Table of Contents
History of Tazewell Animal Protective Society ……………………………………………. 2
Section 1: Fostering Frequently Asked Questions ……………………………….…. 3
Fostering Guidelines Agreement ……………………………………………………… 6
Section 2: Medical and Emergency Protocols
2-A: Emergency Protocol for TAPS Foster Pets …………………………………… 8
2-B: Veterinary Care …………………………………………………………………… 9
2-C: Caring for Heartworm-positive (HW+) Dogs …………………………………… 9
2-D: Cat/Kitten Vaccination Schedule ………………………………………………. 10
2-E: Dog/Puppy Vaccination Schedule ……………………………………………… 11
2-F: Signs of Illness and What to do Next …………………………………………… 11
Section 3: Dog Foster Care
3-A: Preparing for Your Foster Dog ……………………………………………….… 13
3-B: Bringing Home Your Foster Dog ………………………………………………. 15
3-C: Daily Care ………………………………………………………………………… 16
3-D: Behavior Support ………………………………………………………………… 18
Section 4: Dog Pregnancy, Birth and Puppy Care
4-A: Pregnancy ………………………………………………………………………… 18
4-B: Labor and Birth …………………………………………………………………… 19
4-C: Puppy Care ………………………………………………………………………. 21
Section 5: Cat Foster Care
5-A: Preparing for Your Foster Cat …………………………………………………… 23
5-B: Bringing Home Your Foster Cat ………………………………………………… 25
5-C: Daily Care …………………………………………………………………………. 26
5-D: Behavior Support …………………………………………………………………. 27
Section 6: Caring for Kittens
6-A: Preparing a Calm, Safe Environment …………………………………………… 28
6-B: Momma’s Care of Her Kittens ……………………………………………………. 28
6-C: Signs of Illness and What to do Next ……………………………………………. 30
6-D: Socializing and Instilling Good Behaviors ………………………………………. 32
History of Tazewell Animal Protective Society
The foundation for this building has been recently laid, but the foundation for its purpose was developed many years ago. Tazewell Animal Protective Society (TAPS) had the most humble of beginnings – no name, no home and no money. It did, however, have the dedication born of the love Paul and Irene Chronic had for any animal brought to their attention as needing care.
It was not until 1958 that TAPS was officially chartered as a non-profit shelter. The City of Pekin provided land on River Road for the location of the shelter’s first home which was a building constructed by volunteers using donated materials. In 1979, a rapidly rising Illinois River forced the immediate evacuation of this much-needed home for the homeless. The passiveness of the animals as they were being rowed to safety was described as being almost unreal.
A local veterinarian and friends of the shelter provided temporary homes for those displaced until the city made The Depot available. It was located at the corner of Third and Broadway. In 1989, the collapse of a wall resulted in the building being condemned. Given twenty-four hours to evacuate, the animals were once again rescued by volunteers and transported by rental van to another city-owned building on Koch Street.
Fortunately, it was also at this time that Tim and Lil Soldwedel deeded the acreage and several other benefactors provided the monetary basis for the construction of a new facility on Allentown Road. On a special Sunday in February of 1990, wishful thinking became reality as the freshly groomed, homeless, abandoned and abused found yet another home.
Fifteen years later, board members recognized the need for a larger facility and began to envision a new shelter. When this was brought to their attention, Henry J. and Alice Cakora donated property to serve as the building site. The Capital Campaign Committee, organized by others also concerned, soon began securing the funds necessary to complete the endeavor. And so it was once again through the generosity of shelter friends and the help of volunteers that a vision was realized. All who contributed to the success of the project can be justifiably proud of this asset to animal welfare dedicated in October 2006 at 100 Taps Lane.
Heartfelt appreciation is given,
and a tribute is extended to the
many caring persons who, for so
many years have joined together
in showing compassion for those
who cannot care for themselves.
Section 1: Frequently Asked Questions
What is a pet foster parent?
By being a pet foster parent, you provide a temporary home for an animal prior to adoption from TAPS. Fostering animals is a wonderful and personal way to contribute to saving homeless pets. It is important, valuable work and, best of all, it saves lives.
Why do animals need foster care?
There are several possible reasons:
- Foster care can help save an animal’s life when a shelter is full.
- Some animals don’t do well in a shelter environment because they are frightened or need a little extra care.
- Pregnant moms do better in the less stressful setting of a foster home.
- Newborn animals that need to be nursed or bottle-fed need foster care.
- Some animals need time to recover from an illness or injury before adoption.
- Heartworm positive dogs must go through treatment before being adopted; the time is so much better spent in a home.
Whatever the reason, these animals need some extra love and care before they can be adopted. Providing foster care for a few days, weeks, or months can be a lifesaving gift for an animal.
How much time will it take?
Fostering provides special care and attention to an animal and should be viewed as a commitment that is made for as long as that care is needed.
The speciﬁc needs of the animal will determine how much time is involved. Newborn orphaned puppies and kittens, for instance, must be fed every few hours. A frightened animal that needs socialization or training will also require some extra time. You can discuss your availability with the Foster Coordinator to determine what kinds of animals you’ll be best suited to foster.
What skills are needed?
It’s best to have some knowledge about companion animal behavior and health. Some of the animals most in need of foster care are those that require a little extra help or some training. Shy cats often need time to learn to trust and the quiet of a home environment. Dogs often beneﬁt from a little obedience training, so if you familiarize yourself with some basic training techniques, you can be a big help in preparing your foster dog for a new home.
Just by getting to know the animal, you’ll help TAPS and the potential adopter learn more about the animal’s personality prior to adoption.
What about food and medical care?
TAPS provides foster parents with all the necessary food and medication. Before you foster, you will be asked to sign an agreement which explains what will be covered by way of food, medical care, and other supplies. You will be required to notify TAPS in advance when you need additional medication, food, etc. and arrange to pick up supplies during regular business hours. In addition, you may be asked to maintain required documentation related to medical care.
What do foster families need to provide?
- A healthy and safe environment for their foster animal
- Transportation to and from the shelter for potential adoption meetings, and all vet appointments if possible. If your foster is scheduled for surgery and you cannot get them to the vet’s office you may make arrangements with the vet tech to have your foster at TAPS by 6:45 a.m. to catch the vet transport.
- Socialization and cuddle time to help teach animals positive family and pet relationships
- Lots of exercise and positive stimulation to help them develop into great pets
How much time do I need to spend with a foster animal?
As much time as you can. With that said, the amount of time will vary depending on the energy level and needs of the dog or cat you are fostering. We ask that you treat your foster animal as you would your own.
Can I foster an animal if I don’t have a fenced yard?
Yes. We request that you supervise all outdoor activities with the foster dog, even if you do have a fenced yard, and we ask that you always keep the dog on a leash when you’re on walks. Foster cats must be kept indoors for the duration of their stay in foster homes, so a fenced yard is irrelevant.
How long will the animal need to be in foster care?
Ideally, foster animals stay in their assigned foster homes until they get adopted or until TAPS veterinary staff indicates the dog/cat is ready to return to the shelter.
Will I need to give medicine to my foster animal?
Yes in many cases. TAPS will provide any medication needed. You as a foster will be responsible for giving the medication. If a cat or dog receives pills as its medication, our techs will show you how to do this. It is your responsibility to let us know before you run out of medication that you need a refill.
What about my own pets?
You’ll want to consider how the animals in your household will adjust to having a foster pet. Some animals do very well with a temporary friend and can help socialize the foster animal. Other pets have a harder time with new animals being added to or leaving the family. You’re the best judge of your pet’s personality.
For the safety of your pets and the foster animal, it’s important to keep your pets up-to-date on vaccinations. In some cases, the foster pet will need to be isolated from your own pets, either temporarily or throughout the foster period. Talk with your Foster Coordinator to determine what’s best in each situation.
Please remember while TAPS is responsible for all foster pets medications, we do not cover your personal pets.
Important note: If your personal cat is allowed outdoors, he or she cannot interact with your foster cat. To be eligible to foster cats and kittens you must be able to provide proof of a negative FIV and Feline leukemia test.
How can I help my foster find a great home?
The biggest part of getting your foster pet adopted is exposure. If your foster is healthy enough and has a good temperament take them to off-site adoption events. Share them on social media, tell friends and family, but please be extremely cautious before/during a meeting with any unfamiliar people.
As you get to know your foster pet, we ask that you stay in constant contact with the Foster Coordinator so that he/she can update the foster animal’s biography online to reflect accurate information about the dog’s preferences and quirks. Some people write their own biography for their foster dogs, which we encourage, though they may be edited. We also welcome any quality photos that you take of your foster dog in your home; we can use the photos to create a kennel card and accompany the online biography.
Individuals interested in adopting your foster pet are required to complete a TAPS application. This application will be sent to you for review. Please contact the Foster Coordinator if you need assistance screening an application.
You should go through the applications as soon as possible and assess who you feel are the best fit for your foster. As a foster parent, you have the ultimate say in where your pet goes. You know them, know their flaws, assets and hopefully have grown to love your foster. You are encouraged to be honest with all potential adopters. The more the adopter knows, the more likely that this will be the pet’s forever home. That is your goal as a foster parent. You are a major part of their journey to their forever homes.
What if I want to adopt my foster pet?
If you decide to adopt your foster pet please contact the Foster Coordinator. As a foster parent you are already approved to adopt. Just let us know when you plan to come to the shelter to complete the adoption and we will ask office staff to initiate the paperwork. Fosters are expected to pay the full adoption fee. As with any adoption, your pet will be spay/neutered, current on all vaccinations, and microchipped.
Who will take care of my foster animal if I need to go out of town?
Many fosters choose to use a pet sitter when they travel while others prefer to take the foster animal with them. If you choose one of these options, please notify the Foster Coordinator so that we can hold applications and let potential adopters know that you are out of town. Please proceed with caution before letting an unfamiliar person pet sit your foster animal.
A third option is to contact the Foster Coordinator to request kennel space at TAPS to house your foster pet until you return. Please provide at least one week’s notice. If your trip is over a holiday, please provide a minimum of two weeks’ notice. Your foster pet will be considered available for adoption while at the shelter, just as any other pet. If a good application is received for your foster pet, it will be approved; we will not wait until you return.
What if my foster animal bites me?
All of our dogs should be temperament tested, so we hope this will never happen although sometimes bites do occur. If your foster pet bites you and breaks skin, causing you to bleed, you need to report the bite to the Foster Coordinator within 24 hours of when the bite occurred. The law requires that we report all bites. The teeth of the animal, not the nails, must have broken the skin. If you are unsure, then please report the bite anyway.
