your temporary or permanent cats.

My three orphaned kittens were less than a week old when I brought them home. I bought KMR formula, kitten bottles and an eye dropper and fed them frequently throughout the day and night. Sadly, one of them died after just a few days, probably a victim of fading kitten syndrome, but the other two thrived. I kept them in a cat carrier with a heating pad, and at night it was right next to my bed to keep them from getting into trouble while I was sleeping and protect them from any unwanted intrusions of my own cats. I know that sometimes adult cats are willing to pinch hit as foster mothers themselves even if they don’t have any of their own milk to contribute, but my cats weren’t at all interested in being maternal. So I gave the kittens a stuffed “mother” cat to cuddle next to.

In the case of fostering a mother and her litter, there is always the potential for fighting between her and your own cats (or dogs) because her instinct is to protect her kittens and your cats (or dogs) may be overly curious or even a little hostile. So it’s best to try to keep the mother and her litter away from your own cats-perhaps in a different room with the door closed. That’s what I did initially for my foster mother and kittens from the shelter. But after a few weeks of everyone getting used to each other, I was able to let them run loose throughout the house without any problem.

You can go ahead and name your foster cats, as I did, but be careful about getting too attached unless you think you’ll keep them yourself.

If you’re fostering on your own, start looking for a permanent home for your foster cats as soon as possible. You can advertise in the classified section of your local newspaper and tell your friends and family to spread the word. But be wary of potential adopters. Put together a basic adoption application (you can find examples of these on line), and ask for an adoption fee to weed out those who might be trying to collect free cats to sell to research labs, or those who aren’t really serious about taking responsibility for the life of a cat. Make sure you do your research on adoption applicants. Ask for personal and business references. Consider visiting their homes without advance notice. I rejected two applicants after I did that because their living situations were suboptimal for keeping a cat. Finally, because of the cat overpopulation crisis, it’s vital that you arrange to have your foster cats spayed or neutered. You could include the cost of the procedure in your adoption fee.

Fostering cats can be an extremely rewarding experience. Millions of unwanted cats are killed every year without getting a chance at life. If you are able to give a few cats that opportunity, you should go for it. Just remember that for successful cat fostering you need to consider their past and future lives as well as their present well-being while living in your household.

Cats aren’t exactly known for making good pets when compared to dogs but still fostering them is something that most people look forward to as women prefer them over all others and this whole tug of war makes it a feline Vs canine battle that you get to see here most of the times.