All kittens must eat 5% of their body weight at each feeding. All kittens must be weighed before and after feeding!
Warm formula up in the microwave until it is warmer than body temperature but not hot; test by dropping a few drops on the inside of your wrist. Stir or shake to eliminate any hot spots. Kitten must be kept warm during feeding -- wrap in towel or blanket, preferably on heating pad set to Low.
Feed kitten upright or on belly in a prone position, NOT on its back like a human infant!
Try the bottle first. Some kittens take awhile to latch on, so be patient! If kitten does not gain its 5% via the bottle, proceed w/ syringe feeding. Only use 1mL syringe.
Watch for formula coming out of kitten’s nose or a rasping “wet” cough. This is called aspiration – it means the kitten has ingested formula into its lungs and is in danger of “drowning”. If one of your kittens is aspirating, you need to do two things:
Immediately email email@example.com.
Wait for about an hour to make sure all of the formula has come out of the kitten’s nose and then continue feeding.
Weigh kitten periodically throughout the feeding process – the kitten is only done eating when it has gained its 5%.
Thoroughly clean off any formula on kitten’s fur and dry kitten off. (Formula will stick and is very hard to remove if it dries and is also painful for the kitten!)
Weigh and record after-food weight!
After each meal, stimulate the kitten with cotton ball or alcohol-free baby wipe to help with urine/stool bowel movement. The kitten will not always have to go, but it is crucial that this step is performed after every feeding. Failure to stimulate orphan kittens can lead to serious illness and/or death.
Bottle babies should be switched to syringe gruel when they reach 3.5-4 weeks old (when all 4 canine teeth begin to grow in). Instead of KMR, kittens will now eat premium (only available at pet stores) canned kitten food mixed w/ water and blended to a smooth paste.
It is important to note that the syringe gruel phase is, essentially, nothing more than a layover between nursing (formula or mama’s milk), and weaning (eating independently). So, at this stage, you should make sure your kittens always have access to kibble, gruel, (canned food w/ water), and a bowl of water, as eventually they will decide to try it on their own!
Until that magical day, though, you will need to step in! Remember that just because you see your kittens eating on their own, this does not mean that they’re eating enough on their own to maintain their health. Too often, fosters assume that because they’ve witnessed their kittens eating kibble or gruel from a bowl, those kittens don’t need to be syringe fed anymore. This is not the case – and failure to follow the steps outlined above can lead to serious illness and/or death of kittens.
Again, kittens must eat 5% of their body weight at each feeding. Kittens must be weighed before and after feeding.
How to make syringe gruel:
You will need a blender! Blend approximately one can of food with 1/3 to 1/2 can water (double, triple, etc as needed). Your syringe gruel should be about the consistency of a milkshake, and you should be able to easily draw it up into a syringe.
First, give your kitten the opportunity to eat independently! Offer kitten warmed up gruel and kibble in separate plates or shallow bowls. If the kitten shows no interest after a while, proceed with syringe feeding.
With a syringe in your dominant hand, use your non-dominant index finger and thumb to grip the kitten’s head at their temples. Tilt kitten’s head back at about a 45-degree angle, using your palm to gently guide the kitten into a seated position.
Draw warmed syringe gruel (microwave to a bit above lukewarm temp -- no more than a few seconds at a time) into 10mL syringe.
Insert syringe into side of kitten’s mouth. Do not put syringe directly in front of kitten’s mouth (even if they try to position themselves this way!) as kitten could very easily choke.
Slowly plunge syringe gruel into kitten’s mouth, removing the syringe every few seconds to allow them to swallow.
Weigh kitten periodically throughout feeding process – the kitten is only done eating when they have gained their 5%!
Always thoroughly clean off any gruel on the kitten’s fur. Dry kitten off well.
This is the last stage of kitten rearing!
When your kittens begin eating enough gruel and kibble on their own to gain weight consistently every day, you’re well on your way to throwing those syringes out! Don’t get too excited yet, though – your kittens will still need to be syringe fed if they’re not able to eat 5% of their body weight on their own. The switch from syringe gruel to gruel/kibble is not a magical “aha!” moment on your kitten’s part – it’s a process you’ll both need to work through very thoughtfully!
Once you see that your kittens are gaining around 5% of their body weight on a daily basis, for at least 5 days, you can begin to weigh them twice a day, instead of every time they eat. NEVER go more than 24 hours without weighing your kittens – weight loss is the number one reason kittens pass away in foster care!
Kittens with Moms
Usually the easiest group of them all! Mom does most of the work, most of the time, but fosters with kitty families still need to be prepared to supplement the kittens if the kittens are not adequately gaining weight by nursing/eating on their own. We expect fosters with nursing families to be willing and able to supplement the kittens up to 2x/day, whether with a bottle or with syringe gruel. If your kittens are struggling, please reach out so that we can train you to supplement!
Bottle Feeding Orphaned Kittens (3 min. video)
Syringe-Feeding Tutorial (4 min. video)
Kitten and Puppy Bottle Feeding Problems and Solutions (7 min. video)
Harmful Non-Productive Suckling in Orphaned Neonatal Kittens (7 min. video)
Transitioning Kittens and Puppies to Solid Food (10 min. video)
Supplementing Protocol for Nursing Kittens
Thank you so much for fostering a nursing mom and kittens with PVAS. We truly appreciate you!