What if my foster pet is not working out?
You are not required to continue to foster a pet if you feel it’s not working out. During your first 48 hours with the animal you may return it to TAPS during regular business hours. After 48 hour, you will be asked to wait for the next available kennel. Please call the Foster Coordinator if this arises.
How will I know when an animal needs foster care?
Contact the Foster Coordinator if you are interested in fostering an animal, or look for posts on our social media of animals in need! There is always a need for fosters.
What else is required?
You will be asked to complete a Fostering Application, a vet check will occur if you are a current or recent pet parent, a landlord approval must be obtained if you rent your home, and a home visit may be conducted by TAPS staff. Following is your copy of the Fostering Guidelines Agreement.
Your Copy of the Fostering Guidelines Agreement
- All foster animals remain the wards of TAPS and cannot be sold, given away, or taken to a new location. The location where the animal(s) will be kept is the address given on the applicant questionnaire unless otherwise specified. If at any time you no longer can care for the animal(s) you are fostering, you must notify the shelter and make arrangements to return them to TAPS.
- All vaccinations, worming, flea treatment, ear mite treatment, and any other routine care must be done through TAPS. TAPS will keep a schedule of treatment and will notify you a week in advance of any that is upcoming. Arrangements will be made for you to bring the animal(s) to the shelter.
- Any medical treatment requiring the attendance of a veterinarian must be done through TAPS. In the event of an after-hours emergency, you must contact a TAPS representative for instructions. Any unauthorized medical care will be the financial responsibility of the foster parent.
- The foster animal(s) must be kept indoors at your home. They may be allowed outdoors only with supervision and restraint proper for their species and physical condition. All local laws and ordinances pertaining to the keeping of animals must be followed.
- A TAPS representative may visit your home prior to initial approval as a foster home and at any time during the fostering period with adequate notice to the foster parent. TAPS will contact the foster home periodically (at intervals determined by the condition of the foster animal(s)) in order to check on the animal(s).
- If at any time during the fostering period TAPS deems it necessary for the animal(s) to be returned to the shelter, the foster parent must comply. If transportation is a problem at this time, a TAPS representative will come to the foster home to pick up the animal.
- All expenses incurred as a result of fostering are the responsibility of the foster parent. TAPS will not be responsible for any cleaning bills, medical bills for any people or animals other than the foster animal(s), supplies (other than those specifically listed as TAPS’ responsibility), or replacement of household items.
- TAPS will provide all necessary food, litter (when applicable), bedding, cages, and medical care for the foster animals. Foster parents are responsible for any supplies purchased outside of TAPS. When supplies provided by TAPS run low, notify the shelter, and arrangements will be made to replenish them. The foster parent must obtain permission from TAPS before changing the animal(s) food.
- Fostering provides special care and attention to an animal(s) and should be viewed as a commitment that is made for as long as that care is needed. Repeatedly moving an animal to a new location is stressful and should, therefore, be kept to a minimum. Before deciding to accept the responsibility of fostering, the foster parent should take into account all upcoming vacations and other events that will require time away from home and might necessitate bringing the animal(s) back to the shelter before they are ready. We do realize, however, that unforeseen circumstances can occur, and we will take the animal(s) back to the shelter or arrange for a new foster home if necessary.
- A kennel will be held at TAPS for 48 hours after the pet goes into foster care. After 48 hours you must call the shelter to schedule our next available kennel; this could take up to 2 weeks.
- An exception to any of these guidelines can be made through a written and signed agreement between TAPS and the foster parent. The agreement will outline any special circumstances and exceptions to normal procedures. No exceptions other than those specified in the agreement may be made.
- Foster homes are required to carry general liability insurance on either a homeowners insurance or renter’s insurance policy to cover any potential dog or cat bite wounds that may be incurred while the dog is in the custody and care of the foster home.
Section 2: Medical and Emergency Protocols
2-A: Emergency Protocol for TAPS Foster Pets
Do Not indicate an emergency
Could indicate an emergency
|What to Do||Who to Call|
|Call TAPS during normal business hours to ask questions, request supplies, or schedule appointments with Veterinary Technicians.
Kim 309-353-8277 ext. 102 (call first)
Vet Tech office open 8-4 daily
Liam 309-353-8277 ext. 106
Kim ext. 102
Holly ext. 101
Outside Business Hours:
Liam 630-901-8067 (call first)
After you pick up your foster pet, you will receive notification when vaccines are due and any known medical conditions to treat. You are responsible for calling ahead to schedule appointments for your dog’s vaccines.
If you are fostering a pet that is on medications, please make sure that he/she gets all prescribed doses. Do not end medication early for any reason. If your foster animal has not responded to prescribed medications after five days (or in the time instructed by a veterinarian), please contact the Veterinary Technician at TAPS.
2-B: Veterinary Care
TAPS provides all medical care for our foster animals on-site or at our approved veterinary clinics. Because we are ultimately responsible for your foster dog’s well-being, Liam the Foster Coordinator, Holly the Director, or Veterinary Technicians Kim or Nicole must authorize any and all treatment for foster dogs.
If your foster pet needs to be seen for veterinary care, please call TAPS during normal business hours.
For non-emergency situations, please understand that same-day appointments may not be available. We ask that you schedule basic non-emergency appointments (nail trimming, vaccines, supply pick-ups, etc.) at least 72 hours in advance. Keep in mind our veterinary technicians care for all the animals at the shelter plus the many animals in foster.
Remember, foster parents will be responsible for payment of any medical care if they take their foster animal to a veterinarian without authorization from TAPS.
2-C: Caring for a Heartworm-Positive (HW+) Dog
Fortunately, there is a treatment for heartworm infection (stages I-III). While heartworm treatment is highly effective and most treated dogs do survive, the treatment is not something to take lightly. It is painful and dangerous for the dog, rough on the caretakers, and usually very expensive.
Standard treatment consists of giving two injections of an arsenic-based product (Immiticide) 24 hours apart. The injections are given in a painful location — the muscle close to the dog’s spine in the lower back. The adult worms start to die immediately. As their bodies begin to decompose, pieces are “shed” into the dog’s bloodstream and filtered out through the dog’s lungs. This can cause the dog to cough and gag, or lead (like a blood clot) to a fatal pulmonary embolism.
A safer protocol, sometimes called a “split-dose,” “staged-kill,” or “three-dose” protocol, consists of giving one injection, waiting one month, then giving two more injections 24 hours apart. This has the benefit of reducing the worm burden by about 30 to 50 percent with the initial treatment, before the balance is killed by the second set of injections. This protocol is more expensive (since it requires three injections of the drug instead of two) and the dog must be kept strictly confined for a longer period of time. Nevertheless, this split-dose protocol over two months is recommended for dogs with heavy worm burdens (Stage III) or other health problems.
For either short or long protocol, the dog is given a dose of oral Ivermectin four weeks after the last injection. This kills off the microfilaria.
It is critical that all heartworm positive dogs be kept calm both before and after treatment. Failure to keep the dog calm can cause a pulmonary embolism, leading to death. This means dogs should go on short leash walks only. They should never be exercised to the point of heavy breathing. No fetch, tug-of-war, chase, or even exuberant play alone. It may be necessary to crate your HW+ foster dog. The dog must be kept calm. All dogs will be on medication for 21 days prior to treatment.
On the day of your foster’s treatment, you should have the dog at the designated veterinarian’s office by 8:00 am. No food after 10:00 pm the night before. Water is ok as long as they aren’t guzzling gallons. The dog will receive treatment that day then spend the night at the vet’s. You may pick up your foster the following evening. If anything changes you will be notified by TAPS.
Post treatment the dog will be on medication for 14 days. This medicine is a steroid and will cause more than usual urination. It will also help with the pain. You will receive a med sheet on how to administer the medication.
Heartworm treatment recovery is often rough. Treatment often causes pain to spread throughout the dog’s lower back muscles and makes the dog feel nauseated. Both symptoms will usually ease within a few days. As the worms begin dying off, it is common for a dog to cough or gag. Symptoms are generally at their peak at 5-7 days after the injections and this is when the dog is in critical danger of a pulmonary embolism from the dead and decomposing worms. If the coughing/gagging is very heavy, seems uncontrollable, or causes the dog distress, or if the dog has vomiting or any bloody discharge combined with lethargy, fever and/or pale gums, this should be considered an emergency. Immediately follow TAPS Emergency Protocol, page 8. Two weeks after treatment your foster dog should be released and can resume normal activities.
Keep in mind that protocols do change from time to time as new treatments and more research occurs.
2-D: Cat/Kitten Vaccination Schedule
It is your responsibility as a foster parent to schedule vaccination visits at least two days in advance and to transport the animal(s) to the shelter. To arrange for an appointment, call Kim or Nicole at 309-353-8277 ext. 102 during normal business hours.
All cats have already been tested for Feline Leukemia and FIV (Feline AIDS) and are negative. They will receive a FVRCP (distemper) and FELV (feluke) vaccines, deworm and Revolution. These will need to be repeated in 4 weeks.
Pregnant or Lactating mothers need Deworm and Revolution. Vaccines will be done when she is done nursing. Spay surgery should also be scheduled at that time.
If fostering kittens, please follow this vaccination Schedule:
- 2 weeks of age: deworm
- 4 weeks: deworm
- 6 weeks: FVRCP and Revolution. Spay/Neuter will be scheduled at this time to be done at 8 weeks of age.
- 8 weeks: FVRCP and FELV vaccines and can be fixed and adopted at this time.
- 10 weeks: FVRCP and FELV and Revolution. Repeat FVRCP every 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age.
- 4 months: Final set of vaccines and Rabies vaccine.
2-E: Dog/Puppy Vaccination Schedule
If you have taken the pet home before it has been processed at the shelter, please call 309-353-8277 ext. 102 as soon as possible to arrange the following:
Adult dogs (over 1 yr) will receive a heartworm test, Distemper/Parvo and Bordetella Vaccines, Deworm, Heartworm and Flea Preventative. These will need to be repeated in 30 days. Also, if fostering longer than 1 month you will need to either take home monthly heartworm and flea preventative or plan on picking it up monthly from the shelter. You may also drop off a fecal at any time. If the dog is not altered or does not have a current Rabies Vaccine, please contact the Vet Tech for that to be arranged.
