The Hardest Part of Fostering Kittens and Why I Still Do It

photo by Connie Smith


photos and text by Connie Smith


Animal shelters all over the country, and all over the world, need people to help out by fostering. They are generally not equipped to handle animals that are not old enough or are too sick to be adopted.

Keeping them in the shelter environment is a recipe for disaster as they are often exposed to diseases their bodies can not fight off and staff members that are overwhelmed with the regular day to day care of adult animals to give neonatal kittens the care they need. Decades ago shelters developed fostering programs where volunteers take these animals into their home and care for them until they are old enough and healthy enough to be adopted. Often socialization is a vital service by these foster homes as well.


I have been fostering kittens for my local shelters since 2002. I was one of the first non-staff member at one shelter to take home orphaned kittens. Most of the time, the kittens are in good health and just need a few weeks of food and love. Many of my first sets of litters were this easy, until I took home a set of orphaned kittens that were too young to be tested for felv/fiv. They were fine at first but then started to become ill and then they started to die. I took them back to the shelter at the first opportunity and it was determined that they were too ill and the entire litter was put down.

I spent weeks caring for these kittens and it broke my heart and nearly broke my spirit to lose them all. I nearly stopped fostering but I knew that if I did the kittens that I would have brought home could have been put down without even a chance. Before the shelter started fostering, they had to euthanize orphaned and neonatal kittens. It was a harsh reality to face, but I realized that the pain of losing those few kittens was completely worth the joy at helping the shelter save the dozen I had already fostered. For every painful loss I suffered, there were multiple wins. When friends started adopting my foster kittens, and I was able to watch them grow up, it took on a whole new level of joy.

Due to social media, I have made additional friends by keeping up with people who I didn’t know previously who adopted some of my fosters. As I gained more and more experience, I volunteered to take more difficult cases. Many did not make it but I would take solace in the fact that I tried. I would much rather lose them fighting than to know they had to die because no one was willing to try.

When I tell people I foster, I am often bombarded with people being amazed. They wonder how I could ever give them up, they remark they could never not fall in love and want to keep them all. I get that, I do, I mean after all, I love cats and I am human. But I know that if I kept them all I would never be able to continue to help. There have been over 400 kittens through my home in the 15 years I have been doing this (and yes, I have kept eight of them) and for each sad goodbye, there is generally a new hello as I get to know the next set of fosters. When you take an animal into your home, you know full well that it will most likely pass before you, when you foster instead of having 10 years you sign up for ten weeks. Most shelters tailor your fosters to suit what you are comfortable with. If you only want to give a few weeks to a few healthy kittens that just need to put on weight, you will be taking a burden off the shelter and giving some kittens (or puppies, or bunnies, or guinea pigs) a chance at life.

Editors note: If you are considering fostering kittens, keep in mind things you can do to your home to make it safer for kittens and less head ache for you such as covering electrical cords and using a non tracking cat litter  .   Create a home safety check list.

Do you foster kittens? What is the hardest part of fostering for you?  Are you considering fostering kittens? Please leave comments below. Lets compare notes! I would love to see your pics too!

Follow Connie at (Tails from the Foster Kittens)


  • Jean Christie

    I received a frantic call from a manager of a Pet Valu store about 2 blk kittens dropped off in a paper bag about 5 minutes before closing. The manager tried several of the cat rescue organization but no one was able to take the two. So she turned to me knowing that I had dealt with a couple of the rescue organization and maybe I could help. Found out the two girls were about a day old so it was in a warming box and feeding every two hours. I wasn’t sure they would make it but they did. Turned out that they were American Bombay girls. One much smaller than her sister. Small one full of beans, large girl very laid back but totally devoted to each other. Took me two years to find the perfect home for the girls. If I was a lot younger I would have kept them but those days are over. My cats are in their teens now and I’m hoping that I outlive them but if not then they will be looked after. Have that in writing

  • harperman

    This is a really great article. 400 neonatal kittens? I rarely hear of people who have raised as many as I have. I have been doing it for 16 years. Kudos Connie Smith!

  • Stacy Hurt

    Connie, great article. Of course the answer when folks ask “how do you not want to love them and keep them?” is you DO fall in love and in that love you understand that it also means the best home for them is not necessarily yours.

    I recently learned again how painful it is to lose an entire litter. They seem to be doing just fine and keeping full bellies and then within just a matter of days they don’t eat no matter what you try and none of the antibiotics or any other medication seems to work. Even giving Sub-Q fluids while holding a squirming weeks old kitten can seem daunting and sometimes it can make the difference between saving them or watching them go.

    The simple truth is you have no idea what’s going on inside their tiny fragile bodies. And their digestive systems and lungs and other organs can have problems that you have no way of knowing. But as you said the joy of watching them flourish and be great kittens and / when people hold them and watching them get adopted to single folks, roomates, families with and without children, senior citizens and even the Vets we work with! those things makes so much of the hard part worth it.