Written by: Nick and Elise Italiano
Who we are: We are Elise and Nick Italiano and have been fostering for MEHS regularly since 2016. Elise is a board member with MEHS. We have a 12-year-old beagle mix, Cooper, and a 5-year-old gray tabby, Max. Cooper and Max are both MEHS alums. We have had the opportunity to foster almost 50 cats/kittens in the last few years.
Who our current houseguests are: We have a mother cat, Camilla, and her own two kittens. Days after giving birth, she accepted five more abandoned kittens and has been caring for them as her own ever since. This is pretty normal foster set up for us. Sometimes we have older kittens without a mother but most of the time we have a mother and a mixed litter.
Where they stay: Through our experience with each litter, we have learned what works best for the cats and our routine. We have a spare bathroom that has been the best place for our fosters. We keep our fosters separated from our own pets to make sure they are comfortable and low-stress in their own space. The floor is a solid surface and easy to Clorox. The room has a large window with plenty of natural light and the ability to let in fresh air while we clean each night. Having a sink is a great convenience as well since we are frequently refreshing water dishes and washing hands. This also gives us plenty of storage so we are able to keep all necessary supplies in the room. All of these things make our routine convenient but aren't absolutely necessary for a successful foster. Our current mama cat liked to keep her kittens in the bathtub for the first few weeks!
The supply cabinet: We keep cans of wet food, a bag of dry food, a bag of litter, a scale, clean bowls, a cabinet of clean blankets/towels, litter scoopers, plenty of toys, a few beds, and Clorox wipes in the room. (Side note: we also have a small selection of antibiotics and eye drops that are commonly used with kittens. I usually text pics/video of a crusty eye or runny nose to Dr K and she can tell me if anything in my arsenal will do the trick. We also keep kitten milk replacement, KMR, and bottles/syringes on hand in case we ever need to help mama out and supplement some milk).
Our routine (early weeks): In the first few weeks, we simply go into the bathroom each morning and evening to refill food and water, scoop litter, and clean up. At this point, the mother cat is busy nursing and needs a calm, quiet environment. The kittens do not have their eyes open and are far from being interested in us! We give mama cat all the love and attention she wants; some want to snuggle, while others prefer less interaction while caring for their new kittens. We happen to have an old home security camera, so we set this up in the bathroom which allows us to check on the kittens and mother without disturbing them. We prefer to avoid interrupting nursing if possible.
ABOVE: Getting a Weight Check!
Our routine (middle weeks): Normally, the kittens will get curious and start exploring their surroundings close to 3-4 weeks. They'll begin playing with each other and their toys and will show interest in interacting with us. We stick to our morning and evening routine of feeding/scooping/cleaning, and start putting down more wet food for the kittens. We also add smaller kitten litter boxes to the room. In the evening, we weigh each kitten to make sure they're growing and putting on weight as they start to eat solid food and nurse less.
Our routine (later weeks): As the kittens continue to grow, they become more and more playful. Assuming all are healthy, we will let them out of the room each evening to explore and play in a long hallway. All of our fosters have loved chasing toys with their litter mates up and down the hallway. We continue to weigh each day, and once they hit 2lbs they're ready to head to the shelter for spay/neuter surgery and to get adopted! Most of the time this is at 8 weeks old. Mother cats are also spayed when they are done nursing their kittens, and then it's off to Kitty City to find their forever family!
ABOVE: Going in for a checkup at MEHS
The best part: Endless kitten snuggles and mama cats that are extremely loving! You may be surprised to find that you bond more with the mother cat than the kittens initially. The kittens have their mother taking care of them, but the mother cat only has you.
The worst part: Does anyone actually like scooping litter boxes? Really though, it's pretty minor in the grand scheme of things and you'll finally have a use for that growing collection of plastic grocery bags!
Note: The Foster Program is entirely staffed by volunteers. Services performed by an individual are of a voluntary nature and are without express or implied promise of salary, compensation, employment, or payment of any kind.