Pregnant or Lactating mothers need Deworm and Revolution. Vaccines and Heartworm testing will be provided when she is done nursing. Spay surgery should also be scheduled at that time.
If fostering puppies, please follow this Vaccination Schedule:
- 2 weeks of age: deworm
- 4 weeks: deworm
- 6 weeks: Distemper/Parvo vaccine and Revolution. Spay/neuter will be scheduled at this time to be done in 2 weeks at 8 weeks of age.
- 8 weeks: Distemper/Parvo vaccine and Bordetella and can be fixed and adopted at this time.
- 10 weeks: Distemper/Parvo and Bordetella, heartworm and flea preventive. Repeat every 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age.
- 4 months: Final set of vaccines and Rabies vaccine.
2-F: Signs of Illness and What to do Next
Dogs and cats generally do a good job of masking when they don’t feel well, so determining if your foster pet is under the weather will require diligent observation of the animal’s daily activity and appetite levels. It’s a good idea to keep track of these levels in a journal. You’ll also want to record any of the following symptoms, which could be signs of illness.
Eye discharge: It is normal for dogs and cats to have some discharge from their eyes when they wake up and some may have more than others, depending on the breed. But if your foster pet has yellow or green discharge, or swelling around the eyes (making it hard for him to open his eyes), or the third eyelid is showing, you need to contact the Veterinary Technician at TAPS during normal business hours. In the meantime, apply a warm compress to the eye to help clean off any hardened material so the pet can open the eye. NEVER FORCE OPEN THE EYE!
Cats: Sneezing and nasal discharge: Sneezing can be common in a cat recovering from an upper respiratory infection. If the sneezing becomes more frequent, watch for discharge coming from the nose. If the discharge is clear, the infection is probably viral and medication may not be necessary. You may have to bring the cat in to be nebulized.
If the discharge becomes colored, contact TAPS to schedule a vet appointment because the cat may have a bacterial infection. Be sure to monitor the cat’s breathing. Also, once you notice nasal discharge, monitor the cat’s eating habits more closely to ensure that he or she is still eating.
Dogs: Coughing and nasal discharge: Coughing can be common if your foster dog is pulling on leash. If the coughing becomes more frequent, however, watch for discharge coming from the nose. If the discharge is clear, the infection is probably viral and medication may not be needed, but check with the Veterinary Technician during normal business hours to find out if a vet appointment is necessary. If the discharge becomes colored, make an appointment at TAPS because the dog may have a bacterial infection. Also, once you notice nasal discharge, monitor the dog’s breathing and eating habits. Coughing is also common in heartworm positive dogs.
Struggling to Breathe or Wheezing: Follow the Emergency Contact Protocol and immediately contact TAPS staff.
Loss of appetite: Your foster pet may be stressed after arriving in your home, and stress can cause lack of appetite. But if the animal hasn’t eaten after 24 hours, please notify the Veterinary Technician at TAPS. Please do not change the dog’s diet without contacting the foster department. An abrupt change in diet can cause diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration.
Lethargy: The activity level of your foster pet will vary depending on age and personality. Keeping an activity log and journal will help you notice whether your foster pet is less active than he normal. If the animal cannot be roused or seems weak and unable to stand, it’s an emergency; follow the Emergency Contact Protocol on page 8.
Dehydration: Dehydration is usually associated with diarrhea, vomiting and/or loss of appetite. To test for dehydration, gently pinch the skin around the scruff area. If the skin stays taut, the animal is dehydrated. Please call the Veterinary Technician the next business day to schedule a vet appointment.
Vomiting: Sometimes dogs will eat too quickly and will immediately throw up their food. Occasional vomiting isn’t cause for alarm, but if your foster dog has thrown up two or more times in one day, please notify the Veterinary Technician at TAPS. It could be indicative of infection. Sometimes cats will vomit up a thick tubular hairball with bile or other liquids. This is normal, but please call the Foster Coordinator if the cat has out-of-the-ordinary vomiting that does not occur in conjunction with a hairball. Don’t worry about one or two vomiting episodes as long as the cat is acting normally otherwise: eating, active, no diarrhea
Pain or strain while urinating: When an animal first goes into a foster home, he or she may not urinate due to stress. If the animal hasn’t urinated in more than 24 hours, however, please contact the Veterinary Technician. Also, if you notice the animal straining to urinate with little or no results, crying out when urinating, or note pink or bright orangish yellow urine. Please contact TAPS promptly because it may be indicative of an infection or an obstruction.
Diarrhea: It is important to monitor your foster dog’s pooping habits daily. Soft stool is normal for the first two or three days after taking a dog home, most likely caused by stress and a change in food. If your foster dog has liquid stool, however, please contact the Veterinary Technician during business hours so that an appointment can be scheduled to ensure that the dog doesn’t need medications. Keep in mind that diarrhea will dehydrate the dog, so be proactive about contacting TAPS. If your foster dog has bloody or mucoid diarrhea, immediately follow the Emergency Contact Protocol and call TAPS staff.
Frequent ear scratching: Your foster pet may have a bacterial or yeast infection or possibly ear mites if she scratches her ears often and/or shakes her head frequently. Please call the Veterinary Technician to schedule a medical appointment.
Swollen, irritated ears: If your foster dog has irritated, swollen or red or pink ears that smell like yeast, he may have an ear infection called otitis. This type of infection is more common in dogs that have very floppy ears, like basset hounds or Labradors, but cats do get it. If you see signs, please contact the Veterinary Technician.
Hair loss: Please contact TAPS during business hours if you notice any hair loss on your foster dog. It is normal for dogs to have thin fur around the lips, eyelids and in front of the ears, but clumpy patches of hair loss or thinning hair can indicate ringworm, dermatitis or the early stages of mange. It is important to check your foster pet’s coat every day.
Common ailments in animals from shelters: Shelter dogs may suffer from kennel cough, giardia or intestinal parasites. Symptoms of kennel cough include a dry hacking cough, often with phlegm discharge, discharge from the nose and/or eyes, decrease in appetite, dehydration and slight lethargy.
Shelter cats may suffer from upper respiratory infection, giardia or intestinal parasites. Symptoms of upper respiratory infection include sneezing (often with colored discharge), discharge from the nose and/or eyes, decrease in appetite, dehydration and slight lethargy.
Both dogs and cats may suffer from giardia or internal parasites. Symptoms of giardia or intestinal parasites include vomiting, diarrhea (often with a pungent odor) and/or dehydration.
If your foster pet is not already being treated for the ailment and begins displaying one or more of these signs, please contact the Veterinary Technician during normal business hours. These ailments can worsen if left untreated.
Criteria for emergencies: What constitutes a medical emergency in an animal? A good rule of thumb is any situation in which you would call 911 for a person. Please refer to the Emergency Protocol at the beginning of this section for a list of specific symptoms that could indicate an emergency and what to do.
Section 3: Dog Foster Care
3-A: Preparing for Your Foster Dog
When you take your foster dog home, he may be frightened or unsure about what’s happening, so it’s important not to overwhelm him. Prepare a special area for the foster dog to help ease his adjustment into a new home environment. Sometimes it is better to confine the foster dog to a small room or area at first, to let him adjust before giving him free reign in your home. This area should be large enough for an appropriately sized crate for the dog and should allow the dog access to his food and water dishes and toys.
We request that all foster dogs be housed indoors only. A garage, backyard or outdoor run is not a suitable accommodation for a foster dog.
During the first couple of weeks, minimize the people and pet introductions to your foster dog, so that she is only meeting immediate family and your personal pets. Please don’t introduce your foster pet to any unfamiliar people. If you have other pets at home, it is especially important to give your foster dog a space of her own where she can stay while getting used to all the new sounds and smells. Don’t leave your foster dog unattended in your home with your personal pets until you are comfortable that all of the animals can interact safely.
Supplies You’ll Need
TAPS will provide you with any supplies that you may need. However, we greatly appreciate any help that you can provide in supplying items for your foster dog. Here’s what you’ll need to help your foster dog make a smooth transition to living in your home:
- At least one bowl for dry food and one for water: Stainless steel or ceramic work best.
- A supply of dry dog food: All dogs are fed dry food unless a special diet is needed.
- A collar and leash.
- A soft place to sleep: Old towels or blankets work well.
- A baby gate: This comes in handy to keep certain areas of your home off-limits.
- A crate: The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in, but not much bigger than that.
- Dog treats: Giving treats is a good way to help train and build a positive relationship with your foster dog.
- Dog toys: Make sure the toys are durable and appropriate for the size of your foster dog.
- Grooming supplies: A well-groomed dog has a better chance of getting adopted.
Dog-Proofing Your Home
Foster dogs come from a shelter environment, and even if they have previously lived in a home, we don’t always know how they will react in a new home. So, before bringing home a new foster dog, you’ll want to survey the area where you are going to keep your foster dog. Remove anything that would be unsafe or undesirable for the dog to chew on, and latch securely any cupboards and doors that the foster dog could get into. People food and chemicals can be very harmful if consumed by dogs, so please store them in a place that the foster dog cannot access.
Never underestimate your foster dog’s abilities. Here are some additional tips for dog-proofing your home:
- Make sure that all trash cans are covered or latched and keep them inside a closet. (Don’t forget the bathroom trash bins.)
- Keep the toilet lids closed.
- Keep both people and pet food out of reach and off all counter tops.
- Move houseplants or secure them. Some dogs and cats like to play with them and may knock them over.
- Make sure aquariums or cages that house small animals, like hamsters or fish, are securely out of reach of your foster.
- Remove medications, lotions or cosmetics from any accessible surfaces.
- Move and secure all electrical and wires out of reach. Dogs may chew on or get tangled in them.
- Pick up any clothing items that have buttons or strings, which can be harmful to your foster cat or dog if consumed.
- Relocate knickknacks or valuables that your foster dog could knock down.
- IN OTHER WORDS, PUPPY PROOF YOUR HOUSE
3-B: Bringing Home Your Foster Dog
Unless you are an experienced foster with TAPS we request that dog intros are done at the shelter.
If you have personal pets that are dogs, you’ll want to introduce them to your foster dog one at a time and supervise their interactions at first. It’s a good idea to introduce them outside in a large yard or on a walk, keeping all the dogs on leash and allowing them enough space to get adjusted to one another. It is strongly recommended that you schedule a time for your personal dogs to meet the foster dog before you take the foster dog home.
