AUSTIN (KXAN) — From March to October, cats frequently give birth to their litters of kittens, creating a strain on animal shelters often referred to as “kitten season.”

The “Anti-Hero” litter of kittens must be bottle fed every two to three hours. (Courtesy: Austin Pets Alive!)

Sometimes, these kittens are orphaned and require human volunteers to weigh and bottle feed them every two to three hours, according to a press release from Austin Pets Alive! (APA!).

The animal protection organization is currently in need of volunteers to help them with this around-the-clock work after it received 20 orphaned kittens.

“Bottle baby fostering is a rewarding experience because the kittens depend on humans for survival; they need round-the-clock attention and care to thrive,” an APA! press release read. “APA! has already experienced a busy start to kitten season, with fosters helping save more than 450 kittens this year.”

APA! provided KXAN with an updated count of 700 kittens just a day after the press release, an increase of 250 kittens.

Those interested in fostering kittens through APA! can apply online. Donations can be made online as well.

Inside the APA! neonatal kitten program

Jennifer Parks has run APA!’s neonatal kitten foster program for the last five years.

The program takes on kittens under the age of six months old, whether brought in by the public or from local animal shelters.

An Austin Pets Alive! worker holds a days-old kitten after feeding it. (KXAN Photos/Cora Neas)

“Over the course of a single day, a kitten might be found outside, brought to Austin Animal Center, sent to us, and we will send them into foster homes by the end of that same day,” Parks said. “The wonderful thing about the neonatal kitten program specifically is that we have foster opportunities for all kinds of time commitments.”

A few weeks after birth, a kitten will only need to be fed every four to five hours. The program also needs fosters for nursing families, which includes a mother cat and her kittens. These families require less attention from a foster, Parks said.

APA! said that 425 bottle baby fosters saved 2,300 kittens in 2022.

“We rescue thousands of kittens every year,” Parks said. “This year we’re slightly ahead of that in terms of intake. This is just the end of the first quarter, and we’ve already rescued more than 700 animals. We want to keep that rescue going and to do that we need more foster parents and more support.”

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a major rethinking of the neonatal kitten program, Parks said. Prior to the pandemic, the program housed 100-140 kittens in the same space, and used more volunteers at the program.

“We switched very rapidly to a foster-based system, in which animals come from a sending shelter at the start of the day, through intake here, and into a foster home,” Parks said. “Three years into COVID…we have this new system that has resulted in a higher live release rate. We’re so proud of the work that we’ve done.”