Thousands of newborn kittens are brought to San Diego Humane Society each year. Caregivers willing to foster them hand-raise kittens from as young as a few days to about seven or eight weeks, or until they weigh two pounds each. As adorable as that sounds, keep in mind that it’s almost as much work as taking care of a newborn baby.
Newborn kittens need a warm place with soft bedding. Most caregivers keep them in the cat carrier they’re transported in; then, as they grow, they can move into a crate, have the run of one room, and eventually whatever part of the house you feel comfortable with them exploring.
Foster caregivers need to take the place of mother cats, which means hand feeding the kittens every two hours around the clock for the first few weeks. You set an alarm and wake up every two hours throughout the night. At first, kittens are fed formula with an eyedropper, before graduating to a bottle with a nipple. When they are big enough, they wean onto wet cat food. Since they’re so tiny, losing even a small amount of weight can be dangerous, so foster parents also weigh the kittens throughout the day to be sure they’re getting enough to eat.
Mother cats also stimulate defecation in their newborn kittens by licking them, and foster caregivers need to encourage them too, at first. Yes, their little butts have to be rubbed to get them to poop.
In addition to cleaning up after them until they’re successfully housetrained, caregivers must groom kittens to keep them clean and stimulate their growth and development. Mother cats lick their offspring throughout the day; foster caregivers can groom them with a toothbrush or, when they’re larger, a soft pet brush.
Finally there’s the fun part, which makes the rest worthwhile—playtime! It’s important for kittens to interact with humans and other pets, so they’re socialized and ready to move into a family home when they’re adoptable. Foster caregivers get to pet, snuggle, handle and play with kittens as much as they want. Who wouldn’t want to volunteer for that?