In addition, make sure that high-value items (food, chew toys, plush toys, Kong’s, rawhides or anything else that your dog’s hold in high regard) are put away whenever the dogs are interacting. You don’t want to allow the possibility of a fight. Those high-value items are best placed in the dogs’ personal areas. Finally, never feed your dogs in the same room as the foster dog; always separate them at feeding time.
While we try our best, we can’t guarantee that every foster dog has been “cat-tested,” so if you have personal pets that are cats, you’ll need to make the introduction to the foster dog carefully and safely. Start by keeping them separated at first. You can either keep your cats in a separate room (equipped with food, water, litter boxes and beds) or confine your foster dog to a room. Over a one- to two-week period, let the dog and cats smell each other through the door, but don’t allow them contact with one another. Exchanging blankets or towels between the dog’s area and the cats’ area will help them get used to each other’s smells.
After a week or two, do the face-to-face introduction. Keeping your foster dog on leash, allow your cat out in the same area. (If you have more than one cat, introduce one cat at a time.) Do not allow the foster dog to charge or run directly up to the cat. Try to distract the dog as best you can so that the cat has the chance to approach without fear. Watch the body language of each animal closely and don’t continue the interaction if either pet becomes over-stimulated or aggressive. The idea is to keep the interactions positive, safe and controlled. Finally, never leave your foster dog unsupervised with any cats in your home.
Children and Dogs
Since we don’t always know a foster dog’s history or tolerance level for different types of people and activities, please teach your children how to act responsibly and respectfully around your foster dog. We will do our best to place you with an appropriate animal for your home situation, but you should still supervise all interactions between children and your foster dog. Key things to remind your children:
- Always leave the foster dog alone when he/she is eating, chewing or sleeping. Some dogs may nip or bite if bothered while eating or startled while sleeping.
- Do not take away a toy or prized possession from the foster dog.
- Do not tease the foster dog.
- Don’t chase the foster dog around the house or run quickly around the foster dog; it may scare him.
- Pick up all your toys. Some dogs may not be able to tell the difference between what is theirs and what belongs to the kids.
Do not allow young children to walk the foster dog because they may not be strong enough or experienced enough to handle encounters with other dogs or cats that cross their path.
3-C: Daily Care
All foster dogs should be fed a diet of dry dog food, unless otherwise specified by the Foster Coordinator. Feed your foster dog once or twice daily; the amount will be based on the age and weight of your foster dog. Make sure the dog always has access to fresh, clean water.
You can give your foster dog treats of any kind (unless he/she has known allergies, of course); giving treats helps you and your foster dog to bond with each other. Most dogs like to chew on things, so try rawhide chews, Greenies, antlers, Nylabones or Dentabones. Keep in mind, though, that not all dogs like to share, so only give these treats when your foster dog is confined to his/her own area.
When you first take your foster dog home, take care not to overwhelm her with too many new experiences all at once. Sometimes, too much stimulation can cause a dog to behave unexpectedly toward a person or animal, which is why it’s a good idea to keep introductions to a minimum during the first couple of weeks after you bring your foster dog home. It’s also important to establish a daily routine of regularly scheduled feedings, potty breaks and walk times. Dogs take comfort in having a routine they can count on.
Also, on a daily basis, be aware of your foster dog’s appetite and energy level. If she’s not eating well or seems listless, something may be wrong medically. You might want to record your observations to make it easier to notice any health issues.
It’s unlikely that your foster dog will be perfectly house-trained when you take him or her home. Most of the dogs in the foster program have lived in a shelter for a while, often with minimal walks or chances to relieve themselves outside. At the very least, be prepared for an adjustment period until your foster dog gets used to your schedule.
Because a dog has a better chance of being adopted if she is house-trained, please help your foster dog to perfect this skill. Take your foster dog outside to go potty multiple times per day (3-6 times daily, depending on age). Initially, you may need to take her out more frequently to remind her where the door to the outside is and to reassure her that you will take her out for potty breaks. Most dogs will give cues — such as standing near the door or sniffing the ground and walking in small circles — to indicate that they need to go out. Keep the dog in a crate when you are not available to supervise her indoors.
If your foster dog has an accident inside the house, don’t discipline or punish her. It will only teach her to fear and mistrust you. Clean up all accidents with an enzymatic cleaner. Nature’s Miracle and Simple Solution are two products containing natural enzymes that tackle tough stains and odors and remove them permanently.
Crate training, done in a positive way, can be an effective component of house-training. A crate can be a safe place for your foster dog to have “down time” and can also limit his access to the entire house until he knows the rules. A crate should never be used as a form of punishment and a dog should never be left in a crate for an extended period of time.
You can prevent problems with crate training by setting your foster dog up for success. He should only associate good things with the crate, so start by putting treats and/or toys in the crate and encouraging him to go in. Some dogs warm up to the crate slowly. If he is afraid to go in, place a treat in the crate as far as he is willing to go. After he takes the treat, place another treat a little farther back in the crate. Keep going until he is eating treats at the very back, then feed him his next meal in the crate with the door open, so that he can walk in and out at will.
Crate training a fearful dog can take days, so be patient and encouraging. If a crate is properly introduced and used, your foster dog will happily enter and settle down.
A clean and well-groomed dog has a better chance of getting adopted, so bathe your foster dog as needed and brush him regularly if he has longer hair or requires more frequent grooming. Contact the Foster Coordinator if you feel that your foster dog needs to see a professional groomer. If you are comfortable with it, you can trim his nails. But please be careful because you can cause pain and bleeding if you trim the nails too short. Feel free to call TAPS during normal business hours to schedule a nail trimming appointment.
Mental Stimulation and Exercise
Depending on your foster dog’s age and energy level, he or she should get at least two 30-minute play sessions or walks with you per day. Try a variety of toys (balls, squeaky toys, rope toys, etc.) to see which ones your foster dog prefers. Remember to discourage the dog from playing with your hands, since mouthing won’t be a desirable behavior to adopters. You can also offer your foster dog a food-dispensing toy for mental stimulation. You hide treats in the toy and the dog has to figure out how to get the treats out.
Foster dogs must live indoors, not outside. Please do not leave your foster dog outside unsupervised, even if you have a fenced yard. We ask that you supervise your foster dog when he is outside at all times to ensure that he doesn’t escape or have any negative interactions with other people or animals. Your foster dog is only allowed to be off-leash in an enclosed backyard that is completely fenced in.
When walking or hiking with your foster dog, please keep her on leash at all times. This means that your foster dog is not allowed to go to off-leash dog parks or other off-leash dog areas. We do not know how your foster dog will act in these situations, or how other dogs will react, and we need to ensure that all animals are safe at all times. In addition, we don’t know if the other dogs they encounter are vaccinated appropriately or carry diseases, so it is best if your foster dog does not meet any unknown dogs. Having recently come from a shelter setting, foster dogs can be vulnerable health-wise.
Also, your foster dog cannot ride in the bed of an open pickup truck. When you’re transporting foster dogs, please keep them inside the vehicle.
3-D: Behavior Support
One of your goals as a foster parent is to help prepare your foster dog for living successfully in a home. So, we ask that you help your foster dog to develop good habits and skills through the use of positive reinforcement training, which builds a bond of trust between you and your foster pet. The basic idea is to reward desirable behaviors and ignore unwanted behaviors.
You must not punish a dog for a behavior that you find undesirable because punishment is ineffective at eliminating the behavior. If the dog is doing something undesirable, distract him or her before the behavior occurs. It is also important for every human in the foster home to stick to the rules established for your foster dogs, which will help them to learn faster.
When interacting with your foster dog, refrain from wrestling or engaging in play that encourages the dog to be mouthy and “play bite” on your body. Also, try to refrain from inviting dogs up on the couch or bed. Not all adopters find this habit acceptable.
Some foster dogs will have behavioral issues, which we are aware of at the time of their rescue. Some of these behavior challenges are separation anxiety, destruction of property, fear issues or aggression toward other animals. We will only place dogs with behavioral issues with a person who feels comfortable working with the dog on his/her particular issues. We will provide that person with all the necessary information so that proper care and training can be given to the foster dog.
If you feel unable to manage any behavior that your foster dog is exhibiting, please contact the Foster Coordinator during business hours to discuss the issue. We will guide you and help.
Section 4: Dog Pregnancy, Birth, and Puppy Care
When a pregnant dog comes to TAPS we generally have very little information about her background. Some dogs that appear large may not deliver for weeks; while some that appear average may give birth within a few hours of being placed into your home. We do our best at the shelter to give you an estimate on when the puppies will be delivered. Before placing a pregnant dog into foster care, she is not always vaccinated, dewormed and behaviorally evaluated by TAPS. In many cases the expectant mother comes from out of the area and we cannot commit to them until we have a foster home.
There are several other diseases that we are unable to test for and conditions that can arise unbeknownst to us when placing a dog in your care. Consequently, there is some risk associated with you or to your pets when you foster a dog whose background is unknown. The dog/or puppies should be kept in a separate area from your pets for this reason.
Prepare a Home for Mom and Her Puppies
The environment that a newborn puppy is to be reared in should be set up well in advance of whelping. A whelping box should be placed in an area of the house that allows your dog and her puppies much privacy. A kiddy pool works great and is available at TAPS if needed. The box should have walls tall enough to allow the mother – but not puppies less than 4 weeks of age – to exit. It should be made of a material that can be easily cleaned. Non-vertical sides (sides that slant outward) are often recommended so pups aren’t hurt while climbing.
A heat source should be present since newborn puppies cannot regulate their body temperature very well. Environmental temperature should remain around 86 to 90 F during the first week of the puppy’s life and gradually fall to 75 F over the next 3 weeks. Drafts must be avoided.
The dog’s gestation is approximately 63 days in length. As the gestation period comes to an end, the pregnant dog becomes restless, searching for a suitable den or nest in which to deliver her puppies. She looks for somewhere private, quiet and dry. Litter sizes vary, depending on the breed of the dog, three to ten puppies is average. Usually a good eater, the pregnant dog’s desire for food disappears as she enters into labor. Some dogs will dislike interference at this point, while some may seem to enjoy having company during their labor. Most will gladly stay in an area provided by the foster parent for the birth of the puppies. If the mother dog attempts to find a different location to give birth, gently put her back in the place you have selected. Usually she will comply, but sometimes a very independent dog will only be happy giving birth in private. The mother dog should be provided with an area that is large enough for her and her puppies and ideally lined with soft towels, sheets or blankets and a bottom layer of newspaper.
