How to Foster Cats and Kittens Independently

Fostering a cat or kitten without the support of a shelter is a daunting task. But in order to help animals in need, sometimes taking this step is necessary. To become an independent cat or kitten foster, whether out of necessity or preference, you’ll need to find reliable sources of supplies and veterinary care. You will also be responsible for taking measures to ensure the felines are adopted into a good home. Read below to learn about the reality of independent fostering and how you can confidently do it yourself if the need arises. 

What is Independent Fostering?

To foster an animal independently means that you’re taking in an animal and deciding to provide care on your own. People decide to do this for a number of reasons:

  • The animal didn’t come from a shelter or rescue group. Instead, you found the animal yourself.
  • The shelters and rescue groups in your community are full or can’t accommodate more foster homes. 
  • The animal was placed in your care by someone else who was unable to care for them, and you don’t want to keep the animal as a personal pet. 

How Can You Foster Independently?

Follow this step-by-step guide if you’ve found yourself with a cat or kitten you’ve decided to foster on your own. It’s not the easiest fostering pathway, but it’s one worth traveling. The cat or kitten in your care will be so thankful that you gave them a chance. 

Your 10-step guide to independent cat and kitten fostering

Day 1:

Step 1: Make sure the kitty is safe indoors.

Always make sure the kitty is warm and relaxed before providing food. Offer a safe heat source, such as a Snuggle Safe, and a blanket or two. Keep them confined to an area such as a guest bathroom or playpen. 

Step 2: Quarantine the kitty from your resident pets. 

Click here to learn how to successfully quarantine foster felines from your resident pets.

Step 3: Provide food, water, and litter.

Take some time to figure out the kitty’s age and follow up with an age-appropriate diet of grain-free wet and dry food (or kitten formula for kittens 5 weeks and under). 

Day 2:

Step 4: Gather your fostering supplies.

Click here to access a page with links to all of the supplies I use in foster care.

Consider throwing a “kitten shower” via an Amazon wishlist if needed. You’ll be surprised at the friends, family, and community members who are willing to lend a hand!

Step 5: Set up their space.

Read The Ultimate Guide to Setting Up Your Kitten Room for an easy setup!

Day 3 (or as soon as you see medical concerns): 

Step 6: Access veterinary care. 

Find a vet who can care for cats of all ages. Call around until you find someone who is willing to perform at least the basic procedures such as checkups, prescribing medications, and creating a vaccine schedule with you. Ideally, the vet you work with will also help you learn how to care for the foster kitty along the way. If the vets you talk to aren’t comfortable treating your foster kitty, ask them to point you in the direction of someone who will. 

Day 4 to 14: 

Step 7: Socialize the kitty.

Now that you and the kitty are more settled, it’s time to look towards their future adoption day. Offer treats, play time, and lots of affection to help the kitty fall in love with humans. 

Step 8: Get the kitty healthy and sterilized.

Schedule a spay or neuter surgery once the cat is healthy. If it’s a kitten, a minimum age of 8 weeks and a weight of 2 pounds is required before a sterilization surgery. Adopting out a cat who hasn’t been spayed or neutered puts the adopter and the community at risk for the creation of even more kittens in need of homes, so sterilization must be required before the kitty is adopted.

Monitor for signs of illness and address them to get the kitty ready for adoption. Some of the signs to watch for include:

  • Diarrhea or loose stool
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite or weight loss
  • Limping or other signs of injury
  • Eye irritation and/or sneezing
  • Behavior changes

Step 9: Help the kitty learn how to be a house-cat.

Your kitty will be more likely to be adopted if they have great house manners. Make sure you offer at least 2 litter boxes when the kitty has more space to explore so they become flawless litter box users. Also provide several scratching posts and gently expose the kitty to the process of claw trimming. Last, but definitely not least, teach your foster feline how to play with toys instead of with your hands. 

Day 15:

Step 10: Start looking for adopters!

When you decided to foster the cat or kitten on your own, you vowed to find them a forever home. Once your the foster kitty is done with their quarantine period, completed the bulk of their veterinary care, and has been spayed or neutered, it’s time to find potential adopters. Advertise the kittens in your community to create interest in your foster kitty. Make sure you have an adoption screening process in place.

You can also decide on an adoption fee and create a basic contract. These tools will help you earn back part of the expenses you’ve accrued during fostering and ensure that the kitty is going to a devoted home. 

How Do You Cover the Cost of Fostering Independently?

When you’re fostering on your own, all financial responsibilities will fall on you. This means you’ll pay out of your own pocket for things like veterinary care and food. 

To earn back some of the money you’ve invested in your foster kittens, you have a couple options. You can raise money by creating a GoFundMe or simply by reaching out to your community and asking for donations. Of course, you can also crunch some numbers and decide on an adoption fee amount that will cover some of the expense you incurred. While the adoption is in the process of being finalized, you can also ask the adopter for an in-kind donation. An example of this is asking for the donation of specific items or for a financial donation for specific expenses such as the cost of a bag of litter. 

How much does it cost to foster independently?

The estimates below are based on my personal experiences, and you’ll see the significant price range of potential costs. If you’re stubborn and aren’t afraid to shop around, you can find affordable options for all aspects of foster care, but I want you to be aware of the possible worst-case-scenario. 

