Saturday, September 30, 2023
animal rescuefoster catsfostering petshealth and safetyKennedy

Fostering Rescued Cats and Kittens

Tess's kittens, who looked like Tonkinese cats.
Tess’s kittens, who looked like Tonkinese cats.

This is part one of a two-part article about safely fostering rescued cats while living with one or more cats already.

. . . . . . .

“Two recent ‘food for thoughts’ when it comes to new pets being added to your current ones. Both completely unrelated,” a member of our rescue group posted one morning during a busy cat-rescuing month of June. She is also a registered veterinary technician and animal control agent in her rural county north of Pittsburgh and along with large animals on her farm—alpacas and goats and various fowl—it’s her job and her passion to rescue as many cats and dogs as she can from grim circumstances wherever she’s called in her county. In all that daily experience she encounters all the illnesses that can be acquired from living outdoors by cats who have had no or little veterinary care. She fosters as many cats and kittens as she can, and because her county has a small shelter she’s also known for bringing one or dozen kittens to spay/neuter clinics for surgery or veterinary care and to send them off to foster homes for adoption.

Her advice concerned the importance of quarantine for rescued cats and even kittens, and she described two recent circumstances.

“First one is a stray pregnant cat. A kind person decided to take into her home and keep warm and safe, and let mingle with her two fixed cats. A free spay was offered to the kitty but the person decided she could not kill the kittens and let her have the kittens, six if memory serves me correct. Fast forward eight weeks when they go to the vet, mom tests positive for FeLV (feline leukemia virus) so now all seven are being quarantined, six weeks mom away from babies to see if any of them will fight off the disease or if all are positive. The odds are not with them.

“And their two current cats now need to be tested in six weeks and then again in six months as they could have picked up the disease.

“Second one is a person who had two fixed cats who were not current on shots and decided to add a free kitten who had zero vet care. Kitten was allowed to mingle with the two cats right away. About a week after the kitten arrived the kitten got very ill. He came down with panleukopenia (feline distemper). Though the vets tried to save him he passed away. A few days later both of their own adult cats got sick from the kitten and sadly passed away at the vets too.

“Please please remember to quarantine new pets until proper vet care has been received. Both of those diseases are a slow painful death.”

We all know of people, possibly even ourselves, who just opened the door and let the cat in, or who felt bad for the friendly cat who was alone in the spare bedroom and decided it would be fine if they came out to play and meet the household because they got along just fine. When I began rescuing in the early 1980s I just let cats in the door. It was a great feeling to just open the door and let a cat that had been desperately begging out on your porch walk in the door and call it home. Stanley, in 1986, was the last cat for whom I just opened the door and let join my household of five cats, and I was darned lucky because both FIV and FeLV were rampant at that time.

It’s easy to forget these dangers exist because our cats are vaccinated and healthy, and we might presume in this day and age that all cats are but serious contagious illnesses are right outside the door.

Because you love the cat or cats you live with you want to help others of the same species; you want to help to an animal in need and make it feel at home, and that’s a good thing to do. But there is a reason why cats are “recommended” to have all those exams and vaccines in their first year, or later if they come to you with no veterinary records, and to make sure throughout their lives that their immunity is intact. Nice as the kitty is, even with a litter of cute cuddly kittens, she might be carrying a long list of parasites, illnesses and other conditions that could endanger the health of the cats you already live with. It’s easy to forget these dangers exist because our cats are vaccinated and healthy, and we might presume in this day and age that all cats are or we’ve simply never experienced those illnesses in our cats’ lives, but serious contagious illnesses are right outside the door. The stories above are real life experiences and show that the risk of contagious diseases to your cats is very real, and could destroy your whole household of felines if you aren’t careful.

At the top, from 1992, Tess’s two Tonkinese-looking kittens were fine, and so was she, and their good looks and social nature were a temptation to let them start to mingle with us all right away because they were all so playful and friendly. I was observing a 30-day quarantine at the time and did not let them join my household because it was likely neither Tess nor her kittens had had any veterinary care ever in their lives.

black cat nursing kittens
Mimi nursing a little later.

Above, even Mimi and the Four began their life here in a cage and in the studio for two weeks, and the kittens were kept in isolation until they were seven weeks. I had medical records for Mimi and knew she was up to date on vaccinations including FIV/FeLV (but not spayed, ironic, yes), but we’d just lost her daughter Lucy to FIP, Mimi had fraternized with a rough crowd in the neighborhood and spent most of her time outdoors and could be carrying any number of things, and all my resident cats were seniors. When she showed no symptoms and I came to know her gentle nature, I let her mingle with the household and she immediately found her place among Peaches and Cookie and Kelly and Namir.