Before labor begins, it is important to ensure that you have all of the necessary supplies (a private area, soft blankets and towels that are easily changeable, water for mom, extra towels, heating pad, sterile scissors, and dental floss) and that the birthing room is warm enough. The room temperature should be at least 72º, as a cold room can cause hypothermia in the newborn puppies.
4-B: Labor and Birth
When the first stage of labor starts, the mother dog’s rate of breathing increases and she may begin to breathe through her mouth and start to pant. This stage may last for hours and the foster parent should not be overly concerned. During this stage, uterine contractions begin. The mother dog will appear restless and may pace, dig, shiver, pant, or even vomit. This is all normal and all you can do be sure that she has water available. This stage of labor can be long, lasting 6 to 12 hours and culminates with full dilation of the cervix in preparation to expel a puppy. Provided that the mother dog is happy, there is no need at this point for interference. As labor progresses, there will be some vaginal discharge, colorless at first but later becoming blood tinged. If at any time she has a foul-smelling discharge or if bleeding is profuse, this may be a sign of trouble and you need to refer to TAPS Emergency Protocol found on page 8. Any sign of bright red blood is also indicative of a need to call for help.
The second stage of labor is the hard labor stage in which the first puppy is expelled. Expect one pup every 30 to 45 minutes with 10 to 30 minutes of hard straining. You might also expect some puppies (probably half of them) to be born tail first. This is not abnormal for dogs. It is normal for the mom dog to take a rest partway through delivery, and she may not strain at all for up to four hours between pups. If she is seen straining hard for more than one hour or if she takes longer than a four-hour break, please call TAPS for further instructions.
The third stage of labor refers to the expulsion of the placenta and afterbirth. Each pup may not be followed by afterbirth; the mother may pass two pups and then two placentas. This is normal. Puppies are born covered in membranes that must be cleaned away or the pup will suffocate. The mother will bite and lick the membranes away. Allow her a minute or two after birth to do this; if she does not do it, then you must clean the pup for her (Refer to ‘Problems’ in following section). Stage two and three alternate with each other.
The first amniotic sac will soon come into view. In a regular birth, the enclosed puppy will be born within 15 to 30 minutes. Very often, the mother’s constant licking will rupture the sac. If this happens you should remain calm and resist the temptation to interfere. If the puppy is being born head first, a few more contractions should release it. In about one-third of all births, the hind legs emerge first. This is only slightly more difficult for the mother dog than a head-first birth. In a true breech birth (the puppy is arriving hindquarters and tail first) the mother dog may become agitated and turn around repeatedly in attempts to release the wedged puppy. She may find it easier to bear down if she can push with her hind legs against the box or your hand. Even with this help, the birth may take 20 minutes. The mother dog’s persistence will probably ensure delivery. If she should weaken or become distressed, you should be ready to call TAPS for help. In most births there are no complications, and only in a very few do serious difficulties arise.
There are three main phases that the mother dog goes through once a puppy is born. The first phase will be to break away the birth sac that covers the puppy. Next, she will clean the nose and mouth of the newborn, enabling him/her to take his/her first breath. Lastly the mother dog bites through the umbilical cord, separating the puppy from the placenta. She will ingest the cord up to about an inch from the puppies’ belly. The remaining cord should be left alone and will eventually dry up and fall off on its own. Following this the mother may want to eat the placenta but this is probably not a good idea as vomiting it up later is common; it is best to clean away the placenta yourself. It is a good practice to count the placentas to make sure all are expelled. If a placenta is retained, veterinary intervention is needed. After these crucial steps, the mother dog vigorously licks the puppy all over, helping the fur to dry and allowing the puppy to stay warm. The next puppy will soon arrive and the process will begin all over again.
- Mom Does Not Attempt to Remove the Sac – She may not know what to do or she may be too busy with the next delivery. In this case, give her a minute to realize what is needed, but if there is no sign of action, act quickly. Gently remove the membrane, being careful not to pull on the umbilical cord as it can easily cause a hernia. If the mother dog still does not begin to help, using sterile scissors carefully cut the cord about one inch from the puppy’s belly. Tie the cord off with dental floss at the cut end. Then, rub the newborn dry with a clean towel to remove the amniotic fluid and stimulate breathing. After the newborn is breathing well, place it close to the mother’s belly and it will usually find a nipple and begin to suckle. This is generally enough to arouse the mother’s natural instincts to take over.
- Extended Contractions without Birth – More than one hour of strong contractions indicates a veterinary emergency.
- Retained Placenta – A retained placenta can cause uterine infection. It is important to count the number of placentas (one per newborn) to keep on top of this potential problem.
- Puppy Lodged in the Birth Canal – A puppy that is lodged in the birth canal for more than 10 minutes is in distress, and your intervention may be necessary. Note that although most puppies are born head first, “breech,” or tail-first births occur about 40% of the time, and are considered normal.
- Stillbirth – Sadly, this sometimes happens. All you can do is to remove the baby from the area so the mother can continue uninterrupted with birthing the other puppies.
- Postpartum Hemorrhaging – Although some bleeding after giving birth is normal, excessive hemorrhaging is an emergency and calls for veterinary intervention.
4-C: Puppy Care
After the puppies are born, the mother dog will clean herself and then settle down with her newborn puppies. Around this time, remove the soiled bedding and replace it with clean, warm bedding. Clean the area if necessary. Place the puppies back with the mother dog and allow them to nurse. The first milk, called colostrum, is only produced for a few days. It is rich in protein and minerals and contains antibodies that protect the puppies from disease. For this reason, it is very important that infant puppies nurse from their mother. The puppies will put on weight steadily, gaining as much as a half-ounce per day during the initial period of rapid growth. Occasionally, a puppy will be pushed out by another puppy when it is attempting to nurse. This is normal, but if the same puppy is repeatedly kept from the nipple it will fall behind in growth and development.
A puppy repeatedly pushed away by the mother may suffer a decrease in body temperature. If this occurs, warm the puppy and attempt to place it back with the mother dog. If this does not work, you will need to call TAPS for help. You may need to start feeding the puppy yourself. Careful examination of the puppy may reveal a defect such as a cleft pallet, or it may just be a “runt.” A puppy will use heat receptors in its nose to find the nipple. Dog milk is high in fat and protein. Puppies will compete for the most productive nipple and by two days of age, the puppies know which nipples are most productive. Puppies that latch onto the most productive nipples grow quickly.
Puppy/Dog Developmental Periods
- At birth, a puppy is totally helpless, unable to even regulate its own body temperature. They are born with closed eyes and tiny folded-down ears
- Within four days a puppy is able to find its mother and crawl to her from 2 feet away. By two weeks old coordination is sufficiently developed for it to use its front legs
- The stump of the umbilical cord will dry up and fall off in about five days
- Eyes open between 14 and 21 days
- At approximately three weeks puppies begin to crawl and their ears begin to straighten
- Between three and four weeks teething begins
- By about four weeks a puppy can stand and weaning begins
- At five weeks a puppy can stand and eat at a bowl easily
- Between five and six weeks puppies become mischievous and begin playing and running around
- By six weeks the puppies usually receive their first inoculation and deworming
- By eight to nine weeks of age the puppies should be ready for adoption
Healthy puppies are plump and have good skin tone. They feel warm to the touch. If placed on their backs or sides they will quickly right themselves to a crawling position. Healthy puppies nurse vigorously and seldom cry unless disturbed. They generally nest closely with one another.
Sick puppies feel cold, thin and limp. They lie scattered in the nest. They may cry incessantly and sound weak, and are often too weak to nurse effectively. Puppies that are failing may have become chilled, they may be starving or they may be dehydrated. If you have a puppy in this condition, contact TAPS immediately.
Occasionally, mom can develop mastitis when their pups stop nursing and begin to eat on their own. Mastitis can happen when the mammary glands inflame and harden, creating a very painful infection for the mother and causing symptoms such as a fever and listlessness. If you think the mother may have mastitis, call the Foster Coordinator on the next business day. This is not an emergency condition
Keep your foster dog and puppies isolated from any other animals in the home unless otherwise discussed. One significant aspect of fostering underage puppies is that you are dealing with animals that have not yet developed immunity to a variety of potentially fatal canine diseases. While you might be anxious to take the puppies out, they must not walk on any surfaces (such as parks or sidewalks) where another dog may have urinated or defecated. Even if it appears clean, it may still be harboring contagious diseases. So, it is imperative for puppies to stay in the home until they have been fully vaccinated.
Give the family space
Even the sweetest dogs can be protective of their babies. Give the mom time to trust you. For the first couple days, only visit minimally to make sure the babies are nursing and the mom appears healthy. The more stress the mom endures, the less she will be able to do for her babies. Once you have gained the mother’s trust, you can start interacting with her babies.
Age 0-4 Weeks – Mom: The nursing mother dog should be offered plenty of food at all times – nursing puppies is incredibly hard work and her calorie intake needs to be much higher than a non-lactating dog. Most dog food prints recommended dosing for lactating mother dogs on the label. Make sure she always has access to hard kibble and fresh water because lactating dogs also tend to drink more than non-nursing dogs. Throughout the foster period, feed mom as much as she will eat – you cannot over feed a momma dog!
Puppies: Puppies should nurse vigorously and compete for nipples. Newborns can nurse up to 45 minutes at a time. Be sure to watch puppies nursing at least once a day, if the mother will permit it. Check that everyone is nursing and that there isn’t too much jockeying for position. A great deal of activity and crying could indicate a problem with milk flow, quality or availability. When the mother reenters the box, there should be some fussing for only a few minutes before everyone has settled down to serious nursing. Puppies will sleep 90% of the time and eat the other 10%.
Age 4-5 Weeks: Puppies usually can drink and eat from a saucer by 4 weeks. Weaning should be done gradually. Introduce them to solid food by offering warmed canned food, mixed with a little water into gruel, in a shallow saucer. You can begin by placing one puppy by the plate of canned food gruel, and hoping for the best – if she starts eating, great! Her littermates will probably copy her and do the same. Some puppies may prefer to lick the gruel from your fingers, if this is the case; slowly lower your finger to the plate and hold it to the food. This way the puppies will learn to eat with their heads bent down. The puppies will walk in it, slide in it, and track it all. Be patient, sometimes it takes two or three meals before they catch on.