When it comes to nutrition for neonatal kittens, mom’s milk is best! And your kittens are the lucky ones who arrive at PVAS with a mom. They’re getting extra immune support and nutrition that orphans don’t get. What’s more, nursing kittens cause mom to produce hormones that stimulate milk production. It’s a virtuous cycle!
You’ve heard it before: WEIGH, WEIGH, WEIGH! Well, in the case of nursing kittens, weighing too frequently can make it seem like a kitten needs to be supplemented when in fact she does not. What matters is a kitten’s weight gain (or loss) over a 24-hour period (this is different than with orphans!). If your nursing kittens are healthy, they only need to be weighed once a day.
We want to do all we can to encourage kittens to nurse. Supplementing can disrupt the virtuous cycle, causing moms to not produce enough milk, and kittens who are bottle/syringe fed are at risk of aspirating formula (see below). Nevertheless, there are certain instances when it may be necessary to supplement nursing kittens to give them a boost until they are gaining weight on their own, such as upper respiratory infections, insufficient milk production from mom, too much competition from siblings at the milk bar, and premature birth (kittens weighing under 70 g). As a general rule, it’s time to start thinking about supplementing if you see that a kitten has lost weight over a 24 hour period. But because we want to avoid supplementing if at all possible, always contact your mentor before beginning to supplement!
You’ll remember from training that you can give your mom a day or so alone with her kittens before weighing them for the first time. Moms produce colostrum for roughly 24 to 48 hours before they begin producing milk, and It is essential for kittens to nurse at this stage because of the immune support that colostrum provides. You may see a slight weight loss (a couple grams) the first day or two. This is normal and no reason to panic. However, if you are concerned that a kitten is losing too much weight or have any other questions, email your mentor!
The goal of supplementing is right in the name. It is intended to give the kitten a boost until the kitten begins gaining weight from nursing, not to replace nursing. We therefore generally only supplement twice a day and discontinue supplementing once the kitten begins to gain weight again.
We supplement kittens with PetAg powdered KMR© formula (kitten milk replacer). Because an abrupt switch from the mother’s milk to KMR© formula can be hard on the kitten’s digestive system, we start supplementing with a ratio that is more dilute than what the label calls for:
Ratio of water to KMR© Time
8 to 1 2 feedings
4 to 1 2 feedings
2 to 1 Until kitten is gaining weight from nursing or can be syringe fed gruel, as the case may be
How to make formula:
Feed PetAg KMR® powdered formula from bottle and/or oral syringe. Mix powdered formula (unless otherwise advised) with water at the correct ratio (see table above). Shake well or blend to dissolve lumps! Store mixed formula in the fridge for up to 48 hrs.
All kittens must eat 5% of their body weight at each feeding. All kittens must be weighed before and after feeding!
Warm formula up in the microwave until it is warmer than body temperature but not hot. Make sure to stir or shake to eliminate any hot spots. The kitten also needs to be kept warm during feeding and should be wrapped up in a towel or blanket, and preferably on a heat source like a heating pad set to Low.
Feed kitten upright or on belly in a prone position, NOT on his/her back like a human infant!
Gather kittens’ feeding charts and some warm towels.
Bottle‐feed the kitten first. Some kittens take a while to latch on, so be patient! If kitten does not gain its 5% via the bottle, proceed w/ syringe feeding. Only use 1mL syringe.
Watch for formula coming out of kitten’s nose or a rasping “wet” cough. This is called aspiration, which means the kitten has ingested formula into her lungs and is in danger of “drowning.” If one of your kittens is aspirating, you need to do two things:
a. Immediately email firstname.lastname@example.org.
b. Wait for about an hour to make sure all of the formula has come out of the kitten’s nose and then continue feeding.
Weigh kitten periodically throughout the feeding process – the kitten is only done eating when they have gained 5%.
Thoroughly clean off any formula on kitten’s fur and dry kitten off. (Formula will stick and is very hard to remove if it dries and is also painful for the kitten!)
Weigh and record after‐food weight.
Bottle Feeding Orphaned Kittens (3 min. video)
Syringe-Feeding Tutorial (4 min. video)
Kitten and Puppy Bottle Feeding Problems and Solutions (7 min. video)
Neonatal Kitten, Pregnant & Nursing Moms Frequently Asked Questions
Neonatal Kitten FAQs
I work full-time. Can I still foster neonatal kittens?
Yes! Orphans in the neonatal program need to be weighed and fed every 2 to 3 hours during the day (bottle babies) or every 4 to 6 hours during the day (syringe gruel kittens and independent eaters). You must be able to keep up this schedule to foster neonatal orphans!
If this doesn’t work with your schedule, you can still foster pregnant and nursing moms! Kittens with a mom need to be weighed, and potentially supplemented with bottle or syringe feedings, twice a day. If a nursing kitten ends up needing to be supplemented more than twice a day, we would transfer her to another foster. You can also foster cats and kittens over ~8 weeks old. They do not usually need to be hand-fed and therefore do not need to be weighed and fed on a neonatal schedule.
My kids are really excited to bottle feed kittens. Can they co-foster with me?
All fosters must be at least 18 years old. Any adults who will help bottle or syringe feed and/or medicate kittens will need to take the online training and virtual feeding practice so that they are also fully-trained fosters. While kids can't help feed or medicate, they can always help with other tasks, especially socialization!
I would like to only foster one neonatal kitten. Is that possible?
