Sallie and I have fostered many dogs and cats over the years. We usually provide foster for sick or elderly animals, but sometimes we provide foster when their just isn’t enough space at the shelter for all the animals in their care.
Recently, Sallie brought home a mom cat and her four little kittens. The kittens were very sick and taking care of them and their mom would be difficult for the busy staff at NCAL. It made sense for this family to move out of the shelter and into a foster home.
The mom and kittens have been staying with us for almost a month now. It has been great to watch the kittens grow and regain their strength and energy.
As the kittens get older and more active we have a unique opportunity to help nurture them into well socialized young cats that will be ready for adoption. Jacque Lynn Schultz, C.P.D.T. and Petfinder’s Companion Animal Programs Advisor, wrote a wonderful article titled “Kitten Socialization and Development” on Petfinder.com’s Animal Shelter and Rescue page. In this article Schultz focuses on some of the things a foster home can do to help new kittens develop and become well socialized. Schultz explains that “A cat’s personality is largely formulated in the first eight weeks of life. Leaving health issues to the veterinarian, here’s what you (the foster home) can do to help your kittens be all that they can be behaviorally.”
Provide Proper Nutrition
If you are fostering a pregnant female cat you need to provide extra food for them. Since your female feline will lose weight while nursing, allow her to bulk up before giving birth. Many savvy cat owners switch their expecting cats back to kitten chow to get those extra calories per mouthful. Studies have shown that a malnourished queen is more irritable with her kittens and provides less mothering. Consequently, her kittens will be developmentally delayed, slower to open their eyes, walk and engage in play. As they mature, such kittens show poorer learning ability, greater levels of fear and aggression and more anti-social behavior toward other cats.
Provide the kittens an interactive environment
When setting up a cat nursery, avoid the empty room/sterile box set-up, especially for kittens two- to eight-weeks of age. Kittens kept in a more complex environment for their first two months are less nervous later in life than those kept in un-stimulating surroundings. Provide plenty of sensory stimulation. A radio or television can be left on in the room some of the time. Flooring can consist of newspapers, old towels, a carpet square, linoleum tile, perhaps even a piece of Astroturf™. A small cardboard box for the kittens to crawl on with a hole cut in the side can serve as a den once the kittens are mobile. Don’t use fresh produce boxes, though, for they may have been sprayed with harsh pesticides.
Handle the Kittens
Engage in gentle handling as soon as possible. Early human handling results in precocious development. When the kittens are two- to three-weeks of age, increase the sphere of handlers to include three or four people daily to help the kittens learn to trust all humans.
Keep Mom Around
Since kittens learn by watching how an adult cat operates, it is important to keep the litter with the mother until at least eight weeks of age, which coincides nicely with the end of weaning for most kittens. Through observational learning they get the hang of using the litter box and whether or not to cover waste, how to hunt and kill (although this behavior is partially predetermined genetically), what foods are safe to eat and who is appropriate as a friend. Kittens also learn to cope with stress and frustration, since Mom Cat controls the “milk bar” and they don’t always get the opportunity to feed until satiated. Lastly, it is important to keep littermates together until eight- to ten-weeks of age. Through their interactive play, kittens learn to control their clawing and biting, and to extend their acceptance of littermates to felines outside of the family.
To read Schultz full article visit Petfinder.com.
Fostering is a great way to help out you local animal welfare organization. Fostering not only opens up space at the shelter for the staff to help more dogs and cats, but, if done with care and intent, you can help raise socially savvy dogs and cats that will easily to find their new home.
WARNING —- WARNING — WARNING
Fostering animals for your local animal welfare organization can have unintended consequences.
Case in point, Willamena
Willamena came to live at our house because she was not doing well at the shelter. Willamena was very scared and tried her best to avoid any visitors by staying in the back of her cat kennel.
Sallie brought Willamena home in hopes that by spending time at our house, Willamena would eventually become comfortable enough with people to be able to find a home. Several months passed and Willamena had only made minimal progress towards becoming an outgoing and family friendly cat. She would wander through our home and sometimes plays with the other cats. However, she still hadn’t become comfortable enough with us to let us pet her. Recognizing that it could take years for her to become comfortable with humans, and then there is no guarantee that any progress we made with her would transfer once she returned to the shelter, we decided that she should just stay with us.
A couple of weeks ago we made it official and Willamena became part of our family.
The unintended consequence of fostering is that we now have a great cat bringing joy into our home.
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