Age 5-6 Weeks: Feed gruel 4 times a day. Thicken the gruel gradually by reducing the amount of water mixed with it. Introduce dry food and water. If you are fostering a litter with their mother, continue weaning. For reluctant eaters, try mixing some puppy milk replacer into the gruel or tempt the puppy with some meat-flavored human baby food mixed with a bit of water. The familiar formula taste and smell or the meat flavor of baby food is often more appealing to the picky eaters than dog food. Once the puppy accepts the formula based gruel or baby food gradually mix in dry puppy food until the puppy has been weaned like the other puppies.
Age 6-7 Weeks: By this age the puppies should be eating dry food well. Feed the puppies at least three meals daily. If one puppy appears food-possessive, use a second dish and leave plenty of food out so that everyone can eat at the same time. Although the puppies may not eat much at a single sitting, they usually like to eat at frequent intervals throughout the day. Age 7-8 Weeks Feeding: Offer dry food 3 – 4 times a day. Leave down a bowl of water for them to eat and drink at will. If you have a litter with a bitch, she should only be allowing brief nursing sessions, if any. Do not feed the puppies table scraps. Age 8 weeks and over Feeding: Offer dry food 3 times a day. Leave down a bowl of water for them to drink at will.
During the first 2-3 weeks of life puppies do not urinate and defecate on their own. This is stimulated when the mother is cleaning them. As the mother stops taking care of their eliminating needs but before the pups get the idea of eliminating outside of their nest, there will be A LOT of cleaning up for the foster provider to take care of. However, you can begin housebreaking at four weeks of age. This can be done by using a pile of newspapers or training pads in a corner. After each feeding, place the puppy on the papers, or outside, for him to go to the bathroom. Be patient! He may not remember to do this every time, or may forget where to find the papers, but he will learn quickly. Be sure to give the puppies lots of praise when they first start using their papers or cry to go out. It is a good idea to confine the puppies to a relatively small space, because the larger the area the puppies have to play in, the more likely they will forget where the papers are. Keep the papers clean and away from their food.
Section 5: Cat Foster Care
5-A: Preparing for Your Foster Cat
A Comfortable Space
When you take your foster cat home, he may be frightened or unsure about what’s happening, so it’s important not to overwhelm him. Prepare a special area for the foster cat to help ease his adjustment into a new home environment. Sometimes it is better to confine the foster cat to a small room, such as a bathroom, at first, to let him adjust before giving him free rein in your home. Equip the room with food and water dishes and a litter box.
Another reason that we recommend a small room is because cats will typically hide in new environments. It is not uncommon for a foster cat to hide underneath a bed or in a dark, quiet place for the first couple of days. Isolating your foster cat when you first take her home allows you to know what room she is in and helps you to monitor her eating, drinking and potty habits more closely.
We request that all foster cats be housed indoors only. A garage, backyard or outdoor enclosure is not a suitable accommodation for a foster cat.
During the first couple of weeks, minimize the people and pet introductions to your foster cat, so that she is only meeting immediate family and your personal pets. If you have other pets at home, it is especially important to give your foster cat a space of her own where she can stay while getting used to all the new sounds and smells. Don’t leave your foster cat unattended in your home with your personal pets until you are comfortable that all of the animals can interact safely. Do not let unfamiliar people meet your foster cat.
If you are trying to socialize kittens it is a good idea to have them interact with all visitors to the home who are willing and respectful of safety.
Supplies You’ll Need
TAPS will provide you with any supplies that you may need. However, we greatly appreciate any help that you can provide in supplying items for your foster cat. Here’s what you’ll need to help your foster cat make a smooth transition to living in your home:
- At least one bowl for dry food and one for water: Stainless steel or ceramic work best.
- A supply of dry cat food: All cats are fed dry food unless a special diet is needed. We use Natural Balance and ask that foster cats be fed a food of that quality or higher quality.
- A soft place to sleep: Old towels or blankets work well if you don’t have a cat bed.
- Uncovered litter box: Make sure the box is an appropriate size for the cat.
- Litter: Please use clumping litter, unless you’re given other instructions.
- Scratching posts or trays: Try different types to see which the cat prefers.
- Cat treats: Giving treats is a good way to help train and build a positive relationship with your foster cat.
- Cat toys: Make sure the toys are durable and safe (without bits that will be harmful if swallowed).
- Grooming supplies: A well-groomed cat has a better chance of getting adopted.
Cat-Proofing Your Home
Foster cats come from a shelter environment, and even if they have previously lived in a home, we don’t always know how they will react in a new home. So, before bringing home a new foster cat, you’ll want to survey the area where you are going to keep the cat. Remove anything that would be unsafe or undesirable for the cat to chew on, and latch securely any cupboards that the foster cat could get into. Cats like to climb up on shelves or bookcases, so you’ll want to remove anything that can be knocked down. People food and chemicals can be very harmful if consumed by cats, so please store them in a place that the foster cat cannot access.
Never underestimate your foster cat’s abilities. Here are some additional tips for cat-proofing your home:
- Make sure that all trash cans are covered or latched and keep them inside a closet. (Don’t forget the bathroom trash bins.)
- Keep the toilet lids closed.
- Keep both people and pet food out of reach and off all counter tops.
- Move house plants out of reach. Many house plants are toxic to cats and they like to chew on them.
- Make sure aquariums or cages that house small animals, like hamsters or fish, are securely out of reach of your foster cat.
- Remove medications, lotions or cosmetics from any accessible surfaces.
- Move and secure all electrical and wires out of reach. Cats may chew on or get tangled in them.
- Pick up any clothing items that have buttons or strings, which can be harmful to your foster cat if consumed.
- Relocate knickknacks or valuables that your foster cat could knock down.
5-B: Bringing Home Your Foster Cat
If you have personal pets that are cats, you’ll need to introduce them to the foster cat. Even if you know the cat you are fostering is good with other cats, you’ll want to do the introductions gradually. So, before bringing your foster cat home, create a separate “territory” for her. This area should be equipped with food, water, a scratching post, a litter box, access to natural sunlight, and comfortable resting places. Your other cats should have their own separate territory.
Over a one- to two-week period, let the cats smell each other through a closed door, but don’t allow them contact with one another. Exchanging blankets or towels between the areas will help them get used to each other’s smells. The next step is to allow them to see each other through a baby gate or a door that is propped open two inches. If the cats are interested in each other and seem comfortable, allow them to meet. Open the door to the rooms between the cats and observe them closely. If any cat shows signs of significant stress or aggression, separate them again and introduce them more slowly. It’s a good idea to have a broom or squirt bottle on hand to deter any fights. Never try to separate cats that are fighting with your hands or body parts.
If you have a dog, you’ll need to make the introduction to the foster cat carefully and safely. Start by keeping them separated at first. As mentioned above, before you bring your foster cat home, create a separate “territory” for her and equip it with food, water, a scratching post, a litter box, and comfortable resting places.
Over a one- to two-week period, let the dog and cat smell each other through the door, but don’t allow them contact with one another. Exchanging blankets or towels between the dog’s area and the cat’s area will help them get used to each other’s smells.
After a week or two, do the face-to-face introduction. Keeping your dog on leash, allow your foster cat out in the same area. (If you have more than one dog, introduce one at a time.) Do not allow the dog to charge or run directly up to the cat. Try to distract the dog as best you can so that the cat has the chance to approach without fear. Watch the body language of each animal closely and don’t continue the interaction if either pet becomes over-stimulated or aggressive. The idea is to keep the interactions positive, safe and controlled. Finally, never leave your dog unsupervised around the foster cat.
Children and Cats
Since we don’t always know a foster cat’s history or tolerance level for different types of people and activities, please teach your children how to act responsibly and respectfully around your foster cat. We will do our best to place you with an appropriate animal for your home situation, but you should still supervise all interactions between children and your foster cat. Key things to remind your children:
- Always leave the foster cat alone when he/she is eating or sleeping. Some cats may nip or bite if bothered while eating or startled while sleeping.
- Do not tease or rile up the foster cat.
- Don’t chase the foster cat around the house; it may scare him.
- Pick up the foster cat only when an adult is there to help. Cats can become scared when picked up, and they sometimes scratch with their sharp nails, even though they don’t mean to cause harm.
- Be careful when opening and closing doors so as to not accidentally let the foster cat outside.
5-C: Daily Care
All foster cats should be fed a diet of dry cat food, unless otherwise specified by the Foster Coordinator. Feed your foster cat once or twice daily; the amount will be based on the age and weight of your foster cat. Make sure the cat always has access to fresh, clean water.
You can give your foster cat treats of any kind (unless he/she has known allergies, of course); giving treats helps you and your foster cat to bond with each other. Keep in mind that some people food and house plants (which cats like to chew on) are poisonous for cats, so remove any plants or food from areas that your foster cat can access.
When you first take your foster cat home, take care not to overwhelm her with too many new experiences all at once. Moving to a new environment is stressful in itself for many cats, so keep introductions to people and animals to a minimum during the first couple of weeks after you bring your foster cat home. It also helps to establish a daily routine of regularly scheduled feedings and play times.
In addition, on a daily basis, be aware of your foster cat’s appetite and energy level. If she’s not eating well or seems listless, something may be wrong medically. You might want to record your observations to make it easier to notice any health issues.
Litter Box Habits
You can help your foster cat be more adoptable by paying close attention to his litter box habits and making the litter box as inviting as possible. The litter box should be located in a place that the cat can access easily. If you have other cats, there should be one litter box for each cat in the house, plus one extra. The litter boxes should be placed in quiet, low-traffic spots so that the cats aren’t startled when trying to take care of business.
We advise against the use of covered litter boxes because some cats don’t like them, which can create litter box problems from the start. Covered litter boxes can trap odors inside the box, which is nice for you, but not for your cat. Cats are often quite fastidious; they are sensitive to the smell of urine and feces, as well as deodorizers.
You can also prevent litter box issues by keeping the litter box as clean as possible. Scoop out each litter box at least once daily, and empty it completely to clean it every two weeks. When you clean the litter box, use a mild soap (such as dishwashing soap), not strong-smelling detergents or ammonia.
If your foster cat is not using the litter box, please notify the Foster Coordinator during normal business hours so you can work on resolving the issue before not using the box becomes a habit. Keep in mind that a cat may miss the litter box if she has a medical issue like diarrhea or she may avoid the box if she has a urinary tract infection, which causes pain when urinating.
If your foster cat has an accident, don’t discipline or punish her. It will only teach her to fear and mistrust you. Clean up all accidents with an enzymatic cleaner. Nature’s Miracle and Simple Solution are two products containing natural enzymes that tackle tough stains and odors and remove them permanently.