In short, no, probably not. We almost always require kittens to be fostered in groups of at least two to ensure that kittens learn appropriate behavior from each other and become well-socialized cats. If a kitten does not have biological siblings, we will find one or more buddies around the same size. If either or both of the kittens are coming to foster from the shelter environment, you will need to observe the 10 to 14 day isolation period before combining them.
To be an appropriate match, kittens must be within about 1-2 weeks of age, and similar weight. Unfortunately, this means your resident kitty will not make a good replacement for a same-age buddy! If you do not have the ability to take on a second kitten, we will place your foster kitten with another foster that does have that ability once everyone is past their quarantine.
Labor and Delivery FAQs
My mom cat is giving birth outside of the nesting box. What do I do?
It's ok to just let her have them where she wants to. If it's not in a safe place or if the kittens are at risk of getting cold (for example, because she is giving birth on a hard surface), you can try moving the kittens over to the nesting box during breaks between kittens. Moms will often continue giving birth in the nesting box when you do this, although she may decide to move them back. You can also just move the heating pad over to the location she chooses.
How do I know when my mom cat is done giving birth?
Generally, it’s just a matter of waiting and seeing. Although kittens are usually born every 10 minutes to 1 hour, moms can take longer breaks between kittens to recover and care for the present kittens before continuing the labor process. They can even go up to a day between kittens, but this is very uncommon. As long as mom is not actively pushing, is resting comfortably, is alert when roused or is caring for kittens actively, and has pink gums, then there is generally no need to be concerned.
If she has had contractions and has been actively pushing for 30 minutes without producing a kitten or if she appears in distress (see the next question, “What specifically do you mean by ‘in distress?’”), please call the Foster Team at 956-330-3206.
What specifically do you mean by "in distress?"
Signs of distress or problems that warrant a call to the emergency line include having contractions and actively pushing for 30 minutes without producing a kitten, stopping pushing despite having contractions, contractions becoming weaker, mom feeling hot to the touch/running a fever, extreme weakness to the point of being unable to lift her head or stand, a kitten stuck in the birth canal, extremely foul-smelling discharge, large amounts of pooling blood, or pale gums. You should also alert the clinic if mom has gone 48 hours without eating or drinking. It is helpful for the clinic to know her personality (whether she is friendly, scared, etc.), what food you have been feeding (brand(s) as well as wet, dry, or both), and where you are keeping her and what parts of your home she has access to. If you see any of these signs of distress, please call the foster team at 956-330-3206.
My mom cat just had kittens and is panting. Is that normal?
Yes, it is common to see some panting for a few days after a mom gives birth. There is no reason to be concerned unless you notice panting in combination with other issues (see previous question, “What specifically do you mean by ‘in distress?’”).
My mom cat had kittens but still looks pregnant. Are there more kittens in there?
Cats can still look pregnant for some time after they have given birth, so it’s hard to know for sure whether she has finished giving birth or is taking a break. Moms can even go up to a day between kittens, but this is very uncommon. As long as mom is not actively pushing, is resting comfortably, is alert when roused or is caring for kittens actively, and has pink gums, then there is generally no need to be concerned.
If she has had contractions and been actively pushing for 30 minutes without producing a kitten or if she appears in distress (see question, “What specifically do you mean by ‘in distress?’”), please call the foster team at 956-330-3206. If you believe that your mom has not delivered all of her but is not in distress or showing signs of contractions, please email us at email@example.com.
My mom cat just gave birth/is giving birth, but the kittens aren't nursing. What do I do?
It can sometimes take a little time for kittens to find their way to the “milk bar,” especially if mom is still in labor and is changing positions frequently. Once mom appears to be done, or if she is taking a break, the kittens should find their way to her and start rooting around for a nipple. It’s a good idea to leave them alone for the most part and just check in on them occasionally. They usually figure things out, but their weights will let us know if they don’t. If you notice that a kitten frequently seems lost or heads in the wrong direction, you can go ahead and weigh him to get a baseline weight, try to put him next to a nipple when you catch him going the wrong direction, and email your mentor for further instructions.
My mom cat keeps moving her kittens. Is that ok?
Yes, it is common for moms to move their kittens to a place they consider safe. You can try to move the kittens back to the nest or set up multiple nests to give mom options. Ultimately, though, she’s going to put them where she wants them. You will need to move the heating pad to the location she picks to ensure that the kittens have a heat source at all times. Sometimes moms split their kittens up into two groups in two different locations. If your mom does this, please let your mentor know, and we can lend you an extra heating pad.
How do I know if my mom cat is stimulating her kittens to go to the bathroom?
Moms stimulate their kittens to go to the bathroom by licking their backside since kittens are unable to eliminate on their own. They do this instinctively. Occasionally it can take a couple days for first-time moms’ maternal instincts to kick in, but there’s generally nothing to worry about unless you notice that the kittens’ bedding is soiled or smells. If you do notice soiling, please send a picture to your mentor for further instructions since soiling can also be an indicator that the kittens have diarrhea.
Kitten Growth Chart and Information
Each age range comes with its own challenges and rewards. Here is a short summary for each group:
Bottle Babies (Newborns-4 Weeks)
Orphaned bottle babies are one of our most urgent foster needs. They require the most care since they must be fed every 2-3 hours during the day with one longer period overnight up to 4-5 hours. They do not take up a lot of space at this age and it is incredibly rewarding watching them grow into mini cats!
Bottle baby-specific supplies
In addition to the supplies required for all neonatal litters, you will also need a few extras if you foster bottle babies. Please be sure to have the following items:
PetAg KMR powder. During peak kitten season, this can sometimes be hard to find, so let us know if you need some!
