8 Things I've Learned From Fostering Kittens

So you think you want to foster a kitten, or a cat, a dog, or whatever you call a small baby dog. I've fostered kittens for about a year now, and dogs occasionally, so here are some insights and things I've learned from the process so far!

  • It can be tough. Here's a fun fact I learned recently: we never fully domesticated cats! Any cat that lives with you peacefully has chosen to do so, or was socialized from an early age to accept human contact. So the kitten you receive may act like a wild animal that will bite, hiss, and scratch you if you come near it. It may take weeks, if not longer, to socialize the kitten into an adoptable house cat.
  • Nighttime can be the worst. Like babies, kittens can be very active at nighttime. That can include crying or meowing all night, loudly playing with their toys, or coming into your room to eat your hair. My advice is to close your door at night and hope they're not too loud.
dog looking at kitten
My dog examines a foster kitten.
credit: Mary Sasson
  • You will deal with a lot of poop. Like, a lot. Obviously cats use a litter box, and every decent human being knows to pick up their dog's poop, but did you know kittens LOVE to bat around their poop like a toy? Did you also know that while most kittens instinctively use litter boxes, they also can be too scared to go there and then will poop in their hiding spot? So get used to that.
  • Don't overestimate your abilities. Someone reached out to me recently to ask me to foster two kittens that were found under a house. (When you post about fostering kittens in a place like Los Angeles, where there are lots of cats in need, word gets around!) I've never had two kittens at once before, but I'd also heard that two can actually be easier because they'll play with each other. But two feral kittens, it turns out, are harder to socialize. When one kitten would start to come around, the other one would hiss, and seemingly alert to his brother, "this lady that's constantly feeding us food, is suspect!" And then they'd BOTH go back to hissing and scratching me. I finally had to swallow my pride and tell the rescue organization that these kittens were too much for me. (They were very chill and traded me the two kittens for a litter mate that was easier.)
two kittens in a crate
Two of my foster kittens at dinnertime
credit: Mary Sasson
  • Sometimes you get lucky, and it's very easy. As hard as it can be, it can also be very easy. When I fostered a two year old pug a few years ago, it was the easiest pet I ever had. She was already house trained, didn't bark, and mostly just wanted to hang out on the couch with me. She also snorted like a pig, snored when she slept, and I never wondered where she was because she refused to leave my side!
  • Fostering is a great way to have short experiences with animals you like, but don't want to keep. Kittens are so cute, but a cat can be a 20 year long investment. Think of fostering as being an aunt or uncle to an animal. They're cute, you get to play with them, but then one day their forever family comes and picks them up and you can go off to Singles Weekend in Atlantic City!
kitten sitting next to coffee cups
credit: Mary Sasson
  • There are a lot of different types of rescue organizations, and they're filled with great people. We've fostered with two different organizations, both with slightly different modes of operation. One organization tends to pull cats from shelters so that there's more room in shelters for other animals. The other focuses on Trap Neuter Return, and fosters out only the kittens that are young enough to be socialized for homes. This is all to say, if you don't love one type of rescue, or don't gel with an organization, see if there's another one that works better for you.
  • Fostering kittens is very rewarding. For every shy beginning, every hiss, and scratch, there has been a moment with every kitten we've fostered where they come and sit our laps of their own accord and purr. And seeing that transformation from shy, scared kitten, to love bug feels really good. Even though you miss every little kitten you foster, when they go to their new home and you know you've saved them from a hard life on the streets, you can't help but feel proud for helping out.