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Tips on fostering a pet

Opening your home to an animal in need of care—even for a short period—can be among the most rewarding experiences life has to offer.

Benefits Of Fostering A Pet

The nation’s animal shelters are crowded and often taxed to the limits of their resources, and fostering an animal is a great way to ease some of that burden. So, if you’re not already a pet owner and are unsure whether you’re up for the responsibility, fostering allows you to “test the waters” before making a larger commitment. Fostering also takes a pet out of an institutional environment and helps it reconnect with its social skills in a more relaxed home setting before moving on to its forever home. It’s a win-win!

Tips For Fostering A Pet

As a former veterinary technician, I’ve fostered a number of pets (both dogs and cats) over the years. And while some aspects are new with each foster, there are some touchstones that remain consistent. Let’s take a look at a few:

Get your home pet ready. While some shelters will outfit you with a few pet basics, you should be sure your home is ready to receive a pet before you foster. If you already have other animals, you’re probably aware of the things they need and enjoy, but if you’re a fist-time foster, you should stock a few basics. Be sure to remove any potential pet hazards (e.g., toxic plants, household chemicals, and exposed wires should be kept out of a pet’s reach) around the house. For cats, a litter pan, food and water bowls, some toys, and a comfy place to sleep should be sufficient. Dogs will need a leash or harness, food and water bowls, some chew toys, and a comfy bed. The shelter or your vet can recommend a healthy dog or cat food.

Work with a reputable shelter. Find a local shelter with a solid reputation. (For example, we recently fostered a trio of kittens from PAWS and ended up adopting one.) Most shelters welcome the help that a foster home can provide, and fostering frees the shelter’s space, staff, and resources to care for other pets. Shelter staff can guide you through the fostering process and help you complete the proper paperwork. Some shelters also have staff trainers or behaviorists who can help you address problem behaviors and develop your pet’s “house manners.” Shelter staff can also inform you of any immunizations your foster has received or will need.

Understand that each animal is unique. Like people, no two pets are alike. Each has its own personality, and often its own quirks. As a foster, it’s hard to know each pet’s backstory, but if the animal is coming through the shelter system, you can be sure that some of its journey has been difficult. Some pets have special medical needs, which the shelter can describe during the course of the foster application process. Other pets may have some behavioral issues (such as fear of loud noises, separation anxiety, not good with other animals or kids, etc.), and these too should be disclosed before you foster.

Be patient. Animals that have spent any significant time in an institutional setting usually need time to acclimate to their new surroundings. There are unfamiliar smells, new textures, and a whole new world to check out. So, don’t be surprised if your new foster isn’t all cuddles from the outset. Cats are already notorious isolators, so let them come to you. Dogs may be more sociable, but again, let the animal dictate the pace of your interaction. Your presence should be steadying, calm, loving, and reassuring to your foster. Remember, it’s all about building trust.

Consider making your foster an adoption. After your foster’s acclimation period, you may begin to notice a special bond begin to form between you and your animal. You enjoy playing together, your foster eagerly seeks your affection, and you start to find it difficult to imagine your life without this animal in it. Often the process is organic and mutual. If you find yourself ready to make the leap from foster to owner, contact the shelter and inquire about applying to adopt. The staff can describe the process and help you with the paperwork.

We hope these tips will help you decide if fostering a pet is the right choice for you!


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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