1 cc syringes to supplement (we will provide you with these)
Nipple and baby bottle
Unscented baby wipes
Bottle babies are small and don't need a lot of space. They are happy with a cat carrier or tote (with a heating pad inside!).
Syringe Gruelies and Gruelies (4-8 Weeks)
These kittens are fed every 4-6 hours during the day with one longer period overnight up to 8 hours. Even if kittens are eating consistently on their own, they still need to be weighed and given fresh food at these intervals. These kittens are such fun to care for since they are learning how to play, eat, and all the ways to be a cat.
All kittens coming from the shelter must go through a 10-14 day quarantine period apart from all foster animals and resident pets. Even if the kittens look healthy, we need to make sure they are not incubating any illnesses. We strongly recommend quarantining in an easy-to-sanitize area such as a bathroom.
Single kitten syndrome
In our experience, kittens do better in pairs or groups. If you offer to foster a single kitten, we will look for a buddy in the same age and weight range once the quarantine period is over. We understand not everyone can take large litters, so if you are unable to take a pair, we can send you kittens who are not able to have buddies due to medical reason or kittens who need to complete quarantine. Once quarantine is done, we will do our best to match them to a kitten their age and free you up to continue to take more single kittens!
Guide to Socializing Shy and Unsocialized Kittens
Kittens under 8 weeks can usually be socialized very quickly following the guidelines detailed below. Kittens over 8 weeks of age who’ve had no positive interaction with humans often take longer to socialize. However, with consistent effort and extra sessions, these same guidelines can be effective to socialize kittens up to 6 months.
The best places to socialize kittens are anywhere where the socializer can get on the same level and comfortably interact with the kittens without the kittens feeling towered over, "backed into a corner," or hiding out of reach.
Most bathrooms work very well although they are isolated from continual household activity.
A small room without hiding spots under couches and beds or behind furniture can also work very well.
Radio and television sounds can contribute to getting kittens who have lived outdoors accustomed to the indoor environment.
The double decker wire catteries on wheels can work very well to start socialization but at some point you must let the kittens out in a confined space where they can choose to approach you.
Try to choose the set up which gives the kittens the most "quality" exposure to you and household activity even when you aren’t actively working with them.
Small cages or carriers don't work well, since the cats always feel cornered when we reach in and they have no room to make the important "mind shift" where THEY choose to approach US out of self-interest in order to get the food they desire. They need to have the option NOT to be near you in order to make that decision to approach. Cats are both prey and predator in the wild so their sense of fight or flight is constantly right there on the surface. If they have nowhere to flee when we reach at them, they can never relax enough to trust to approach us calmly and become confident and affectionate around humans. They need space to choose to change. If you must use a carrier, cage or cattery to house the kittens, keep it in a busy part of the house and then bring it into the bathroom or small room and let them loose for the work sessions.
Cats socialize themselves by choice. We only provide the incentive... FOOD!
Food is the most important tool to facilitate the socialization process. Growing kittens have an insatiable appetite which will give them the courage to approach you and be touched when they might normally never allow you anywhere near them. NEVER PUT DOWN THE FOOD AND LEAVE THE ROOM! It takes away any incentive for them to welcome you into their world. NO FREE RIDES!
The following guidelines below are not hard, fast rules. You may find that the kittens skip to advanced stages very quickly or you may find they follow a sequence of their own design.
Once the kittens are healthy and are calm enough to eat with you in the room, you can safely begin delaying meals just enough to give you the advantage of hunger to speed up their progress in the socialization sessions.
Kittens 6-8 weeks would hungrily eat 4 times per day. If you are only able to work with them twice per day, leave them just enough food in between sessions so they are very hungry when you get home and can work with them. If they aren’t progressing, you are leaving too much food.
Kittens 3 months old and older should only eat twice per day, and don’t leave any food behind when you leave the room.
Sit down on the floor with the kittens. Don’t face them directly but sit in ¾ profile and don’t even look at them. If this is too scary for them, try laying down.
Put down the dish of food as far away from you as necessary that they will eat in your presence.
Progressively inch the dish as close to you as possible. With kittens 10 weeks and older, it may take a few sessions or even days before they are eating right near you.
Stay with the kittens until they have finished eating each time and then take any remaining food away with you when you leave. Always leave water of course, but NO FOOD unless you are there with them.
You can also gently roll small dry kibble to them across the floor. This works especially well with older kittens. The kittens may be frightened at first, so go easy until they figure it out. Progressively roll the kibble shorter distances until you are just putting them down on the ground right near you. The kittens may even start to eat them out of your open hand. This technique doesn’t work if the kittens are in a small cage, cattery or carrier.
Eating Off Your Finger
Most kittens find baby food irresistible and will be soon climbing all over you to get a taste of it. Remember not to sit squared off and staring at them, especially older kittens. Once they are hand feeding and comfortable being near you, only then is the time to start looking at them more directly, talking to them and actively engaging them.
This technique helps overcome the fear of hands reaching at them by putting a good association (food) with that experience. When the kittens have progressed to eating from a dish right beside you with your hand touching the dish, start offering something tasty off your finger. Gerber or Beechnut baby food are favorites in Turkey, Chicken or Beef flavors. You can have them try several and see which one works best.
