(The picture of Grasshopper was
taken right after she ate and
was starting to nod off)
Young kittens require 24 hour specialized care. Grasshopper was about 3 weeks old when she (I am calling Grasshopper she because at this young age it is very difficult to determine gender) was found in the middle of a backyard. There was no sign of her mother and no telling how long she had been there. Kittens at that age are too young for solid food and need to nurse every few hours or they can easily become dehydrated. Grasshopper was brought to the shelter and given her first formula feeding by syringe. It was a little messy, but she caught on quickly and soon had a full belly and fell fast asleep. After her first feeding she was sent home with a foster parent.
At the Paws of Plainville, Inc. shelter we have two daily shifts, one morning and one evening, when volunteers come in to feed the animals, clean their cages, let them out for some exercise, and give them some TLC. The shelter is able to accommodate kittens and cats that are old enough to eat solid food, but young kittens that need to be fed around the clock are sent to one of our foster families.
Being a foster parent to kittens takes a lot of dedication and patience. They need to take over all of the tasks usually performed by the mother cat: feeding, bathing, stimulating, protecting, and keeping them warm. Kittens need to be fed special formula just like human babies. Cow’s milk is not good for kittens or adult cats. The formula needs to be mixed in the correct combination, warmed and then fed to the kitten by syringe every 2 to 4 hours depending on their age. The younger the kitten, the closer together the feedings need to be. The kitten needs to be held with its head elevated so that none of the formula is aspirated into the lungs and they occasionally need to be burped as well. This can be a very messy and time consuming process, some kittens eat quickly and others, not so quickly....
Very often, once they are done eating they will need a bath. Younger kittens also need to be stimulated to make waste as well, which is a little known task that their mother usually performs, without proper stimulation they will not relieve themselves and get bad bellyaches. Due to their small size, kittens lose body heat quickly so they need to be kept warm. This can be done by swaddling them in a towel or blanket and by keeping them in a warm, enclosed area. It is also a good idea to keep them in an enclosed area for their own safety. Kittens are extremely curious about everything and as they start to grow and move around they will explore and tend to eat inappropriate items as well as get themselves into precarious predicaments.
When a kitten is 5-to-6 weeks old it is time to start weaning them. At this point a little bit of wet kitten food is mixed with formula and given by syringe. Gradually the mixture is introduced into a bowl and the ratio changes to mostly wet kitten food and only a little formula and then to no formula. At this time kitten dry food can be introduced as well. The whole process usually takes about 2 weeks, which generally coincides with the age when kittens can be adopted, typically 8 weeks of age. Kittens are adopted out after they get their first shots which can only be given if the kitten is 2 lb. or heavier so if a kitten is a little on the smaller side then it may need to stay in foster an extra week or two to gain a little more weight.
We also use foster families for some juvenile and adult cats, as well. Sometimes when a cat has health or socialization issues they are sent to foster until they recover from their malady or develop better social skills. Our shelter has helped many homeless felines but only so much can be done inside the facility itself, a lot of the work needed to care for these cats is done in the home. We are always in need of foster families; they are an integral part of our organization. Without them many cats and kittens would not have found a forever home and others would not be around at all.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent or a shift volunteer please contact us at 508-695-4707 or visit our shelter at 200 South St. (Rte. 1A) in Plainville. Paws of Plainville, Inc. is dedicated to helping the homeless cats in the local area. We are an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization. All donations are tax deductible and can be sent to P.O. Box 2236, Plainville, MA 02762.