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The Joys and Challenges of Cat Fostering

The Joys and Challenges of Cat Fostering

Posted by Armarkat on 28th Jan 2024

A part of the cat rescue process that often goes unseen is fostering. Cat foster parents welcome kitties into their home for a temporary stay before they are adopted out, such as caring for newborns, helping an ill cat recover, or preparing a previously feral cat for indoor living. We interviewed two volunteers for Wild Blue Rescue in Colorado Springs, a nonprofit that provides a wide range of services for stray, feral, and surrendered cats.

Amy G. has over ten years of cat foster experience. She started fostering when she was a veterinary technician, taking in abandoned cats left at the hospital doorstep. She has been fostering for Wild Blue Rescue since March of 2022. Amy fostered a total of 57 cats and kittens in 2022 and in 2023 she cared for 71 fosters. Over the years, hundreds of cats have been fostered in her home.

Another volunteer for Wild Blue Rescue, Anne, has been fostering cats for three and a half years. She’s fostered around 80 cats within that time span. She often takes in cats with severe ringworm, who require foster care for at least two months in order to recover.

Is there a specific memory of a foster cat/cats you would like to share?

Amy G.: “We foster feral mama cats and we took in a very spicy feral snowshoe siamese mama who they guessed was pregnant but they weren't sure because nobody could touch her. The day before she was scheduled to be spayed, because it had been weeks with no sign of kittens, she gave birth to five tiny snowshoe kittens. Two of her babies had severe twisted rear legs and they were all low birthweight. She was so feral we had to use a long handled back scratcher to scoop up the kittens for their daily weights and health checks.

We started working with the two twisted leg kittens and after weeks of physical therapy exercises and directed wrapping they both had their leg twists corrected and could walk normally. The one with the worst twist became a foster fail [a cat who starts as a foster and is adopted by the person fostering them]. We just couldn't let him go after weeks and weeks of five times a day stretching and leg wrapping to correct his foot from facing backward to forward and usable. His name is Dandelion because he looked like a little dandelion seed puff as a kitten.”

Anne: “I’m currently fostering three kittens who came from a farm in the area. There were around 21 cats and kittens we helped and almost all of the kittens were very sick and had horrible eye infections. Our veterinarian, Dr. Erin, did surgeries that closed the third’s eyelid for a few weeks. The kittens received two antibiotic eye drops and autologous plasma eye drops three times a day for three weeks. Two of my three kittens received this treatment, and their eyes were saved. It’s really amazing.”

What are some of the biggest challenges of being a cat foster parent?

Amy G.: “Sometimes when we have a group of fosters who require extra attention due to medical or feral reasons, like we do now, we find it difficult to give our own cats the time they need. Thankfully I have my husband and adult son who assist with our fosters which helps spread the work of feeding, medicating, and socializing the fosters across the three of us.

I also say fostering kittens is the hardest job you'll ever love. People don't understand how difficult it is to keep kittens healthy and alive for the first eight weeks of life, even with a mother cat helping to care for them. And there are times that no matter what you do, the kitten just isn't strong enough to pull through a severe illness and kitten death has to be the hardest thing for a foster to handle. You always question if there was anything more you could have done.”

Anne: “I have had two kittens die in my care, and that’s the absolute worst- one was a neonate with a severe cleft palate and another died from panleuk [feline panleukopenia virus]. It is also a lot of work when I have a large litter that needs daily medication or to be syringe fed. It’s always really hard to say goodbye to my foster kittens when they get adopted. I fall in love with every one of them, but the goal is adoption, which frees me up to take new kittens and save more lives.”

What are some of the greatest joys of being a cat foster parent?

Amy G.: “I tell anyone interested in fostering that the biggest joy is caring for kittens smaller than most people will ever see. Fosters get to see birth to adoption and the average person on the street never gets to experience tiny kittens like that. Also, kittens all. the. time. and then you get to send them on to their forever homes to make room to get more kittens!”

Anne: “It’s very rewarding to have kittens who come in thin and sick and I’m able to get them healthy and adoptable. It’s also so much fun getting to play with adorable kittens all of the time.”

Have you ever fostered a cat with a medical condition or disability?

Amy G.: “Many over the years. Our current foster Taus has a birth defect which has left him without the use of his back legs. He has some movement and is diaper trained due to inability to control bowel/bladder. At 10 months old, we are working hard to find him a forever home that will understand he is a normal cat who thinks he can do anything, and can due to amazing upper body strength, who just needs a daily bath, diaper changes, and an understanding human who doesn't mind giving him some diaper free time daily (and the cleanup that goes with it).”

Anne: “I have fostered a neonate with a severe cleft palate who had to be tube fed. I learned how to tube feed in order to care for that kitten. Her prognosis was very poor and sadly she died after eight days. I have tube fed a couple other neonates after that. I have had kittens with panleuk. I am a foster mentor, and one of my mentees had a kitten with FIP [feline infectious peritonitis, a severe virus]. He would either bring the kitten to my house or I would go to his house every day for 90 days to give the kitten injections of Mutian. With fostering, I have become very experienced with giving subcutaneous fluids and injections, giving oral medications, taking rectal temperatures, and giving baths…lots and lots of baths.”

Do you have any advice for new cat foster parents?

Amy G.: “Fostering is one of the most rewarding but the most difficult of jobs you'll ever take on. Keeping kittens alive and healthy from birth to adoption is one of the hardest things to do, there will be heartbreak but it will be few and far between and the kittens you see adopted out will well outnumber the ones you lose.”

Anne: “Fostering isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. We all start fostering thinking that we’re just going to feed and play with cute kittens, but this is rescue work. Most of the time we are going to have kittens that will need medical attention for URI, giardia, coccidia, ringworm and/or panleuk. It’s very important to pay attention to how well the kittens are eating, what their stool looks like, how they’re behaving/energy levels, eye/nose discharge, and of course their weights. Also, you will be sad when your foster kittens leave your home, but don’t let that hurt stop you from continuing to foster. Fostering saves lives. When you foster, remind yourself that your foster kittens likely wouldn’t be alive if you hadn’t fostered them. The more people we have who foster, the more kittens and cats we can bring in and save.”

What makes Wild Blue Cats an especially good organization to foster for?

Amy G.: “Wild Blue Cats provides one of the strongest support networks for their fosters. Each foster family is assigned a mentor who is available for support and to answer questions, families have access via Slack and phone to our medical team for emergencies and general health advice, and supplies, food, litter, is all provided from the time you take in kittens until they are adopted. Each new foster family receives a foster kit that includes all the things you might need like a scale, heating pad, bottle feeding supplies and so much more.”

Anne: “Wild Blue is very supportive of the fosters. They provide the supplies and also support for any questions that arise. Wild Blue also provides medical care to save the lives of the kitties. We have a panleuk protocol that has a very high success rate and we also treat FIP.”

You can learn more about Wild Blue Rescue at www.wbcats.org.