You may want to try this early on if they won’t move closer to you to eat from the dish. Until they realize the baby food’s consistency, they may want to gulp bites before they learn to lick it. Let them learn to lick from the lid of the jar, a spoon, popsicle stick or tongue depressor if they want to chew your finger instead of lick at first. They figure out to lick quickly, but in the meantime, ouch! The lesson here with hand feeding is to accept your hand reaching close to them, without them retreating in fear.
Lead Them Onto Your Lap
Once they are used to eating off your finger, use that to lead them up into contact with your body by their choice. You can also try putting a dish in your lap and let the entire litter climb up onto you to eat. The braver ones will start and the shy ones may need to be worked with individually at their level. Lead the braver ones as close as possible and see if they will make eye contact with you while licking from your finger. That’s a biggie for them! Put the fast learners in a carrier to work with the shy ones if necessary. Put a dish inside and close the door on them, if they aren’t quite ready to be handled safely easily.
Initiate contact at the beginning of a session where the kittens are particularly hungry and eagerly engrossed in eating. Put down a large dish of food near to you and try gently touching them and petting while they are engrossed in eating. Start in the head and shoulder area only. Stop briefly if they resist and resume working up to petting a bit longer each time. Try different ones and move around the group to get a sense of which need the most work. If they run off, lure them back with baby food on the finger and any bad moment should be soon forgotten.
This approach to handle mistakes works at any stage. Back up to a stage that they’ve mastered and work back up to where they “freaked-out.” Don’t stop the session until they’ve forgotten the bad experience and are happily doing one of the steps with which they feel comfortable.
Preparation for Lifting
When they are comfortable with petting and touching around the head and shoulders, add petting the back and scratching at the base of tail. Next try moving to touching the underbelly. This area is usually sensitive and needs to be desensitized for being picked up. Try when they are busy eating.
Moving on the Ground
Try nudging them from one side to the other while they are engrossed in eating around a dish on the ground. Just having your hands near them and gently pushing them around is an important preparation to being picked up. Set up two dishes a foot apart and gently lift/scoot a kitten the short distance from one dish to the other, very close to the ground. If the kitten is engrossed in eating, they usually won’t mind being lifted briefly if it goes smoothly. If they run off, lure ‘em back with a special treat, back up and start over. If they’re hungry enough, it works.
Picking them up
Start sitting on the floor so the first real lift is still close to the floor from their point of view. Have a full jar of baby food opened and ready before you try the first pick-up. Try it when they are engrossed in eating right next to you rather than scrambling after them on the run. Lift them under their chest with a small dish of food RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEIR NOSE the whole time. Hold them as loosely as possible onto your knees and eventually try against your tummy and up to your chest. Young kittens are often reassured if they feel the warmth of your body and can feel your heartbeat when held against your chest. If it works, you can try it while you are on your knees the next day and eventually standing up. Make sure they are very comfortable with the small lifts before you ever bend down to pick them up while towering above them fully standing. That’ll be a day to celebrate!
Handling Without Any Food
After a good long session where the kittens are very full and getting sleepy, try gentle petting and work up to holding and petting without the incentive of food being present. If this works you should be able to try it at other times between meals. It may be hardest just before feeding when the kittens are very hungry and confused and stressed by being held when they have only food on their minds. There’s usually at least one “love bug” in every litter that will give you hope for the others.
Transition to Adoption
Before they’re adopted, it can help to socialize them with a few new people.
Enlist friends to get them used to meeting strangers.
Remind anyone meeting the kittens for the first time not to stare at them or face squared off to them like a predator would do.
Have them come in slowly, sit on the floor and try the petting while they eat and try the hand feeding when hungry. Prospective adopters often love this interaction and it may be the “magic moment.”
A crash course in socializing for the adopting family may be needed to assure that the transition to the home goes well. If the adopter starts them in the bathroom rather than turning the kittens loose to the run of the house, it will assure that they can bond with the kittens first and that the kittens will know where the litter box is. If not, the kittens often run off under the couch to hide for the foreseeable future. Give adopters a copy or a link to this handout too, so they can understand what the kittens have accomplished and how they can continue and sustain the progress.
“Most” unsocialized kittens are frightened by interactive play when first exposed to humans. There is no rule for when to introduce it, or when they will accept it, but the best way to start is with a toy which isn’t too threatening. Leave toys for them to play with alone at first and then pick a favorite one and tie it with string to the end of a stick, wooden spoon or chopstick. Try to gently entice them from a distance, moving it slowly, allowing them to get involved with your game without being face to face with you. Some people have found that interactive play was the breakthrough activity much more so than using food. Laser pointers are a favorite toy and can be a great tool for getting kittens back into the pen, especially if you are doing the multi-location technique for added exposure to the household AND rolling them into an enclosed room for work sessions.
Be flexible to discover what breaks the ice best and branch out from that. Use whatever proves to be their favorite thing as a reward for new steps or to break through a plateau. Once a step has been mastered, only offer regular food as a reward for that step, saving their favorite treat for when you’re socializing them with new people and things.
Information courtesy of Austin Pets Alive! and the Urban Cat League.
Fostering and Socializing Unsocial Kittens (24 min. video)
Pregnant & Nursing Moms Foster Guide
Pregnant/Nursing Mom Fostering Overview
The #1 thing to remember when fostering kittens is: WEIGH, WEIGH, WEIGH!!
The overwhelming majority of kittens who pass away in foster care do so because
they were not weighed as frequently as they should have been.
Online Foster Resource Center
Our online foster resource center for cats has information about our foster program, caring for cats and kittens of all sizes, marketing pets from foster homes and more.
