Nobody likes them. But they happen. We want to be up front about the risks of fostering and let you know that it's possible to experience an emergency situation while caring for a cat. They're living creatures, after all. We hope you never have to call us due to an emergency, but we have a plan just in case!
In the words of late author Douglas Adams, "Don't panic!"
The best thing you can do is be prepared in case an emergency does happen.
- Have emergency supplies on hand. For kittens, this includes a sugar source (such as light Karo syrup), a heat source (such as a microwavable heating pad or rice heating pad), and some 1mL or 3mL syringes (we can provide you with a few of these if needed).
- Know what to do. Review our emergency protocols and learn what we consider to be an emergency. You can also take online training courses on pet first aid through Red Cross, or download their app.
Know what to look for
What constitutes a medical emergency? A good rule of thumb is any situation in which you would call 911 for a person. Here are some specific symptoms that could indicate an emergency:
- Not breathing or labored breathing
- Symptoms of fading kitten syndrome or distemper
- Multiple rounds of liquid diarrhea or vomiting in quick succession
- Signs of extreme dehydration: dry gums, weakness, vomiting, not urinating, skin tenting (when the skin is pulled up, it stays there)
- Abnormal lethargy or unable to stand
- Unconsciousness or unable to wake up
- Cold to the touch
- Broken bones
- A large wound or profuse bleeding that doesn’t stop when pressure is applied
- Loss of appetite for more than 12 hours (for kittens) or more than 48 hours (for adult cats)
1. Keep calm - you will be stressed out and likely even emotional, but it's important to stay as calm as possible when dealing with an emergency so that we can do everything we can to get you through it smoothly.
2. Gather information - we'll be asking you for this info when you call, so if you are able to think about these questions ahead of time it will help speed up our consultation. Things to note: When did the cat last eat? How much? What does their feces look like? What is their energy level like? Are they currently on any medications? When did symptoms begin? If a traumatic event, what events led up to the trauma? What is the cat's breathing like? Gum color/texture? Responsiveness to stimuli?
3. Call us - We have an emergency hotline, which you can locate on your foster paperwork (you may want to save it your phone contacts, too).
4. Follow instructions - Depending on the situation, we may ask you to monitor the cat, provide at-home care, or bring the cat to us for treatment. You may not take your cat to a private vet or animal hospital without our consent - we are unable to reimburse you for any unauthorized emergency vet costs.
In the event your foster cat/kitten passes while in your care, you'll need to hold onto them until we can determine next steps. Call us and let us know what happened, and we'll walk you through what to do.
Fading kitten syndrome
Fading kitten syndrome describes a kitten that “crashes”—it suddenly becomes ill or unresponsive, even if it was previously healthy. While many things can cause fading kitten syndrome, the two most common are hypothermia (being cold) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). There could also be other underlying issues, such as congenital defects, disease, etc. that may not be treatable. While there is no guarantee that a fading kitten will survive even with immediate medical intervention, following this emergency protocol could save its life!
- Hypothermia/low temperature—feeling cool or cold to the touch, particularly in limbs/extremities.
- Lethargy—inability to stand up, or is unresponsive to touch
- Labored breathing—exaggerated breathing, often with mouth open
- Excessive meowing—particularly loud, pained cries combined with any of the above symptoms
If you think your foster kitten is exhibiting these symptoms, don’t wait!
- Provide warmth—wrap the kitten in a blanket or towel with a heat source.
- Make sure the heat source is not directly touching the kitten, but is covered by a cloth or blanket.
- Don't have a heat source? Put uncooked rice into a clean sock, knot the end, and microwave for 2-3 minutes.
- No microwave? Put hot (not boiling) water into a doubled-up Ziploc bag.
- Increase blood sugar—use light Karo corn syrup or mix some sugar into warm water until it dissolves. Use a syringe or finger to place a few drops of sugar source into the kitten’s mouth every 3 minutes.
- Use a stopwatch or timer to help!
- If the kitten cannot swallow, rub the sugar source onto its gums (do not use too much)
- Call the Foster Emergency Hotline located on your foster paperwork—tell us your name, the name of the kitten, and what you are currently doing to help the kitten. We will together determine if any additional steps are needed.
If the kitten has not begun to improve within 15 minutes, their chance of survival is very low, but in some cases we may be able to provide more specialized emergency care. If the kitten does not pull through, please remember that you have done everything you can, and that the kitten could have other underlying, non-treatable issues.
Despite our best efforts, there may be times when a kitten or ailing cat passes away in a foster home, sometimes unexpectedly. For kittens, this can be especially upsetting. For hospice cats, it may still be a shocking event, despite knowing the cat had a terminal condition. Whatever the situation, we're here to help you through the process and support you.
Here are a few things that will happen in the event of loss:
- We'll want to find out as much information as possible. This is especially important if we're suspicious of a contagious disease, or if multiple kittens in a litter pass. We'll need to send you our procedure for disinfecting your home, in order to make it safe for any future cats.
- Depending on where you live, there are laws regarding how you can lay an animal to rest. Often times, cremation is the only viable option. If you are interested in keeping your foster cat's remains, you'll need to cover the cost of cremation - which can cost around $100-150. If not (and we completely understand if this is the case), we'll take the animal into our care and make the appropriate arrangements.
- We'll let you take all the time you need. We hope you'll consider fostering with us again, but there's no rush. Everyone responds to loss differently and that's okay. We're here for you.
Cleaning your home
It's a good idea to clean and disinfect your home between foster cats (especially for underaged kittens). Even more so if you've experienced an illness or loss. Here is a great self-paced webinar from Maddie's Fund on how to properly disinfect your home (16 minutes):