Potential fosters and even some of our current fosters frequently ask, "How much work are kittens?". That's a loaded question. Kittens are adorable and they win your heart pretty quickly but they are a large commitment of time and energy.
Kittens who aren't bottle feeding (that's a WHOLE other commitment of time and energy) often still need coaxing to eat as they switch from mom to canned and dry food. Coaxing can include force-feeding which is messy and must be done 3-5 times a day. With no mom, more help is needed to fill the tummy.
You need to check the litterbox a.m. and p.m., watching for diarrhea, and give lots of play and snuggling time, the fun part, as well as time out and about in the house with people moving around and typical hubbub EACH day. It's our job to provide them with varied experiences and exposure to different household noises so they can join a forever home in good shape.
As for diarrhea, it can come on quickly and be deadly in a kitten who weighs 2 lbs. or less. Dehydration which leads to organ failure can occur if not rectified today. We've had kittens exposed to distemper or other infection in utero who may have neurological problems, calici virus causes painfully sore legs, mouth infection, not eating and temps. A trip to the vet is in order and possibly antibiotics, pain meds, force feeding and sub q fluids.
Time and miles: Going away for a long weekend? We'll need to find a foster parent to take them who is experienced with these young ones. Then it's on to the vet to be tested, for first shots, to a spay/neuter appointment and to every adoption until they are placed.
Most kittens catch on to the litterbox quickly, even without a mom, but some are slower and need more help and structure. They'll need a safe and cozy room to nap and play in when you aren't around to supervise. Because they will have been out and about in your home, you'll be able to tell the new owner about keeping the toilet lid down, what kind of a door dasher you have on your hands, that they scoot into the refrigerator or dryer very easily and love to tip over wastepaper baskets.
Worst of all we can have complications - FIP is fatal, panleukopenia is almost all the time, unsettled tummies may call for a special diet and medications that delay adoption, ringworm happens and must be treated which will take several months. Cases of less active behavior, eye infections, lack of appetite have to be noted and brought to the attention of the foster coordinator quickly. Like all children, they seem to get sick when you are the busiest or on a weekend.
Some of our cats and kittens have had unfortunate accidents before they come to us. They will need extra time to recuperate.
Love it? Yes. But I'd have to say fostering kittens is a fragile balance. All of these situations have happened to our family in the last 2 yrs. Bottle babies are especially fragile but the other problems can lead to the saddest times too. When you go to the vet with a very ill kitten, knowing you will come home alone, is one of the worst things you will ever experience. We have lots of joys and some very painful, sad times too.
Kittens are cute. Kittens are adorable. Kittens are a LOT of work. When you sign on as a kitten foster, you sign on to add them to your home as a member of your family, not to board them in your home until we can place them. There's lots of support and help available and way too many kittens who need our help. It takes a special commitment to foster kittens.
There are also many, many older kittens and adult cats who need a foster home too until we can find a forever home for them. Try out an 'easier' task first and then move on to those adorable kittens if you think you're up to it! Most often new fosters are given a cat from an existing foster home so we can tell you something about quirks and favorite toys and foods. Then it's on to getting to know the new kid, giving them lots of loving and playtime and bringing to adoptions.