Each foster family is assigned to a Foster Mentor. Your Foster Mentor is your springboard, your midwife/nurse, and your kitten therapist, all combined! Look out for their first email to you, as it will include info on scheduling appointments, links to all the important forms you’ll need, and info on the entire fostering process. Please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions before you receive your welcome email!
When possible, call either the shelter or your Foster Coordinator during business hours with any sleepover issues. Palm Valley Animal Society is open Monday - Sunday from 11:00 am - 7:00 pm, but a Foster Coordinator will be available to contact as early as 9:00 am. The main foster number is 956-330-3206. Foster Coordinators are also readily available during business hours via email: email@example.com.
To serve you and your foster pets better, a new emergency protocol is in development. However, at this time, we do not have an after-hours emergency line. Please call or text 956-330-3206 to speak to a Foster Coordinator Monday - Sunday between 9:00 am - 7:00 pm. Calmly tell us your name, the name of your foster pet, and their current condition. Together we will determine if any additional steps are needed.
If you have an emergency with a foster pet outside of regular business hours, please keep the animal comfortable to the best of your ability, leave a voicemail or text 956-330-3206, and email firstname.lastname@example.org with an update. Please note that if you decide to take a PVAS foster animal directly to an emergency veterinary hospital, we will not be responsible for any of the costs incurred. Palm Valley Animal Society will need access to medical records for any veterinary visit(s). Thank you!
Maddie’s Pet Assistant
PVAS foster caregivers now have access to Maddie's® Pet Assistant (MPA). MPA is a free app for smartphones and tablets developed by Maddie's Fund® to provide health and behavioral support to caregivers after pets go home. Even if you are a seasoned foster caregiver, the app can teach you a few new tricks. Click here for more information.
Once you download the app, you should receive an email from us with more information on how to use MPA (check your spam folder!) the same day you pick up your foster pet(s). If you have any questions, please email your foster team: email@example.com. Please note that at this time, the app provides service to dogs over 8 weeks of age, and cats/kittens of all ages.
Finding a Babysitter
Babysitters for PVAS foster pets must be approved fosters. If your friend is interested in becoming a foster for PVAS, thank you for helping us recruit them!! They’ll need to apply on our website and complete our normal onboarding process. If your pet is a neonatal kitten, babysitters must be trained to care for them.
If you are going to need a babysitter, please email firstname.lastname@example.org one week in advance with the following information:
Start-date and end-date for the babysitting gig (i.e. drop-off and pick-up dates)
Any current medications they are taking
If you have kittens, tell us what they are eating (are they bottle babies, independent eaters, or syringe gruel kittens or a nursing mom and litter)
Attach a cute photo for our foster plea.
We will add them to our foster plea and let you know once we have found a babysitter. Babysitters are often found at the last minute. Please don’t panic if it takes us a few days to find one. We always have backup solutions in place, so your kittens will have someone to take care of them!
Please Note: Fosters ARE NOT PERMITTED to take their neonatal fosters out of town with them! If you will be traveling for any length of time, you MUST request a babysitter.
Kittens need an oral dewormer every two weeks while in our neonatal program, beginning at about 2 weeks of age. Please email your mentor for dosages (which are based on weight) or any other questions about dewormers.
At 6-weeks old, your kittens will need to come into the clinic for their first kitten shots – this is the “wellness appointment.”
Kittens cannot come in for their spay/neuter surgery until they weigh at least 1.5 lbs (680g) and are at least 6 weeks old. They must also be an appropriate weight for their age – for example, if a kitten is 10 weeks old but only 1.5 lbs, the clinic may defer surgery until they gain more weight.
Getting Mama Cat and Foster Kittens Adopted
Mom’s milk must dry up before surgery because the mammary glands are located so close to the incision site, so she must not be allowed to let her kittens nurse for 2 weeks before her spay. It’s fine to let kittens nurse from mom until they’re adopted, or mama kicks them off. A lot of fosters find it very difficult/heartbreaking to separate mama from her kittens. If you’re one of these fosters, do not despair! Allowing mom to nurse her kittens well after they require it is not going to cause any harm. Just keep in mind that the longer you allow mama to nurse, the longer you’ll have to wait until she’s able to be spayed. If you’re in no rush to get rid of mama cat, this is the best option.
You can find information about marketing your fosters and getting them adopted on our Foster Pet Marketing page.
Pregnant/Nursing Mom Supplies
__ High-quality canned kitten food for mom and to wean babies
__ Dry kitten food for mom and to wean babies (Royal Canin Mother & Babycat is recommended)
__ Bottle kit with nipples in case kittens need supplementary feeding
__ Powdered KMR formula in case kittens need supplementary feeding
__ Electric heating pad that does not shut off automatically
__ Digital scale (food or postal) that weighs in grams
__ Litter box & non-clumping litter
__ Empty room/bathroom to isolate mom and kittens
__ Nesting box (for pregnant cats)
__ Secure pet carrier for transportation
__ Optional: canned pumpkin, plain baby food with no spices
Pregnant Cat Guidelines
Thank you so much for fostering a pregnant cat! This can be one of the most memorable and educational experiences that you’ll ever have. Please read on to find an outline of what to expect during mama cat’s pregnancy and what you need to do to prepare for her delivery.
