Things to Know Before Fostering a Dog or Cat

Before you foster

Before you foster, ask yourself these questions:

Are you able to separate the foster pets from your own?

You should have a place where you can isolate your foster pet from your own companion animals. A separate room or enclosed area with no carpet will work best.

Are you prepared to pet-proof your home?

Preparing your home and the area the animal will stay in can prevent most accidents, help keep you pet safe and help set you both up for fostering success.

Are you willing to help a pet with medical concerns or who may need medication?

Ask if your foster pet has any medical considerations to be aware or any medication he needs to take. If so, make sure that you're willing and able to make sure your foster pet is getting the medication or care that he or she may need.

Can you get to the shelter's vet quickly in case of an emergency?

Talk to the shelter or rescue group about how they prefer you handle any emergencies, should they arise. The shelter or rescue group likely works with a veterinarian who can treat your foster pet. If the animal you are fostering needs medical attention, you will need to transport him or her to the veterinarian's office or shelter for care.

What will you do to prepare to return the pet after the foster period is up?

Sometimes it can be difficult to let go once you have become emotionally attached to an animal! Be prepared for a few tears when the day comes that you must bring your first foster pet back to the shelter or to an adoptive home. But remember, he or she is now much more likely to find a loving, permanent home because of YOUR care!

Do you feel comfortable explaining to friends that these pets are not yours to adopt out and that they must go through the regular adoption process at the shelter?

If you are interested in helping to find a home for your foster pet, refer your friends and family to the shelter or rescue group to complete an adoption application.


To be a successful foster parent, you will need a compassionate nature, the cooperation of your family or roommates, flexibility, and some knowledge of animal behavior. The length of time a foster pet may stay in your home varies with the animal's situation.

You will most likely be asked to fill out a foster application and you may be asked to attend a training session. Shelter or rescue group staffers may conduct a home visit prior to your receiving your first foster pet.

Foster Policies and Procedures

Every adoption organization has its own policies and procedures when it comes to fostering.

Most likely, a foster-care coordinator will work with you to identify the type of pet you should foster (puppies, large or small dogs, cats, etc.).

Many organizations require that a foster parent's own pets are up-to-date on all vaccinations before the volunteer can foster.

Some organizations will provide the foster parent with food and supplies for the pet's care.

Preparing Your Home

If you are fostering kittens or puppies, remember that they will play or chew anything they can find, including drapes, electrical cords and lampshades. So be sure to kitten-/puppy-proof your home.

To learn more, read How to Prepare Your Home for a Foster Pet.

Supplies You May Need:

A "house" for the pet: You can use the carrier in which you took the animal home, a crate or a cardboard box -- anything that will provide the pet a familiar-smelling, dark, quiet refuge.

Water: Provide access to clean, fresh water at all times. Remember, very young animals can drown, so make sure the bowl is very shallow.

Food: Speak with the shelter or rescue group about what kind of food, the amounts and how often to feed your foster pet. The shelter or rescue group will also tell you if the pet you are fostering needs any special foods, supplements or diets.

Litter box and cat litter for foster cats: Cats will instinctively use a litter box and mom will begin teaching her kittens how to use it. Speak with your shelter or rescue group about whether it prefers you use clumping or non-clumping litter, as some require non-clumping litter for kittens younger than four months old.

Heating pad or hot water bottle: Depending on how warm your room is, these extras will ensure that everyone is comfy and cozy. If you use any of these items, be sure that there is space for the pet to move away from the heat in case she is too hot, and always place heating pads on the lowest setting.

Toys: Go crazy if you want! Mice and buzz balls make kittens happy and can be reused as long as animals do not have any contagious diseases. Kittens can amuse themselves with empty rolls of toilet paper.

Scale: Although not critical to success, a food or postal scale is very helpful for monitoring small kittens' growth, which averages four ounces a week.

Other considerations: A bottle of enzymatic cleaner for accidents; a rope or carpet scratching post; and adoption applications to give to people who are interested in your foster care animals.

When to Return a Foster Pet to the Shelter

If you're fostering through a shelter with a physical location, sometimes it is difficult for shelter staff to predict the exact date when the pet will be ready for adoption. Several factors contribute to this decision:

  1. Did the puppies/kittens gain enough weight?
  2. Are the animals healthy and recovered fully from illness?
  3. Are they successfully weaned from their mother?
  4. Have they been successfully socialized?
  5. Is there room at the shelter?

Because of these variables, the foster pet may not be ready for adoption by the date on your foster home contract. Please call the foster home coordinator to make an appointment to return your pet. Your flexibility and patience are always appreciated!