How to Prepare to Foster a Pet

20 questions to ask before you foster a pet

Fostering pets has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and is something I encourage everyone I know to do. But I’ve learned some big lessons along the way.

For the experience to turn out well for the foster parent and the rescue organization (and, most of all, the pet), it’s crucial that all parties communicate and be clear about their expectations and responsibilities.

Here are some questions to ask the rescue group or shelter before you sign up to foster (the group will most likely have you fill out a foster-home application as well). Don’t be alarmed if the group doesn’t have answers to all the questions you ask. Each organization has its own procedures.

Questions about the pet:

  1. How did he come to be with the shelter or rescue group and how long has he been there?
  2. Why does he need a foster home now?
  3. Does he have any medical concerns or need medication?
  4. Has he been neutered (or spayed, if the pet is female)? If not, when will he be?
  5. Is he up to date on his vaccinations and has he been tested for diseases such as FELV and FIV (cats) or heartworm (dogs)?
  6. Since conditions such as kennel cough and upper respiratory infections cannot be tested for, how long should I keep him separated from my own pets?
  7. Does he have any behavioral issues or concerns? How are they dealt with?
  8. Do you know how he is with kids, cats, dogs and/or strangers? Can my children or pets meet him before I commit to fostering him?
  9. Do you know how he does when left alone? Is he crate trained (dogs)?
  10. Is he housetrained (dogs)/litter box trained (cats)?

Questions about the fostering process:

  1. How long will I be expected to foster this pet? If it’s until a suitable home is found, how long do you expect that to take?
  2. What happens if I can no longer care for the pet?
  3. Who pays for medical bills if they arise? Does that include treatments for my pets if they catch something from my foster pet?
  4. What should I do if there’s a medical emergency?
  5. Who is responsible for communicating with potential adopters, screening them and introducing the pet to them?
  6. Will I be required to bring him to adoption events and, if so, where/when?
  7. Will you provide food, litter, supplies (such as a leash or a litter box), medications, etc., or will I be expected to?
  8. If I have a problem, whom can I contact? If I leave a message, how quickly will that person get back to me?
  9. Could my foster pet be deemed unadoptable and, if so, what happens then?
  10. Can I adopt him if I choose?

Even the best-prepared foster parent should expect the unexpected. But it’s so worth it. Like Marge, the cat with cerebellar hypoplasia whom I planned to keep for two weeks as she recovered from an upper respiratory infection — but who stayed for four months when it became obvious that she wouldn’t do well in the shelter.

Marge had to be isolated and needed daily physical therapy and enrichment work. She was one of my greatest challenges, but that just made it all the more rewarding when she found the perfect home, a devoted couple who continued her physical therapy. Last I heard, Marge is able to climb and descend stairs like a champ—something we never thought possible when she first came to the shelter.

How to Prepare Your Home for a Foster Pet

Preparing your pets

Congratulations on bringing home a foster pet! Fostering a homeless pet is both rewarding and important work. When bringing a foster pet into your home, there are a few things you’ll want to consider. If you have current pets at home, you’ll want to make sure that they’re prepared just like any other member of your family. While shelters and rescue groups are full of healthy, happy adoptable pets, keep in mind that some adoptable animals can end up in shelters and rescue groups with little available background information, or some may have health conditions which require a little extra love and care. In these cases, it is especially important that you protect your currently family pets throughout the foster process. If you choose to foster puppies or kittens, keep in mind that they often require some extra considerations, too. You’ll want to be sure to keep them separated from any current family pets to avoid potential exposure to common health issues like upper respiratory infections and worms or parasites.

Before bringing home your first foster pet, make sure that any of your current pets are up to date with their vaccinations. Talk to your veterinarian about fostering and follow their recommendations about any precautions you should take. Your  veterinarian may suggest additional vaccinations/immunizations to help best protect your current family member. As with any regular veterinary care, you will most likely be responsible for any treatments and costs related to your own pets.

Preparing your home

To protect a foster pet in a new environment (and to safeguard your belongings!) it is important to pet-proof your home. Doing so will help set you both up for foster success.

Once you have chosen an area where you will care for your foster guests, you should “pet-proof” the area. Pay attention to any small or potentially harmful objects, such as pins, needles, paper clips, nails, staples, thread, string, rubber bands, caustic/toxic chemicals, moth balls, plants and any other items that are potentially dangerous. Some animals may also be attracted to electrical cords. These items should all be blocked so they can’t get at them. Also, to ensure nothing is missed, get down at an animal’s eye-level. Look closely for any small holes or dangerous items that may have been missed at your first pass of pet-proofing

Precautions to take by room: Kitchens/Bathrooms/Utility Rooms

  • Use childproof latches to keep little paws from prying open cabinets. Be sure to keep all cabinet doors closed.
  • Keep medications, cleaners, chemicals and laundry supplies on high shelves or in childproofed cabinets.
  • Keep trashcans covered or inside a latched cabinet.
  • Check for and block any small spaces, nooks or holes inside cabinetry, furniture, floors, appliances, etc. where your foster pets may hide.  Also make certain that spaces behind washer/dryer units are closed off so your foster animals can’t get in there either.
  • Always keep your dryer and washer units closed and check them before use.
  • Keep all foods out of reach and/or in cabinets.  Even if the food isn’t harmful to pets, the wrapper could be.
  • Keep toilet lids closed

Precautions to take by room: Living/Family Room

  • Place dangling wires from lamps,TVs, etc. out of reach.  You can place the cords through PVC pipes if you’re concerned a pet might try to chew them.
  • Keep children’s toys put away.
  • Put away knickknacks that are valuable to you or could easily be knocked over.  If it is important to you, don’t leave it out.
  • Pick up any items like strings, pins, yarn, etc.
  • Move houseplants — many of which can be poisonous — out of reach.  This includes hanging plants that can be jumped onto from other nearby surfaces.
  • Secure aquariums and cages that house small animals, such as hamsters or fish, to keep them safe from curious paws.

Precautions to take by room: Garage/Basement

  • Most garages contain too many dangerous chemicals and unsafe items to be an acceptable foster site.  Foster animals should never be housed in a garage.
  • Move all chemicals to high shelves or behind secure doors.
  • Clean up any and all antifreeze from the floor and driveway. Even a very small amount can be lethal to an animal.

Precautions to take by room: Bedrooms

  • Bedrooms may not ideal situations for some foster animals.  If scared of their new environment, some animals can hide under beds and may be hard to coax out.
  • Keep laundry and shoes behind closed doors
  • Keep any medications, lotions or cosmetics off accessible surfaces (like the bedside table.)
  • Move cords out of reach of chewing.

Whatever room you choose to make your foster pet’s new home, make sure that it is easily cleaned. You should be able to disinfect it between foster pets. Carpet and other soft surfaces can harbor disease hosts from pet to pet. It is also difficult to clean up accidents on carpet, especially when they seep into the carpet pad. Areas with tile, hardwood or other impermeable surfaces are ideal places to house your foster animals.

Preparing your yard

If you have a fenced in backyard, check that there aren’t holes in the fence or any other escape route. Remember, never leave your foster dog in the backyard without your supervision. Never leave a foster dog unattended or unwatched outside. Always keep your foster dog on a leash when walking outside.