Caring for moms with kittens

Cage Set Up

WHEN FOSTERING A FERAL MOM with kittens you MUST use a cage! Forgotten Felines uses rabbit cages. A double cage is big enough for mom and her babies.

After you have found an appropriate place in your home for the cage, cover the entire bottom of the cage with sheets, blankets or towels. This will keep kitten feet off of the wire grating.

When the mom and kittens arrive, give them a day to calm down and adjust to their new surroundings. During this time, cover the cage completely with a sheet or blanket to help them feel extra secure.

Set up bedding on one side with food and water. Use the other side for the litter box. Place litter box as far from food as possible as cats do not like to eat near their toilet!

Add safe toys (ones that cannot be chewed and swallowed by kittens) and you’re set!

Water, Food

Clean water must be available at all times. Nursing mothers drink a lot! Never feed cows milk. This could cause either diarrhea or constipation. Use bowls that cannot tip. We want to keep the cage as warm and dry as possible.

Forgotten Felines feeds Purina Kitten Chow to all kittens and recommends a high quality food to all adults.

The dry kibble should be available to Mom at all times. Once you start weaning your kittens (at about four weeks) you can start introducing soft kitten food. Initially, mother’s milk is the best we can do. Her milk contains antibodies which help protect them from diseases.

Kittens who do not receive enough milk usually cry constantly and are either restless or extremely inactive. If mother does not appear to be taking care of her kittens, consult your veterinarian for assistance.

Food and water bowls should be cleaned daily.

Weaning Kittens

At about four weeks of age you’ll notice the kittens starting to become interested in Mom’s food. This is the time to introduce them to solid food.

Make the Purina Kitten Chow (dry kibble) “soft” by adding hot or warm water to it and allow it to sit for 10 minutes to absorb the moisture. Then using a fork, mix it up adding a touch of wet food or a sprinkling of kitten milk replacer to create a soupy mixture or gruel. The food should be the consistency of chunky soup. Place kitties in front of the food bowl. If they don’t lick on their own, place a bit of food on the tip of your finger and offer it to them. If they still don’t lick, open their mouth and place the food from your finger on the roof of their mouth. This will give them a taste of the food. Now offer them food from your finger again and eventually lead them with your finger closer and closer to the bowl. Some kittens take to it right away. Some take longer and enjoy the coddling. When they’re ready, they’ll lap it up.

Kittens five to six weeks old need four small meals a day with the last meal just before bedtime. Kittens six to eight weeks old need four meals a day (about one -two tablespoons of softened food per kitten for each meal) plus free choice dry kibble.

Observe kittens when they are eating to be sure each kitten gets enough food.


Use regular, clay litter, NOT clumping litter. Clumping litter is hazardous to kittens as it will cause intestinal blockages if swallowed and can get in their eyes and nose.

For small kittens, a regular litter box is too tall – they can’t get in or out. Instead, use a flat container with small lip around edge. Plastic Frisbees or dishes for under potted plants work well. Use a container that is large enough for the number of kittens you have. Once they are old enough, you may change to a regular litter box. Mom will be happiest with a regular litter box.

Be sure to clean all litter boxes and containers before using them. Use a mild bleach mixture (about 10% bleach, 90% water) to sterilize.

It is very important to clean the litter box daily or more often if required. Cats and kittens are reluctant to use dirty litter boxes.


Place clean, warm bedding inside something that will provide a cozy nest for Mom and babies. Use a box or container with low sides so kittens can easily crawl in and out. Towels, and small blankets work well for bedding. Change bedding often to keep environment clean. This is especially needed with young kittens. Be sure to remove wet and/or soiled bedding as soon as possible.

General Care

Be observant. Several times each day determine:

  1. are the kittens and Mom eating
  2. do they appear healthy (eyes and nose clear, alert, etc.)
  3. are they using the litter box
  4. do the stools look normal

Stools are a great source of information. Watch carefully for any changes as cats/kittens often do not “act sick” until they are extremely ill. Loose or watery stools give you clues to illness. Prompt medical treatment may prevent serious illness.

Get to know each individual kitten so you will know when something may be wrong.


If the Mom you are fostering is feral, it is extremely important to pull babies from her as often as possible so they get used to human interaction. Mom may be protective of her young, so be careful. Use a glove or towel to remove kittens OR close Mom in one side of the cage while babies are in the other and then remove them to socialize. Try to avoid being bit or scratched. Accidents may happen, however and you must remember that if the cat or kitten bites you, it is out of fear, not malice. Cat bites can be serious. If you are bitten, clean and disinfect the bite area immediately. Seek medical attention if necessary.

Take kittens to a “kitten proof” location to socialize. (See Kitten Hazards information.) Do not leave kittens unattended.

For successful socialization, we suggest the following:

  1. Have both female & male friends visit
  2. Try to be with the kittens at least an hour in the am and hour in pm

Hold them, pet them, talk to them, play with them, love them. The more socialization they receive from you the better companions they will make. If they seem frightened by your touch, securely swaddle them in a towel until they feel more secure.

You will know your kittens feel safe, secure and trust you when they come to the front of the cage when you enter the room.

Some kittens will socialize very quickly. Others will take more time and patience on your part. However, the majority of kittens can be socialized and are good candidates for adoption.

Play with your kitten. Use kitty teasers and dangle toys. Also, keep toys in the cage so kittens will be able to play when you are busy. Never use your hands as play toys and discourage kittens from biting and scratching. If they become rough, stop playing immediately and ignore them for a few minutes. If they are playing inappropriately, redirect their play to toys. NEVER hit or spank a kitten. This just teaches them to fear human hands. ALWAYS supervise closely when kittens are handled by children.

Kittens need to be handled frequently. In addition to socialization times, try to reach in and pet the kittens every time you walk by the cage, if you can safely do so without Mom attacking. Give your kittens as much attention as possible. Kittens who are caged too long or not handled regularly will not be suitable for adoption. However, with love, affection and a keen eye, you will give them the best possible chance for a wonderful life.

Symptoms of Illness

We hope your fosters do not become sick, but if they do, IMMEDIATELY contact the supervising Veterinarian.

Symptoms of a sick cat/kitten include:

  1. Diarrhea
  2. refusing to eat
  3. continuous vomiting
  4. bleeding of any kind (nose, urine, stool, etc.)
  5. sneezing
  6. lethargy/listlessness
  7. changes in eating or drinking behavior
  8. difficulty breathing
  9. rectal temperature below 99.5 or above 102
  10. eye or nasal discharge
  11. Mother refusing to care for baby
  12. hairless or crusty patches of skin that normally have hair

Dehydration from diarrhea can kill kittens. It is important to hydrate them immediately. Forgotten Felines recommends UNFLAVORED pedialite rehydration fluid offered to them instead of water. Please call for assistance at the first sign of diarrhea.

If kittens become sick, be sure to clean bowls, litter box, toys and bedding with a mild bleach solution (10% bleach to 90% water) to kill any bacteria that are lurking.


Fleas are tiny insects that love to feed on kittens. Although each flea only consumes a small drop of blood, fleas commonly attack in large numbers and an infestation can literally drain blood from a kitten’s body producing anemia and death.

It is essential to remove fleas from kittens and bedding. Change bedding frequently and flea comb kittens daily. Older kittens may have Advantage flea prevention applied. Contact the Adoption Program Coordinator immediately if your kittens are covered with fleas.

FINALLY, if you need help, please pick up the telephone! (707) 576-7999

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