A clean and well-groomed cat has a better chance of getting adopted, so brush your foster cat regularly, especially if he has longer hair. Contact the Foster Coordinator if you feel that your foster cat needs to see a professional groomer. If you are comfortable with it, you can trim his nails. But please be careful because you can cause pain and bleeding if you trim the nails too short. Cats don’t generally like being bathed, so please don’t give your foster cat any baths.
Mental Stimulation and Exercise
Because play time provides stimulation, encourages socialization and releases excess energy, provide your foster cat with at least one or two play sessions per day. The length of the play sessions will vary, depending on the cat’s age and health. Try a variety of toys (balls, squeaky toys, feather toys, etc.) to see which ones your foster cat prefers. Cat toys don’t have to be fancy or expensive. Cats often enjoy playing with something as simple as a paper bag (remove the handles for safety) or a box with holes cut in the sides.
Don’t leave your foster cat alone with any toys that could be easily ingested or cause harm to the cat. Examples are string toys, yarn and Da Bird (feathers dangling from a string and wand). Toys such as ping-pong balls and toilet paper tubes are safe. Discourage your foster cat from play-biting your hands and feet. This is something that adopters may not find desirable.
Foster cats must live indoors. If your foster cat seems very curious about going outside or is constantly at the door waiting for the right moment, please take extra precautions to ensure that he or she doesn’t accidentally sneak out when you are coming or going.
If you want to take your foster cat outside on a leash and harness, you are welcome to do so in the safety of an enclosed yard or area. Please ensure that the leash and harness are the right size and fit well before you take your foster cat outside. NEVER LEAVE UNSUPERVISED!
Remember, if your personal cat has access to the outdoors, he or she cannot interact with your foster cat. You’ll need to keep their living quarters separate.
Finally, please do not let your foster cat ride loose in a car. Use a carrier at all times to transport your foster cat to and from appointments.
5-D: Behavior Support
One of your goals as a foster parent is to help prepare your foster cat for living successfully in a home. So, we ask that you help your foster cat to develop good habits and skills through the use of positive reinforcement, which builds a bond of trust between you and your foster pet. The basic idea is to reward desirable behaviors and ignore unwanted behaviors.
You must not punish a cat for a behavior that you find undesirable because punishment is ineffective at eliminating the behavior. If the cat is doing something undesirable, distract him or her before the behavior occurs. It is also important for every human in the foster home to stick to the rules established for your foster cats, which will help them to learn faster.
Some foster cats will have behavioral issues, which we are aware of at the time of their rescue. Some of these behavior challenges are fearfulness, house soiling or aggression toward other animals. We will only place cats with behavioral issues with a person who feels comfortable working with the cat on his/her particular issues. We will provide that person with all the necessary information so that proper care and training can be given to the foster cat.
If you feel unable to manage any behavior that your foster cat is exhibiting, please contact the Foster Coordinator during business hours to discuss the issue. We will guide you and help in every way we can.
Section 6: Caring for Kittens
6-A: Preparing Calm, Safe Environment
Mother cats, also known as “queens,” need to be in a calm environment so that they can be stress-free and feel like they are keeping their kittens safe. Sometimes, stress can cause a mother cat to become aggressive or to not care for her babies properly. With that in mind, choose a private and quiet room of your home, away from the daily activities of your family and other animals, in which to situate the mother cat and her kittens. A dark area equipped with a whelping box is ideal.
A whelping box is a box that is large enough for the mother cat to lay on her side slightly away from her kittens with all of the kittens in the box with her. The box should have sides high enough to prevent the kittens from wandering away, but low enough so it’s easy for the mother cat to come and go as she needs to. Lining the bottom of the box with puppy pads topped with newspapers will help absorb moisture. You can place an easy-to-clean blanket on top of the absorbent materials to give the mother cat and kittens a soft place to lie on. Please keep all these materials dry so that the kittens are not chilled by dampness. Do not place straw, hay or shavings in the area where the mother and kittens are kept.
Put momma’s litter box as far away from her food and water bowls as possible. To ensure that the mother cat has enough to eat, give her access to both wet and dry food at all times. Food intake for a nursing mother can be two to four times the amount eaten by a cat who’s not nursing.
6-B: Momma’s Care of Her Kittens
The momma cat should take care of her kittens by herself for at least three to four weeks before she starts the weaning process for her babies. Each momma cat that you foster will be slightly different in her level of attentiveness, but there are three basic stages of nursing (see below). If for any reason your momma cat is not performing one of the listed functions, please notify the Foster Coordinator right away to evaluate whether the mom has a medical concern that we need to address.
Kittens are born blind, but they can feel their mother’s heat and seek her out to begin nursing within two hours of being born. Mother cats should be lying on their sides to ensure that their kittens can find the nipples for nursing. Here are three stages of nursing:
- One to two weeks old: The mother cat initiates nursing by licking her kittens to wake them up and curling her body around them. After she wakes all of her babies, the kittens search for a short time period and then quickly latch on.
- Two to three weeks old: The kittens’ eyes and ears begin to function and they start to explore beyond the nesting area. This is when the kittens start interacting and playing with their mother. At this age, the kittens start to initiate some of the nursing and momma should comply by lying in the nursing position.
- Four to five weeks old: The kittens begin weaning and, in turn, the mother cat no longer initiates any nursing. If the mother cat still allows the kittens to nurse, it will be initiated by the kittens and can be lateral or upright nursing.
The mother cat will groom and lick her babies frequently for the first two to four weeks. She will stimulate her kittens to pee and poop, and will generally consume the fecal matter and urine. As the babies become more mobile, they will start to leave the nest and deposit urine and feces nearby, which is a good time to start introducing a couple of low-sided litter boxes (disposable ones tend to work best).
A mother’s direct interaction with her kittens includes the “brrp” or chirping calls she makes as she approaches them, as well as nuzzling and licking them to awaken them and to stimulate urination and defecation.
Initially, the kitten’s activities are restricted to crawling along the mother’s body and nuzzling against her to locate a nipple, often in competition with litter mates. The kittens suckle, lie still by the mother, move around near her and call out to her.
A call frequently given by the kittens is the cry associated with distress. It is given when a kitten awakens and is hungry, when a kitten’s movement is restricted (e.g., the kitten is trapped under the mother) or he becomes isolated and cold. The mother should answer the call.
Suckling is accompanied by kneading against the mother’s abdomen. It is thought that these kneading movements stimulate the mother’s milk flow, help to develop the kitten’s muscles and aid in digestion. The kittens may initially spend about eight hours a day suckling, but this activity decreases as they grow older.
As the kittens become older and more mobile, they become increasingly responsible for approaching the mother and initiating suckling. In the later stages of the weaning period (at about seven weeks old), the kittens become almost wholly responsible for initiating suckling. The mother may actively impede these efforts by blocking access to her nipples or by removing herself from the kittens’ proximity.
When fostering a momma cat, it is very important to observe her behavior daily and watch her interactions with her kittens to spot any problems. Unfortunately, 8 percent of kittens pass away because of inadequate maternal care. This can happen for many different reasons, some of which are beyond our control.
Following are some problem behaviors which may occur in momma cats and what to do in response:
Maternal neglect. Sometimes a mother may stop providing care to one or all of her kittens. The neglect may be because of a birth defect or weakness in the kitten; she may just be trying to follow nature’s course, focusing her attention on the stronger kittens. Neglect may also happen because she is inexperienced or she’s in a stressful environment. Either way, that’s why it’s so important to make daily observations to ensure that she is caring for her babies. If she will let you handle the kittens, you should weigh each kitten once a day to ensure that they are gaining weight. If you notice that she is spending all of her time away from the kittens, is not grooming or nursing them frequently, or doesn’t respond to their cries, please call the Foster Coordinator right away.
Maternal aggression toward other animals. Aggressive behavior directed at other animals is common and expected from mother cats because they have a maternal instinct to protect their young at all times. With that in mind, please do not try to introduce her to the other animals in your home. As mentioned above, the mom cat and her kittens should have a quiet room of their own away from all other pets so that she and her babies can always feel safe. If she has seen another animal and becomes stressed or aggressive, it is very important to leave her alone and not try to comfort her. Give her 20 minutes or so to calm down and then check on her.
Maternal aggression toward people. Sometimes mother cats will act aggressively toward people. These behaviors may include hissing, growling, swatting and biting. Again, the mother is merely trying to protect her young. If you have a mother exhibiting these behaviors, do not try to “correct” the behavior with a spray bottle or any type of punishment. She is only acting out of instinct to protect her babies and you could cause her aggressive behavior to escalate.
If all of your foster animals, mom included, are healthy and friendly, we have no reason to separate mom from kittens before they are eight weeks old. But there are a few medical or behavioral reasons for separating them earlier than eight weeks:
- As mentioned above, if the mother cat is showing signs of maternal neglect and is no longer caring for her kittens, the Foster Coordinator may decide to separate her from her kittens.
- If the mother cat is semi-feral or very under socialized, we may decide to separate the kittens once they are eating on their own consistently and no longer need to nurse (around four to five weeks old). Separating them would prevent the kittens from learning feral behaviors from their mother and help them to become socialized, which increases their chances of finding forever homes.
- If there is a medical concern about the mom or babies, a veterinarian could make the decision to separate the kittens from the mother cat.
The kittens’ best chance at survival is to stay with their mom. Please do not separate your foster kittens from their mom for any reason, or attempt to supplement the mother’s milk with formula, without first consulting the Foster Coordinator.
6-C: Signs of Illness and What to Do Next
Occasionally, momma cats develop mastitis when their kittens stop nursing and begin to eat on their own. Mastitis occurs when the mammary glands inflame and harden, creating a very painful infection for the mother cat and causing symptoms such as a fever and listlessness. If you think your mother cat may have mastitis, call the Foster Coordinator on the next business day. This is not an emergency condition.
Because kittens are fragile, it is important for you to watch the behavior of your foster kittens closely and monitor their health daily. To keep track of their health, keep a journal of the kittens’ weight after each feeding, eating habits and overall health. Look over each kitten every day for physical changes or potential medical problems. Kittens are susceptible to illness, so foster kittens must be kept indoors. If your personal cat has access to the outdoors, he or she cannot interact with your foster kittens.