Preparation for birth of kittens:
The gestation period for cats is between 9 and 10 weeks. A couple of weeks before your cat is due to deliver, you need to prepare a “nesting box” – a safe and secure place for mama to deliver and care for her kittens. Mama cat should be isolated in a quiet area to get used to her surroundings for a while so she feels safe and secure for the birth. During the couple weeks leading up to her kittens’ birth, mama cat might exhibit some strange and/or uncharacteristic behaviors. Some cats may become extremely affectionate, while others might become aggressive or fearful. Just remember that mama’s hormones are raging during this time, so any out of the ordinary behavior is generally no cause for concern.
Pregnant cats should eat up to 4 times their normal amount of food and should be eating kitten food for the duration of their pregnancy and while nursing kittens.
Setting up a nesting box:
There are many options for nesting boxes. You’ll need a box that’s wide enough to accommodate a heating pad on one side, while leaving room for mama to nurse on the other side without lying on the heating pad.
Get a box that is 8 to 12 inches tall or somewhere around this height . The box should be high enough off the ground so that mama can get in and out easily, but her kittens cannot. Place mama cat with her nesting box in a bathroom or small room with some light. You can even put the box in a bathtub if using a bathroom but be sure to cover the drain.
Line the box with blankets or towels. You can offer more than one option with blankets in one corner and a box in another area.
Put a heating pad only under blankets on one side of the box – your mama cat may be too warm if she has no other place to cool off.
Note: Your mama cat may ignore the box until it’s time for labor. If this is the case, just put her in it when the kittens are coming. She’ll usually take to it just fine!
Medical Emergencies to watch out for leading up to labor:
Any vaginal bleeding during pregnancy is not normal and suggests that she is having a miscarriage.
Greenish, foul-smelling discharge can be a sign of a uterine infection – if you see this, alert the foster team immediately at 956-330-3206.
**Please note that if either of these two things occurs around the time of mama’s due date,
it is likely just an indication that labor is imminent – usually within 24 hours! **
Several hours (and perhaps a whole day) of restlessness, grooming, nesting, pacing, panting, and crying indicates that labor has begun. Mama cat may purr during labor and when feeding her new kittens. When labor begins, there will be some brownish fluids, and a small amount of blood.
Some mama cats prefer to give birth in a dark, quiet place, far away from human contact, while others prefer to have their human right beside them, giving them pets and soothing them through this difficult process. She will generally let you know what she’d like – just pay attention to her body language.
Babies can be born headfirst or feet first (breach), and will be delivered in a thin amniotic sack, which usually breaks during birth. As soon as the kitten emerges from mama’s birth canal, she should immediately bite/pierce the sack, and begin cleaning the kitten to encourage him/her to breathe. If she does not do this, you will need to step in and break the sack, as the kitten is at risk of suffocating within seconds. Wipe away the mucus and amniotic casing from the kitten’s mouth and nose. Once you do this, the kitten should cry out. At this point, the kitten is still attached to the placenta, which will be passed within a few minutes.
Once the placenta is passed, the mother will bite the umbilical cord to cut it. Sometimes mama can take a while to bite the cord, especially if other kittens are already out and nursing, so feel free to help her by tying the cord with string/floss and cutting it with a pair of sterile scissors. Usually, the mother will then eat the placenta.
Kittens are usually born every 10 minutes to 1 hour. If mama is having contractions for longer than 2 hours in between kittens, this could mean that a baby is stuck in the birth canal, which can be deadly for mama and all remaining kittens in utero. If this happens, call the foster team immediately, as mama will likely need an emergency C-section!
** If any kitten is stillborn, remove it from the nesting box as soon as possible. (This is very common.)
Once kittens are born and mama is nursing, she may like some food, which can be placed near her head, so she can eat without disrupting the kittens.
Medical Emergencies to watch out for during/immediately following delivery:
If at any point you see a red protruding membrane (like an earthworm) from the kitten’s belly, this is actually its intestine, which is a medical emergency
Dystocia – Intense contractions for 60 minutes without a birth
Retained Placenta – if the placenta is not passed, it can cause infection
Caring for a New Mom and Kittens
Kittens generally weigh between 80-120 grams when they’re born. Any kitten born smaller than 70 grams is at serious risk of fading and will likely need to be supplemented with KMR and kept on a heating pad, separate from its littermates, until he/she weighs about the same as his/her littermates.
It is not uncommon for the smallest kitten (runt) to pass away shortly after birth – this is just nature running its course. There’s often not much we can do. Oftentimes mama will set this runt aside from her healthy kittens to allow it to pass peacefully, so she can care for her kittens who are thriving. If a kitten is born weighing under 65 grams, there is often not much we can do. Remember that this is the reason cats have so many kittens – some are just not able to make it in this world.
It is possible that the new mother will want to move her kittens frequently. This is okay, as long as there is always a heating pad for the kittens to get to and the area is somewhat sequestered and free of hazards. More than likely, she is doing this to keep her babies safe. You can set up a few clean places with bedding ahead of time, so the mom has safe options if she does move them.
Weigh newborn kittens twice a day – this is mandatory! If the mom seems protective or is moving her babies, wait until the day after they are born to weigh them. If she is comfortable with you there, place the scale right next to her while you weigh the babies. You should be seeing an average weight gain of 10 grams per day. If the weights stay steady for more than a day or you see a drop in weight, please contact a Foster Mentor. Even a small amount of weight loss in a kitten under one week old can be deadly, so please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Caring for Neonatal Kittens
** The two most important rules of Kitten Club: Kittens must be WARM
and have FULL BELLIES at all times!**
Kittens must be kept in a safe and secure spot, and isolated from other pets (to prevent illness) for 7-10 days.
