Foster Newborn Kittens

by Katherine Noyes
The Challenge

Newborn kittens, which are too young to be put up for adoption, overrun animal shelters. As litter after litter of newborn kittens arrive, already-overtaxed shelters can get stretched to the breaking point as their space and resources for caring for these unwanted animals begin to dwindle. By volunteering to foster newborn kittens in your home, you can help shoulder some of the shelters' burden and reduce the need for euthanasia during peak months, particularly in spring and summer.

Most animals begin to give birth as the warm weather arrives, and that's the time shelters call "kitten season." Newborn kittens are brought to the shelter too young to be adopted — which generally means less than eight weeks old — and shelter staff must find some way to provide them with the extra care and socialization they need during their first few weeks of life. Unfortunately, kitten season is also the time of maximal stress and overcrowding at animal shelters, making disease more likely, and shelter workers' time is stretched thinner than ever. Often, shelter staff simply do not have the time to provide the care and attention newborn kittens need.

Not only are there increased numbers of newborn kittens to care for during kitten season, there are also many more adoptable older kittens and cats to accommodate than at other times of the year. Sadly, it is often the adult cats at shelters who first begin to pay the price of the influx of kittens, as potential adopters overlook them in favor of the many adorable, active kittens available. In some shelters, that will lead to increased rates of euthanasia of the cats who are not quickly adopted.

In the United States alone, millions of cats and kittens are euthanized each year for lack of homes to adopt them. Each and every one of these unwanted animals is the result of some pet owners' failure to spay or neuter their pets. Since one unspayed cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 new kittens in seven years, the consequences quickly become overwhelming.

Until we see the day when every pet cat is spayed or neutered, many shelters and rescue groups have established kitten foster programs to help cope with the seasonal influx of newborn kittens. By volunteering as a foster parent for newborn kittens, you can help give newborn kittens the best start on a happy and healthy life.

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  • Spay and neuter. First and foremost, make sure you spay and neuter your own cats! With so many newborn kittens entering the world homeless, there is simply no excuse not to. If there are stray or feral cats living in your neighborhood, make it your business to ensure that they are spayed and neutered too.
  • Adopt! With so many newborn kittens arriving each year and so many homeless cats already overcrowding shelters, adopting just one cat (or more!) can make a world of difference. Not only do you give that cat or kitten a new chance at life, you also make room at the shelter for another one who might otherwise be euthanized.
  • Be a foster parent. If you're not sure you have room for more pets in the long term, consider providing a foster home for newborn kittens during kitten season. Many shelters have active programs for training and guiding foster parents in newborn kitten care. Typically, volunteer foster parents are responsible for feeding, socializing and cuddling the newborn kittens in their care. With very young newborn kittens, bottle-feeding may be involved, as may administering medication. Most shelters will provide at least some of the supplies. Generally, foster parents of newborn kittens will be responsible for the kittens for anywhere between one and eight weeks. Start by contacting your local shelter, rescue group or feral-cat organization, and they will probably have detailed guidelines for you to follow. To find your local shelter, visit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or you can enter your ZIP code at Petfinder or Pets 911. Alley Cat Allies offers help finding individuals and organizations that can provide assistance with feral cats nationwide. For additional tips on kitten care, visit the ASPCA

Fostering newborn kittens may demand a fair bit of your energy, but it's also one of the most gratifying ways to help. You may just decide to turn your foster home into a permanent one!

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