Young kittens might be cute, but they are among the most at-risk animals in shelters. Kittens old enough to be adopted usually fly out of shelters, but those younger than 8 weeks have special needs and are often considered unadoptable. Fortunately, some shelters are starting “kitten nurseries” to help save the little lives until they’re ready to go to homes.
Staff members and volunteers bottle-feed newborns every two hours ’round the clock. Strict sanitation protocols help protect vulnerable kittens from disease, and frequent monitoring ensures that they’re eating well and gaining weight.
When possible, kittens are cared for in foster homes, where they are less likely to run the risk of infectious diseases. They also get a taste of home life, including exposure to kids, dogs and common household sounds. Foster families often enjoy caring for baby kittens because while bottle-feeding is time-intensive, the need for it lasts only two or three weeks. They are provided with “kitten kits” that contain everything they need, from formula to litter.
Frequent handling by humans is essential for socialization, too. The kitten socialization period starts at two weeks of age and goes to seven weeks. Early contact with humans helps to ensure readiness for adoption by the time they are eight weeks old. Getting used to being handled by multiple people makes them more social and more adoptable. Once they are two months old or weigh two pounds, kittens can be spayed or neutered and readied for adoption.
The need for kitten nurseries and foster families varies around the country. “Kitten season” typically runs from April through October in the northeast and Midwest, but in warm southern states or temperate locales such as California, it can be year-round, with a slight slowdown in winter.
If you’re interested in fostering shelter kittens, check with your local shelter or cat rescue group. They often run classes to teach people the basics of bottle-feeding and care.