Kittens must have access to a heating pad (on low setting) at all times. Put a heating pad only under blankets on one side of the box – your mama cat may be too warm if she has no other place to cool off.
Do not give kittens baths unless absolutely necessary. If kittens get wet, they must be blow-dried until they are completely dry. Young kittens can very easily become hypothermic. As an alternative, use a hypoallergenic baby wipe to clean dirty kittens.
You are required to keep track of kittens’ weights, bowel movements, medications, and other health issues on your Daily Care Sheets.
For any questions or concerns about your kittens’ weights or general development, please contact your Foster Mentor or the Foster Team.
Eyes open at 7-10 days (eyes will be blue until kittens are 6-7 weeks old).
At about 2 weeks, they will start crawling around (can inch around as early as 4 days).
At 3-4 weeks, they’ll start to play with each other. The ears will start to stand up, and teeth will begin to come in.
At 3-5 weeks, it’s time to start the weaning process – kittens should be well on their way to eating independently and using the litter box.
At about 6 weeks they should get their first vaccinations from PVAS.
When they reach 2 lbs (906 g), they can be spayed or neutered.
At 8 weeks, they can go to their forever homes!
Setting up a Habitat as Kittens Age:
As the kittens get older, they’re going to want to explore outside their nesting box – this generally happens around 4 weeks old. This is perfectly fine, but we want to make sure kittens are not allowed to stray too far from their mama and their heating pad!
Bathtubs are often great for this stage but remember to cover the drain. The heating pad must be available at all times, but still make sure that the kittens can move off of it. Place a small bowl of kibble, a saucer of gruel, and a stable, flat-bottomed cup of water in an accessible spot, away from their bedding.
At this point, the kittens will also want to play with toys. Feel free to give them plenty of plush dolls, balls, bells, etc. Just make sure there’s nothing they could accidentally swallow or get tangled up in.
Kittens should be introduced to the litter box around 4 weeks old as well! They will generally learn from mama, so this process shouldn’t be too messy! Fill a very shallow litter box (a box top or baking tin is fine) with non-clumping litter and place it in an accessible spot away from the food dishes.
Around 6 weeks old, kittens will likely begin door-dashing and trying to escape whatever enclosure they’re confined to. If you would like to give them free run of your home, please do so with extreme caution. Kittens can and will get into everything. Never leave them unsupervised, particularly when there are other pets and/or roommates where you live! Also, remember that the more space they have, the less likely they are to find their litter box!
Most importantly, especially once they are over ~4 weeks old, make sure you socialize your kittens as often as possible! This is crucial to their development – they need to learn to love humans! Introduce them to friends, children, other cats, etc. – no dogs, please, while the kittens are in the Neonatal program! -- but always make sure they’re in a controlled environment and are being closely supervised.
Common Household Hazards for Kittens
Even the most experienced fosters sometimes overlook household hazards. The following is a list of things that we have seen cause injury to kittens:
Rocking chairs- keep out of the kittens’ area
Reclining chairs- kittens can easily crawl inside
Toilets, Bathtubs- keep lids closed and water drained at all times
Doors - make sure that kittens are not behind doors that are being opened
Exits Outdoors - keep unscreened doors and windows closed at all times- do NOT allow kittens to go outside, NO EXCEPTIONS
Other cats- can sometimes be asymptomatic carriers of viruses that are more harmful to kittens, or can be too aggressive with kittens
Dogs - all dogs (but especially large dogs) can easily injure a kitten, often accidentally
Washers and dryers- kittens can crawl inside of the machines unnoticed or get stuck behind them
Other appliances - make sure that kittens cannot crawl behind or under refrigerators, ovens, etc.
Holes - make sure any holes in drywall or cabinetry are plugged or blocked
Small objects - rubber bands, strings, paperclips, and other small objects can be accidentally ingested
Chemicals - make sure they are put away
House plants- many are poisonous to cats, make sure they are out of reach
Electrical cords- can be sprayed with bitter apple, covered with tape or “cord covers” to prevent chewing
In the unfortunate event that one of your kittens has died, for any reason, please contact the foster team right away. Please do not be embarrassed or afraid to reach out – these things happen. Kittens are fragile creatures, and unfortunately some of them are just not equipped to make it in this world.
Emergencies in Kittens and Puppies (14 min. video)
PetAg KMR® powder formula mixed 2:1 (2 parts water to 1 part powder). Serve warm.
Each kitten should take in 5cc (or 5 grams) for every 100 grams of body weight at every feeding.
Supplements for Syringe Gruel and Gruel Kittens
Baby food: Mix about one tablespoon of baby food with gruel or kibble for finicky eaters! Also useful for encouraging new gruelies to eat on their own. Buy plain baby food with no garlic or other spices. Ingredients should only be turkey/chicken and turkey/chicken broth.
*Once canines have begun to come in
Syringe gruel: canned food blended to milkshake-like consistency and warmed.
Gruel: canned food mixed to applesauce-like consistency and served warm on a plate.
Any brand of premium kitten food is fine.
Pro-tip: Adding a bit of plain canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling!) to gruel or syringe gruel can help with minor diarrhea/loose stool.
*Once canines have begun to come in
Kibble: Once your kittens have their canine teeth, have kibble available at all times, along with a bowl of water.
Royal Canin Babycat is highly palatable and the extra-small kibble size is ideal for weaning kittens.
Again, any brand of premium kitten kibble will do.