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So you’ve decided to foster kittens, congratulations! You are about to embark on a very adorable (and important!) journey. By fostering a batch of kittens, you are helping your local animal shelter free up space for even more animals. Considering nearly half of all animals that arrive in U.S. shelters are euthanized because of a lack of space and adopters, opening up your home to foster kittens is a vital way to help solve the overpopulation crisis. Shelters need foster families when an animal cannot be adopted immediately because they are too young, have medical or behavioral issues, or the shelter is simply overcrowded.

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Kittens usually need a respite from the animal shelter because they need to gain some weight before their spay and neuter surgery and from there, they can be adopted out into loving, forever homes. Not only do the little one need to gain weight, its a crucial time in their young lives to develop healthy relationships with humans and the world around them. The prime time for socialization for kittens is between three weeks and three months of age. The clock’s ticking!

If animals don’t receive the proper socialization, they could grow up to be fearful of adults or they may develop behavioral problems. And you know what that could mean? They could be returned to the shelter! And that’s no good. Indeed, by helping foster kittens develop healthy emotional and physical relationships, you are helping them become as adoptable as possible for potential forever families.

That sounds like a ton of responsibility, but in fact, it’s really fun and rewarding! If you are new to fostering kittens or are a seasoned foster parent looking for some new advice, check out these tips on how to socialize kittens.

Help the Kittens Feel Comfortable

When the little ones first come to your home, chances are they are going to be scared. New people, new smells, new sights. It’s a lot to take in. You’ll want to make sure to provide a quiet space where your foster pet can have a bit of alone time if needed, especially if you have other pets in your home.

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When I first bring kittens home, the very first thing I do is put them in their own room, complete with a litter box, food, water, and toys. You also may want to try putting their crate up off the floor. Cats prefer if they can see their surroundings.

When you do start to interact with the kittens, move slowly and use low voices. For very young kittens, wrapping them in a blanket is very soothing and comforting. You can also try keeping a radio or a TV on low volume to help them adjust to sounds. And remember to be patient! The world is very scary to little kittens. If they hiss or spit at you, that’s because they are scared, that doesn’t mean they are aggressive.

Reward Them With Food 

Everyone loves food! Giving kittens treats is a great way for them to develop a positive association with you. When you feed them wet food, stay in the room with them. This will help them trust you (Hey, she didn’t steal my food! She’s alright!). You can also try to move the plate closer your body while you sit in the room. It’s a great exercise for the kittens to get comfortable with crawling in your lap to get the food. While they eat, try gently petting the kitten. Another way for them to understand that humans are okay!

Play, Play, Play 

The best part! Playing with your foster kittens is a great way to build trust with them. String, laser pointer, mouse toys … whatever gets them moving! The kittens will, of course, also play amongst themselves and that should be encouraged as well.

Once they trust you enough to let you hold them, hold them as much as possible. It’s important for them to get used a human touch. Also, be sure to hold them as close to your chest as possible so that they feel safe. If one of your fosters becomes scared when you try to hold them, you may want to invest in a sling or a front-carrying pack (not too tight, they should be snugly wrapped). You can carry the kitten around the house with you while you do things!

Introduce Them to Other Animals 

Kittens who go back to the shelter and already have a positive relationship with other animals have a much greater chance of being adopted.

My dogs get really excited when kittens come into the house and want to cut straight to playtime, but that’s probably a bit overwhelming for the kittens! So, for about a day or so, the door is kept closed so that the kittens can adjust to their new surroundings.

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You could put up a baby gate so that the cat and your cat/dog can still see and sniff each other. To also help them slowly introduce themselves, you can feed each animal on their side of the door. This will help the animals associate the other with something good: food. Another option is to swap out the cats bedding with the dogs bedding and vice versa. This allows them to get used to the other animal’s smell without getting overstimulated.

Fostering Saves Lives 

Giving kittens (or any animal) a safe haven away from the chaotic shelter life is a fantastic way to help end the pet overpopulation crisis. You are helping save not only the batch of kittens you’re fostering, but also other animals who can now have a safe space in the shelter. How great is that!?

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Each organization will have their own set of requirements and paperwork for becoming a pet foster parent, so you will need to check with the shelter you want to foster for. There are common need-to-knows that include making sure you meet foster requirements, being physically able to care for an animal, and you’ll have to attend an orientation and foster training.

Even if you cannot foster or adopt, you can still help kittens. Participate in your local trap-neuter-release program to ensure that no unwanted kittens are born or use your social media accounts to raise awareness about the importance of adoption and spaying or neutering your pets.

All image source: Michelle Neff