Kittens do a good job of masking when they don’t feel well, so determining if a foster kitten is under the weather will require diligent observation of the kittens’ daily activity and appetite levels. Be aware that kittens act differently at different ages. For example, a healthy two-week-old kitten will sleep often and get up only to nurse, whereas a healthy six-week-old kitten should have a lot of energy. If you have any questions about the health of your foster kittens, please contact the Foster Coordinator, who will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Eye discharge. It is normal for kittens to have some discharge from their eyes when they wake up. But if a kitten has yellow or green discharge, or swelling around the eyes (making it hard for him to open his eyes), or the third eyelid is showing, you need to contact TAPS to schedule a vet appointment.
Sneezing and nasal discharge. Occasional sneezing is common in kittens. If the sneezing becomes more frequent, examine the discharge coming from the sneeze. If the discharge is clear, the infection is probably viral and medication may not be necessary. But it is important to monitor the kittens in case the problem becomes worse. If the discharge becomes colored, contact TAPS to schedule a vet appointment because the kittens may have a bacterial infection. Be sure to monitor the kittens’ breathing. If they start to breathe with an open mouth or wheeze, call the Foster Coordinator immediately and follow the Emergency Contact Protocol. Also, once you notice nasal discharge, monitor the kittens’ eating habits more closely to ensure that they are still eating. And, of course, continue to weigh them daily.
Loss of appetite. Your foster kittens may be stressed after arriving in your home, and stress can cause lack of appetite. Unwillingness to eat in kittens can be very serious, so pay close attention to whether the kittens are eating. Kittens should eat on a four- to eight-hour schedule, depending on their age. If a kitten under four weeks old misses two meals or a kitten over four weeks of age goes more than 12 hours without eating, the Foster Coordinator should be called. Also, if a kitten less than eight weeks old does not urinate for over 12 hours, call the Coordinator. With a kitten that is not eating, please do not change the kitten’s diet without contacting the Foster Coordinator. An abrupt change in diet can cause diarrhea, which will lead to dehydration.
Lethargy. The activity level of your kittens will vary with each kitten in your litter and with age. Sick kittens may have lower energy levels and just want to sit in your lap or on the floor and not move much or play. If you notice a drop in your foster kittens’ energy level, please contact the Foster Coordinator to make a medical appointment. If a kitten cannot be roused or seems weak and unable to stand, this is an emergency. Start the Emergency Contact Protocol, page 8. Note: Some under-socialized kittens will move less because they are frightened. If you have a fearful group of kittens, it can be more difficult to determine if their energy levels are low.
Dehydration: Dehydration is usually associated with diarrhea, vomiting and/or loss of appetite. To test for dehydration, gently pinch the kitten’s skin around the scruff area. If the skin stays taut, the kitten is dehydrated. Please call the Foster Coordinator immediately and start the emergency contact protocol, as dehydration can be fatal in kittens.
Vomiting: If a foster kitten has thrown up two or more times in one day, please notify the Foster Coordinator. If there is bile or blood in the vomit, please call right away.
Diarrhea: In kittens, it can be tricky to determine if diarrhea is a problem. Soft stool diarrhea, most likely caused by stress, is normal for the first two days after you take kittens home. Kittens who are nursing tend to have loose stool, but if it is watery or very large in volume, that’s a concern. By the time kittens are five weeks old and are eating consistently on their own, they should have firm, normal stool. If your foster kittens have liquid stool, please contact TAPS to schedule a vet appointment; the kittens may need medication.
Once your kittens are using a litter box, please monitor the box daily. Remember that diarrhea will dehydrate your kittens, so be proactive about contacting the Foster Coordinator if you notice any diarrhea. If a kitten has bloody or mucoid diarrhea, start the Emergency Contact Protocol and contact the Foster Coordinator.
6-D: Socializing and Instilling Good Behaviors in Kittens
Your goal as a foster parent is to prepare your foster kittens for forever homes. While a big part of that is helping the kittens to grow and be healthy, another component is helping them develop the good habits that will make them wonderful companions for their adopters.
Establishing Good Litter Box Habits
Start introducing your kittens to the litter box around the age of four to five weeks. Make sure the litter box you are using has low sides, to make it easy for the kittens to climb in and out. Some foster parents like to use disposable litter boxes, and that’s fine. With kittens younger than eight weeks, though, use only non-clumping litter. The reason for this is that very young kittens tend to taste their litter and play in it. If you use clumping litter, the dust from the litter can solidify in their respiratory or digestive tracts.
Keep kittens confined to a small area and have at least one litter box in each room that the kittens can access. You can encourage the kittens to use the bathroom facilities by gently returning them to their litter box every 15–20 minutes while they’re playing. Kittens do not have to be taught by either their mothers or humans to relieve themselves in soft, loose materials, or to dig and bury their waste. Kittens are simply born knowing how to do it.
Scoop the litter box at least twice a day, more if you have a large litter or they have diarrhea. You will also need to dump the litter box entirely every two to three days and clean with dish soap. A clean litter box will promote good bathroom habits for the kittens going forward.
Oftentimes, kittens miss the litter box if they have medical issues like diarrhea, or if they have too much free space, causing them to forget where the box is when they have to go. Clean all accidents with an enzymatic cleaner and don’t ever punish a kitten for having an accident.
Kitten Development and Socialization
Time and effort are required to properly socialize kittens. In fact, when they’re between four and twelve weeks old, daily socialization sessions are important in shaping the kitten’s personality and emotional growth.
You’ll want your foster kittens to become familiar with having their paws touched (front and back), their mouths opened and their ears touched. Combining this type of handling with regular grooming sessions and body massages helps to prevent skin sensitivity or aversion to touch. And acquainting kittens with a variety of sights, sounds and textures will help them to grow into well-socialized adult cats. Listed below are some characteristics of kittens at different stages and the steps you can take to help socialize them.
- Appearance: Pink, firm, plump and generally healthy-looking.
- Temperature: Normal rectal temperature for newborns is 96 or 97 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Eyes and ears: Closed, but they can still hear (though poorly) and respond to bright light with a blink reflex.
- Muscles: Healthy kittens will curl their bodies and limbs inward.
1 to 2 weeks
- Temperature: Normal rectal temperature gradually increases to 100 degrees F.
- Eyes and ears: Open at approximately 11-15 days.
- Muscles: Kittens can use their front legs to stand and walk shakily.
- What you can do: You can engage in gentle handling and cuddling at this point. These sessions should be very short (one to two minutes), and great care should be taken in the handling process. Rub the hair coat gently with your hands, and gently finger the webbing in between the toes. Rub the ears and muzzle.
2 to 3 weeks
- Temperature: Kittens are able to maintain their own body temperature within the normal range (100.5 – 102.5 degrees F).
- Eyes: Vision is initially poor, even after the eyes have opened, but continues to develop until three to four weeks of age. If the eyes fail to open and the lids look sticky, wipe the lids very gently with dampened cotton lightly smeared with a little petroleum jelly to ease their opening. The eyelids should never be pulled apart. If a kitten’s eyelids still haven’t opened by 14 days, contact the foster department.
- Muscles: The rear legs can now support the body. Kittens are crawling.
- Teeth: Deciduous incisors start to appear, followed by deciduous canines.
- What you can do:
- Provide the kittens with a whelping box area for sleeping and another area, away from the sleeping and feeding area, that contains the litter box.
- Provide five minutes of handling exercises. Gently roll the kitten over on her back for 5-10 seconds, and then draw her close to you, stroking and cuddling her. Never do this while actively feeding the kitten. Be careful not to startle the kitten with sudden movements or loud sounds.
- Start grooming: Softly and gently brush the kitten’s coat with a few strokes, touch the ears and mouth, and pretend to clip the nails by adding gentle pressure to the kitten’s paws.
3 to 4 weeks
- Eyes and ears: Vision and hearing are normal. Blink response disappears with the development of accurate pupil control. The kitten is now able to use visual clues to locate and approach the mother. The eyes should be completely open by 17 days.
- Muscles: By 21 days, kittens can walk with a fairly steady gait. They can also sit and have reasonable control of their toes.
- Teeth: Deciduous incisors and canine teeth continue to come in.
- What you can do:
- If the mother and kittens are no longer using the whelping box, it’s OK to remove it.
- At about four weeks old, the kittens will begin to eliminate on their own. This is a good time to introduce additional litter boxes. Use boxes with low edges so that the kittens can easily climb in and out. Only use non-clumping litter, since kittens often try to eat the litter when they are learning.
- The kittens will start to explore their immediate environment. Provide safe, simple toys to help stimulate them.
- The kittens can be introduced to other people at this time, but this interaction should be carefully controlled. The interaction should be limited to five minutes of time spent in gentle massage and cuddling.
- As the main caregiver, you should continue the grooming and handling exercises: holding, cuddling and stroking each kitten’s body, including ears, tail and muzzle.
4 to 5 weeks
- Eyes and ears: Vision is markedly improved. From three to five weeks, kittens learn guided paw placement and obstacle avoidance.
- Muscles: Kittens are walking normally and start climbing. Social play is prevalent.
- Teeth: Deciduous premolars come in.
- What you can do: Continue the handling and socialization exercises.
5 to 8 weeks of age
- Temperature: Normal range is 100.5 degrees to 102.5 degrees F.
- Teeth: Kittens have an entire set of deciduous teeth by five to six weeks of age.
- What you can do:
- The kittens are totally dependent on the environment you provide to stimulate and develop them. Play with objects increases around seven to eight weeks of age, so continue to add appropriate toys to the kittens’ environment.
- Introduce the kittens to as many different people as possible — people of different shapes, sizes, colors, sexes and ages. Encourage the kittens to allow individual handling by different people: men, women and supervised children. Keep the visits short.
- Expose the kittens to mild sounds, different areas and surfaces, allowing them to investigate.
- As the main caregiver, you should continue the handling and grooming exercises.
- If you choose to, you can introduce the kittens to other animals while their mother is not around. Keep the visits very short and always supervise them. These visits should be calm and pleasant; a traumatic incident at this stage could have a lasting effect on the kittens. Keep in mind that kittens can carry diseases that can be transmitted to other animals.
8 weeks or older
- What you can do:
- Protect the kittens from unpleasant or negative experiences. The kittens’ environment should be designed to help them develop a sense of security.
- Continue to introduce the kittens to as many different people as possible.
- Continue the handling and grooming exercises.
- At this stage, you can gradually introduce some more intrusive noises, such as whistles blowing, hands clapping, bells jingling and the vacuum cleaner running. Play with the kittens as you introduce the noise in the background.
You can also work on getting your foster kittens comfortable with being in a cat carrier by leaving the carrier (with the door removed or securely propped open) in your foster kittens’ room with toys or treats inside.