Item Low monthly costHigh monthly cost
Food for 4 weeks$34 for lower-quality canned food with carbohydrate fillers OR Kitten Milk Replacement for neonatal kittens.$84 for very high-quality, grain-free canned food. 
One bag of litter$6 for a 40lb bag of pellet litter at Tractor Supply$22 for 4lb 1-month supply of Pretty Litter 
2 doses of dewormer $15, depending on the vet.$50, depending on the vet.
Probiotics$24 for 16oz of Benebac powder$31 for 1.06oz of Fortiflora
Minimum of 2 FVRCP vaccines (if you’re fostering a kitten, you’ll need more than 2 boosters depending on the age of the kitten)$20, depending on the vet.$200, depending on the vet.
Rabies vaccine (if age-eligible) $15, depending on the vet. $100, depending on the vet.
Minimum of 1 vet exam$20$80
Spay or neuter surgery$60 if you can find a low-cost clinic$300. Costs increase with female adult cats if they are in heat or are already pregnant.
Basic cleaning supplies (bleach and unscented soap)Free if already on hand.$20
Microchip Free, depending on the clinic.$25
Food and water dishesFree if already on hand. You can get creative and use spare dishes.$20
Litter box and scoopFree if already on hand and disinfected.$20
BlanketsFree if already on hand. You can get creative and use old towels or sheets. $10
Heat sourceFree if you opt for a DIY version of a microwaveable rice sock. $30 if you opt for a Snuggle Safe.
Estimates are based on personal experiences.

An Independent Fostering Story

Here’s an example of the first time I heard of an unexpected and independent fostering situation. I’m sure it won’t be the last, but the second-hand information taught me a lot about the process. Please also note that the details in this example are not necessarily recommendations. Rather, they simply highlight one family’s decisions.

Step 1: Make sure the kitty is safe indoors.

Early in the spring, a family suddenly found a petite calico cat hanging out in the attic space of their barn. Before they knew it, she had given birth to a litter of five kittens: two orange tabbies, one tuxedo kitten, one black kitten with white socks, and one fluffy torti.

Once they determined that the calico was friendly enough to be approached, the family moved the six cats to an isolated indoor space where everyone could stay warm and dry.

Step 2: Quarantine the kitty from your resident pets.

The family had other cats and a few dogs, and it was important that the six fosters were kept completely separate from them. The kitties were invited to stay in the family’s heated garage. They had access to a very large metal kennel.

Unfortunately, shortly before the cats were brought into the garage, the tuxedo kitten passed away. He was the smallest baby, but other than that his death was a mystery. An important note here is that whatever suffering this poor kitten went through could have been avoided if the calico had been spayed…but we’ll get to that topic in another post.

Step 3: Provide food, water, and litter.

In the large kennel, the calico had free access to food, water, and litter. These were the bare essentials she needed to continue caring for her babies, and the family already had these supplies on hand.

Step 4: Gather your fostering supplies.

If the family didn’t have something on hand, they asked friends if they could borrow it. They borrowed items like unused scratching posts, clean cat toys, and a few food dishes.

Step 5: Set up their space.

Now that the family had the bare essentials taken care of, they were able to complete the kitties’ space. The inside of the kennel was gradually decked out with cozy blankets, enticing scratching posts, and clean food and water bowls.

Step 6: Access veterinary care.

The four remaining kittens had fleas, and a couple of them had minor eye infections. The family paid for each cat to get a vet exam, paid for the necessary medications, and gave the kittens a flea bath. The kitties continued going to vet visits as needed, particularly for dewormer doses and vaccinations.

Step 7: Socialize the kitty.

All five felines had plenty of attention an exposure to humans. The family wanted to make sure that every single one of them would be adoptable. Through lots of play and cuddles, they helped the kitties grow into loving companions.

Step 8: Get the kitty healthy and sterilized.

All five cats had to be spayed or neutered. Each spay surgery was $150, and the neuter surgeries may have been a little less. Rounding up, the family spent at least $750 on sterilization surgeries alone. But this step ensured that no new kittens would be born in their barn!

Step 9: Help the kitty learn how to be a house-cat.

Once the kittens were about five weeks old, they started spending increasing amounts of time inside the house away from their mom. They were given opportunities to learn how to scratch scratching posts instead of the carpet, how to play with toys instead of with hands, and how to refine their litter box etiquette.

Step 10: Start looking for adopters!

After several weeks, all five cats were healthy, sterilized, and old enough to be adopted. The family reached out to friends and neighbors, and soon enough all of the kittens went to loving forever homes. Each adopter reimbursed the family for the spay or neuter surgery.

With a bit of creativity and a stubborn streak, you can absolutely foster on your own. I hope that this information was educational and made you feel confident that if the situation presented itself, you could lend a hand to a feline in need.

Exploring animal welfare one foster kitten at a time

One response to “How to Foster Cats and Kittens Independently”

  1. […] You can, of course, choose to independently foster the cat by providing food, shelter, and veterinary care — this must include vaccinations and a spay or neuter surgery. If you want to learn more about fostering independently, click here. […]


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