Thursday, May 12, 2016

Is your dog ready to be a foster kitten parent?

Pug with tiny kitten
It's easier to raise a pack of foster kittens when you have the help of a community. For some people, that means teenagers. When the school day is over and the homework is through, teens can handle the demands of rambunctious kittens. And the endless patience some teens possess makes them ideal in a foster parent capacity.

But those of us with no teens of our own (or no teen neighbors who can help out in a pinch) improvisation is required, when we have foster kittens. And that improvisation can mean asking our dogs to step in and help with the kitten duties.

Some dogs are better at this than others.

My very first Boston terrier, Seamus, was an excellent foster parent. He never once did anything to them that would cause me alarm. In fact, he could be relied upon to work with my kittens when I was in the middle of doing other things. The kittens would crawl into his bed with him and they'd snooze the hours away. 

 Seamus the Boston terrier and his kitten

This is pretty much the ideal situation. But I'll say upfront that it is somewhat rare. And assuming that your dog can handle a kitten before really checking on the interaction could spell disaster for the tiny charges in your care. When it comes to kittens, it is best to be careful.

When I have foster kittens, they spend their first days in a crate at all times, and that crate is nowhere the dogs can reach it. I might put the crate up on a table or in the middle of the bed. But I never put it on the floor.

That approach allows the kittens to be in open rooms where they can be heard, but I don't have to worry about them getting hurt if they push their little arms or legs out between the bars.

When the dogs have become accustomed to the noise and the smell of the tiny things, I can start to put the crate on the floor. The dogs can smell the kitties, but they can't touch them. And at this point, I can learn a ton about how well the dogs are going to tolerate these kittens.

Sinead the Boston terrier and a small kitten

What I'm looking for is, in essence, benign neglect. I'd like the dogs to know that the kittens are there, but I want the dogs to ignore the kittens. If I can get that, I can feel comfortable with nose-to-nose interactions on a very supervised basis.

My two never cared a single bit for these kittens, one way or the other. They aren't interested in them when the kittens are in their crate, and they don't care about them when the kittens are loose. If the kittens come close, the dogs either keep on doing what they were doing, or they walk away without comment.

Essentially, my dogs treat these kittens the same way they treat the resident cats they live with every day. They ignore these guys.

Very small kitten

If my dogs showed a little *too* much interest in what the kittens were doing or if they seemed somehow afraid of the kittens and their movements, the cats and the dogs would be separated at all times. Teeny kittens aren't training tools. They are living creatures that deserve to grow up in a safe and protected space. I would never use something like this to train my dogs. And I'd encourage you to steer clear of that impulse, too.

Similarly, if my dogs showed discomfort with the kittens, I might also need to think about whether or not being a foster was right for my family. My dogs live here all year, and they should come first. Serious nervousness is hard on the system of a dog. If my canines couldn't hack it, the kittens would just have to go.

That's my theory, anyway. But I'd love to hear your thoughts. How have your dogs reacted to fosters? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know. Love to hear good stories!


  1. Mr. N is good with dog fosters... cats? Not so much.

  2. We love that you've so thoroughly thought out what fostering means - for your dogs, for you, and the kittens. Thanks for the great read!

  3. Mom is curious to know what the dogs do if the kittens try to play with them. We all know how rambunctious those little furballs can be. XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

    1. The dogs are a little freaked out by the kitten play, at this point. When the kittens come hopping, Liam and Sinead move to a different part of the room. And since the dogs always leave, the wee ones are initiating play less often. They think it doesn't work!