Even though that cat you found is so friendly or those kittens are so cute and they all look fine and healthy, you should never add a cat whose health history you don’t know to the mix in your household without an observation period in a quarantined area, and a visit or consultation with a veterinarian. You also need to be aware of the possible illnesses they could be carrying and how they are spread, and use appropriate sanitation of the room they are in, anything that comes out of that room, and even your hands and arms and clothes. If you intend to start fostering rescued cats, you need to create a protocol for your own household.

Hidden illnesses: cat behavior, and incubation and latency

First, cats are masters at hiding illness, and few of us know all the symptoms of all the illnesses they could be carrying. Second, incubation periods and contagious periods vary. A cat you’ve been feeding in your back yard may have no vaccine immunity to contagious illnesses, and the day before you take her in encountered a cat with distemper or FeLV. Days or weeks can pass before you see any symptoms, yet at that time she can be developing or shedding a disease.

In all the years I’ve been fostering cats brought right in from the streets or the woods or wherever I might have found them, with just my spare bedroom/studio and my bathroom, I have never passed a disease on to my cats. Most rescues have come in with URIs, fleas, worms, earmites, injuries or open wounds, and even a few who tested positive for FeLV and FIV. I started reading cat care books early and a few veterinarians were aware of what I was doing and gave me a few stern lectures of the dangers my cats could face. I took it all very seriously—actually, it terrified me and I never forgot the sick feeling I got when I thought of possibly killing one or more of my beloved cats with a tortuous and painful fatal disease—and I’m glad for it. I’ve done my best to constantly add to my knowledge.

In the next part of this article I’ll cover some basic guidelines that I’ve followed for most of that time outlining parasites and illnesses to expect, setting up a quarantine room with basic sanitation, and guidelines for how long to quarantine.

Below, Kennedy tested negative for FIV/FeLV the day he came to me, but he’d been living outdoors and the cause of his condition was unknown. He too was confined to the bathroom for the mandatory two weeks but no obviously contagious symptoms appeared and he seemed to recover and gain weight and vitality, which likely would not have happened if he’d had any serious illness, so I opened the door after two weeks and let the interaction begin. He was like another brother from the very beginning.

black cat
Kennedy says “hi”!

Often rescued cats look just fine but Kennedy actually looked as if he might be suffering from any number of things. His seizures stopped the day after he arrived and he had his two-week absolute quarantine which also permitted him to rest, and he showed no signs of anything. But as soon as I opened the door with the baby gate in place he was ready to mingle, and I’m glad I let him considering the brevity of his stay with us.

Fostering Rescued Cats and Kittens, Part 2

What to prepare for, and preparing your home and yourself.

On Mondays I feature articles featuring Adoptable Cats and TNR.

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Great Rescues Day Book

Each month features one of my commissioned portraits of a feline or felines and their rescue story along with a kitty quote on the left page, and on the right page the month name with enough lines for all possible dates, with standard holidays and animal-themed observances and events. Great Rescues also includes a mini cat-care book illustrated with my drawings including information on finding strays or orphaned kittens, adopting for the first time or caring for a geriatric cat, a list of household toxins and toxic plants, or helping stray and feral cats and beginning with TNR.

Each book includes also 10 sheets of my “22 Cats” decorative notepaper with a collage of all the portraits in black and white so you can make your own notes or write special notes to friends.

The portraits in this book, collected as a series, won both a Certificate of Excellence and a Muse Medallion in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association Annual Communication Contest, as well as the 22 Cats Notepaper mentioned below.

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7 thoughts on “Fostering Rescued Cats and Kittens

  • Pingback: Safely Fostering Rescued Cats and Kittens ~ The Creative Cat

  • Good reminder, thank you! A couple of questions: (1) do you keep quarantined newcomers in a cage, or just in a separate room? and (2) any advice on care for outdoor cats / ferals (“trap & neuter asap” taken as a given)?

    • Peg, I’ll be posting part 2 with specific information this Friday.

    • Peg, quarantine is always in a separate room that is sealed from the rest of the household in case of airborne illnesses. I use cages for frightened cats who need socialization and who need containment, such as those feral cats for TNR who I keep in their traps.

      Basically, all new cats, even if I know where they came from, go into quarantine at first. If I have vet records or know the cat and the cat has not been outdoors for any length of time recently, it can be only a few days.

  • bluemoonalone

    Thanks for the info Bernadette..since I have the habit of wanting to help any kitty that comes my way I need to be aware of these things..I have a nice Tuxie coming by to visit lately but I haven’t been able to get him/her to come to me yet..

    • Bluemoonalone, it’s hard not to think all kitties are nice and healthy like yours, but it’s for everyone’s good.

    • Bluemoonalone, food works wonders! But be careful and if you feed always wash the dishes so your cats don’t get them, and also wash your hands after petting the kitty. It’s best to be safe ahead of time.


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