My Experience Fostering Kittens + Tips for Living With Cats

A couple of weeks ago, we took in a momma cat and her five kittens through a fostering program at The San Diego Humane Society. You may have seen all the adorable videos I posted to Instagram Stories? They’ve provided hours of entertainment, oodles of cuteness, and gave me lots of things to clean. I wanna tell you all about it, share some favorite feline products, and even encourage you to take some local critters into your home! ;)

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We had a cat for about 5 years but she passed away suddenly last year - nearly exactly to this day. It was really upsetting and I still get emotional about the loss. Mabel was a cuddly cat with oodles of personality. Our house hasn’t been the same since she died so we’ve always thought about adding another creature to our home.

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Ugh, I miss that rascal.

While we love having a critter at home, we’ve taken this year to do some traveling and we have major renovations right around the corner, so it felt like adding an animal to the madness wouldn’t be fair to them. Being away and making a construction ruckus is doable, but not ideal for an animal, so we’ve waited. However, we have space and time in between travel to give to critters in need, so we decided to foster!

Curious about what animal fostering is? In an essence, foster programs allow animals of all breeds to spend time away from the shelter before they’re ready to be adopted. Sometimes animals need time to recover from an injury, or they need to gain enough weight to be able to be go in for their spay/neuter surgery, or they need a break from the shelter, or they need frequent feedings/medications that shelter staff can’t keep up with. And for the foster family, you get to take care of and enjoy the company of the creatures! Once they are ready to be adopted, you return them to the shelter for them to be available to find their forever home.

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Our particular fostering responsibility was to help a momma cat wean her nursing kittens. The goal was to make the babies less dependent on mom (we don’t need any Buster Bluth kittens) as well as ensure mom could slowly dry up her milk production. My job was to separate them from each other gradually for a couple of hours on the first day and many hours after a couple of weeks. It was an emotional struggle to split them up and hear them cry, but we knew we were doing the right thing for them. I’m definitely not cut out for seeing animals struggling or in anything less than ideal conditions, so this was the most pain I could take. If you have a tough stomach, please consider fostering the animals that need extra love because not all of us wimps can do it!

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Welcoming six new cats into our home is a big change - those buggers are active and messy!

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When we first brought everyone home, we kept them all in the kitchen. It’s a contained space to help them transition to a new house gradually, without overwhelming them with too many foreign noises, smells, and space throughout the house. Plus our kitchen has very forgiving materials, like vinyl flooring, in case there was an accident.

We also had to baby-proof by removing toxic plants from their reach, hid electrical wires out of reach, removed things that could tip, and closed off tight spaces they could weasel into. I also hid my beautiful kitchen rug.

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The kittens hung out in there with cat beds, toys, their carriers, a scratcher, and most importantly always had food, water, and their litter box. I also provided some cardboard boxes, paper bags, and blankets which they used as forts. Whenever we walked in, our shoelaces were a big hit and they especially like drawstrings on pants. It was an amusement park for them, and momma cat lounged around like she had lived there for years.

When we separated mom from babies, she hung out in the bathroom where she could sip on sink water and bask in the sunshine. We made sure to set up food and water for her in her private kitten-free wing of the house. She even got first-class service with a personal water dish that we put in the sink to collect water just for her.

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It only took a week before the kittens learned out to escape from the swinging kitchen door. (Check out their prison break in the video series here for a good laugh). We blocked it with a chair when necessary, but ultimately decided that letting them roam would be good for them, and they were even cuter when they wandered around where we were hanging out.

We let them venture around but had to keep a watchful eye since there was lots of trouble for them to get into. I was constantly doing headcounts to make sure nobody went missing up the chimney (mom cat did climb up it).

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The kittens have SO much energy and their play is intense. They’re like mini spider men that climb on everything and latch on to furniture at any angle - upside down even. So, while they weren’t aiming to scratch our furniture, everything was in harm’s way when their little claws would inadvertently puncture the fabric. We had to sacrifice aesthetics for awhile by covering up my favorite chairs with big blankets and beach towels to protect them.

Stylish, no?

I found myself cleaning constantly. I followed the kittens around with my trusty vacuum and mopped constantly. Those dusty litter paw prints sure are cute, though.

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I’m so glad to say that I found homes for four of the kittens and I’ll be able to visit a couple of them whenever I please! The momma cat and one of the kittens went back to the humane society where the shelter will find homes for them. It’s not common for foster parents to find homes for the babies, I was just super motivated to get them housed ASAP. Returning those two was super hard. I’m choosing to not look at the cat listings on the Humane Society website because I prefer to assume that they were adopted immediately and that the shelter is completely emptied and all animals have homes. Fingers crossed.

So many folks asked why I didn’t adopt the mom or a kitten and as tempting as it was (especially because I fell for momma cat) we decided we aren’t ready for a full time cat. We’d rather foster more and help more felines before we settle on a time that’s good to bring a new pet permanently into our home. Stay tuned and you’ll probably see more cats (and maybe even dogs) in our foster future.

Taking out all of Mabel’s old cat products reminded me of how much I swear by a few of them, so I’ve rounded up my favorites feline products.

Scratcher Lounger: Most cat scratchers are vertical, but Mabel, momma cat, and the kittens all enjoyed this lounge scratcher that gives them a place to hang out where they can also file their claws. I like that it’s low profile is more aesthetically pleasing than the cat trees.

Whisker Fatigue Food Bowl: Have you ever seen a cat eat only the food in the center of the bowl and act like the food at the edges doesn’t exist before begging for more food? It’s likely because their sensitive whiskers prevent them from getting into the corners without being uncomfortable. This bowl is shaped differently so the kitties don’t experience any discomfort while dining.

Litter Box: We didn’t use this box with the foster animals, but it we used it for years with Mabel. It’s a posh litter box that will set you back $$ but it’s designed to prevent litter from getting tracked all over the house, and it has a simple, modern look.

De-Shedding Brush: The primary part of fur that cats shed is their undercoat, so this brush helps pull the loose undercoat hairs out before they stick to all the furniture. Traditional brushes tend to only get the top coat of fur. Many cats adore the brush because it feels like a deep massage.

Flea Comb: No matter how much flea prevention you do, it’s good to have a flea comb to check for those nasty buggers. I like the ergonomics of this one.

Diatomaceous Earth: When fleas show up, DE is the most natural and safe option I’ve found.

Spray Bottle: Training cats with a squirt of water when they test their limits has proven effective for me. I like these plastic-free glass ones for everything around the house

Nail Clippers: To prevent furniture damage, those claws are best kept trimmed. This one works well on adult cats and kittens. Just always be careful that you never cut close to the quick (the pink part at the base of the nail) to avoid causing the kitty pain.

Pet Carrier: The shelters nor vets want to see animals carried in the cardboard boxes, so invest in a real carrier. Hard plastic ones are popular, but we liked the soft ones that collapse for storage.

Furniture Fur Remover: This tool is a great alternative to wasteful lint removers and works like magic to remove fur stuck to furnishings.

Vacuum: I love both my Dyson and my Roomba for cleaning up fur and litter.

I hope my experience encourages you to consider fostering some creatures! You can find a foster program at nearly any local shelter or rescue organization - I’m sure there are lots of groups and critters that could use your help. If you’d rather have a forever pet, I urge you to adopt, and not shop for an animal.

Let me know if you have any questions about fostering or living life with felines!