Inspired by the many foster cat accounts on Instagram, I had long wanted to try fostering as soon as my house renovations reached a point where I had my spare room available. I work from home most days and knew I had lots of time to offer. When my local cat charity Catcuddles put a call out for an emergency fosterer to take in a litter of four kittens and their stray mum found in a London garden, I knew this was my chance to step up.
The little furries arrived the following day (to be followed by their mum a day later; she was getting spayed first), and they were fluffy and adorable and a bit shy. Watching them grow over the next 8-10 weeks was a wonderful experience.
These are some of the things I learnt along the way that may help you to make up your mind about fostering too. (Do note that every cat charity will have their own requirements and guidelines for fosterers, so it is a good idea to have a chat with your local one if you’re thinking of fostering.) I also asked my Instagram followers what their top questions were about fostering and will answer some of those.
To foster kittens and their mum, you will need a room to dedicate to your foster kitties – ideally a quiet spare room, with nothing that can be knocked over or climbed up, or otherwise cause a hazard. The room will need to have all the basics such as litter trays, scratching posts/mats, some comfortable bedding (towels and fleece blankets are ideal to throw into a wash often!) and food and water bowls – usually all this can be provided by the charity or is quite inexpensive to purchase. In addition, I got through a lot of bin liners (litter box cleaning duties!) and fragrance-free baby wipes (handy for all sorts of spot cleaning of kitten feet, bedding etc.). Some puppy training pads and something to put under the litter tray is also useful.
Anxieties and adventures
Taking in a stray cat comes with some uncertainty. What will she be like? In my case, the mother cat, initially described as friendly by the people whose garden she had lived in, turned out to be scared and hissy, which added an additional challenge to my first fostering experience.
If you’re anything like me and prone to worrying about things, be prepared for some anxieties in the early days. The first night the kittens were here, I checked up on them at 2am and 5am – they were of course absolutely fine and probably wondered what all the fuss was about, but I barely got any sleep worrying about them! If you foster for a charity, there are always lots of people to offer support and answer questions. You can also easily Google the various questions that pop into your head but be warned the first few results are usually worst case scenarios so don’t panic!
The kittens are of course tiny to begin with and I couldn’t help worrying about such things as is it safe for them to jump off a chair when they suddenly learn to climb onto it and what if they eat the bits of wood pellet litter they seem to love playing with? My kittens also went through a phase of sleeping a lot and I admit to sometimes gently poking one or two to check they were still ok! Apparently kittens sleep a lot during growth spurts, as they literally grow while they sleep (or so Google tells me anyway…). There were some unfortunate complications with the mother cat’s spay wound, and later on the kittens got some cat flu symptoms as a side effect of their vaccinations. At times it felt like this lot really were determined to go through every issue to initiate me fully into fostering!
All that said, watching the kittens grow and learn new things was an extremely rewarding and fun experience! Kittens are not as cuddly as I might have expected (they are way too energetic and playful to want to cuddle for long) but I did have some wonderful moments with purring kittens sleeping on me, and of course they got plenty of kisses on a daily basis.
Prospective adopters came to visit the kittens at my house for pre-arranged appointments. For an introvert type like me who rarely even lets friends visit, this was not the easiest experience even though all the visitors were very nice and polite. But they were still strangers and I couldn’t help worrying about it… Will they judge me for not having had the hallway redecorated yet? Will they listen to me when I ask them not to approach the mother cat or will they get scratched? How long will they stay? Should I offer them a cup of tea? What if they are really weird?! Everything went smoothly but if you’re anxious or generally prefer the company of cats over people as many cat people do, this might be one of the trickiest parts of fostering. Having managed all the visits without any issues, I can say it wasn’t just the kittens who benefited from this extra socialisation experience, though, and next time around it will hopefully be much easier!
Why are there only 24 hours in the day…
One of my Instagram followers asked if it’s possible to foster if you work full time. Based on my experience, possibly but possibly not kittens! Especially stray kittens really benefit from as much human contact as possible, and if everyone in the household is out at work from 7am until 7pm, it might be hard to find the time required for socialisation. Having some daytime availability is also useful for vet visits (vaccinations if nothing else) and for accommodating adoption visitors. If you do lead a busy life, fostering an adult cat might be an option. Especially during kitten season, charities welcome foster placements for adult cats too and this can be an equally rewarding although a different experience.
If you do work from home or otherwise have the time, it’s very easy to end up spending all of your time with kittens. Of course the more time you can devote to the fosters, the better. The kittens benefited hugely from having a lot of time with me – they soon forgot any stray habits and became friendly, sweet and playful. It seems the Kitten Happy Hour starts sometime around 9:30pm and goes on well until midnight with maybe a snack break or two in between, so prepare for some late nights if you want to enjoy the best playtime and as with small babies, make use of nap time to get some work done!
What if you already have a cat/cats?
As your fosters will need to be kept in one room behind a closed door, it’s perfectly possible to foster if you already have resident cats. This was one of my concerns initially especially as my senior indoor cat doesn’t like other cats and of course she is my first priority, and I wouldn’t want to cause her extra stress.
My cat did initially react negatively and hissed at me when she smelled the kittens on my clothes, and avoided me for a few days sulking under furniture. She settled down after a few days and after a few weeks she was back to all her usual habits. Undoubtedly your resident cat will be aware of the fosters and it is possible some will not be so laid back about it. I did at times feel guilty that the time spent in the foster room was time I probably would have otherwise spent with my cat (even if it had just been me working on my laptop on the sofa with her snuggled up next to me) but I made sure she’s been getting regular cuddle and play time too.
Are you thinking you’d love to try fostering but worried about getting too attached to your fosters? In Part 2 I address some of these concerns…