Fostering a cat requires a lot of dedication and commitment. Do you think you have what it takes to be a foster pet parent?
Your local animal shelter and rescue groups work hard to prepare dogs and cats for adoption. But they only have so much room. They often turn to people in the community to foster felines until they’re ready to find their forever home. That’s where you might be able to help.
A Rewarding Experience
All kinds of cats need fostering while they wait for adoption. Orphaned kittens, feral kittens, and adult cats fill animal shelters nationwide. To give them the best chance possible to find a loving home, rescue organizations often hold adoption events — but unfortunately, many cats and kittens still aren’t adopted.
When there are too many cats waiting for adoption, that’s when foster parents come in. But that’s not the only reason fosters are needed. Many rescue organizations don’t have facilities at all.
Those kinds of facilities rely on fosters to take in feline “guests” until they’re ready for adoption.
There are a few other reasons why certain organizations need foster “parents” for pets. For instance, a kitten may still be too young for adoption — and they may need a safe, temporary home to stay in while they get a little older. Additionally, an animal may be injured and need veterinary care, but can’t always stay at the vet’s office overnight. Fostering can help animals in all these kinds of situations
What to Know Before Fostering a Cat
Now, imagine you’ve decided to be a foster parent and help out your local shelter or humane society. That’s awesome! But before you take a kitty of your own home, you will want to get as much information as possible beforehand.
While fostering a cat is incredibly rewarding, it’s important to note that there will be costs involved. Who’s going to pay for veterinary care, or things like litter and food? Will you have to buy a litter box? Will you be responsible for taking the cat to adoption events?
These are all things to ask the animal rescue group you’re working with. Find out if the group will pay for everything, if you’ll have to pay, or if you will share expenses. Then, you can find the right animal and organization that fits with what you are able to provide.
Other Important Considerations
Now, there are plenty of other things you need to know before you commit to fostering a cat. It’s important to find out as much as you can about the cat you’re considering taking into your home. Here are some important questions to get you started:
- Why hasn’t the animal been adopted?
- Are there any health or behavioral problems?
- Did the organization spay or neuter the animal?
- Are the cat’s vaccinations up to date?
- Has the cat been tested for feline diseases?
- How does the cat act around children, strangers, and other pets?
- How long does the shelter/rescue group expect it’ll take to find kitty a new home?
Also, make sure you can quickly contact someone with the rescue group, humane society, or shelter. An unexpected problem could pop up, or there might be other questions you forgot to ask.
Tips on Fostering a Cat
Whether you take in an adult feline or a kitten, you will need to have some patience. Having prior experience with cats will also help make the experience go as smooth as possible. Here are a few tips on fostering kittens and adult cats.
→Fostering a Litter of Abandoned or Orphaned Kittens
Your local rescue organization may have a litter of abandoned or orphaned kittens who need fostering. If you’re willing to take on the responsibility, you’ll be acting like a sort of temporary mother for a while.
The first thing you’ll need to do is set up a nest for the kittens. You can use some disposable bedding to keep them cozy and comfortable, and you may consider adding a heating pad underneath the bedding to keep them warm.
To keep the heating pad from being soiled, it’s a good idea to put some cardboard in between the bedding and the heating pad. This can keep the kittens from getting too hot, too. Just make sure to check the bedding and cardboard at least once daily. If it’s soiled, switch it out for new, clean materials.
Feed them kitten formula using a syringe or a bottle. Your vet, or the rescue group, can show you what and how to feed young kittens. If the kittens are newborns, you’ll need to feed them every two to four hours.1
→ Fostering Kittens With a Nursing Mother
If you’re taking in kittens along with their mother, the mother cat will do most of the work, of course. But there are still a few things you’ll need to do.
First, you’ll want to give them a box to stay in. The sides will need to be tall enough to keep the kittens in, but low enough so the mother can get out.
Keep layers of bedding in the box, but remember to remove the layers as they become soiled.
Don’t interfere with feeding. Let the mother do what she needs to do, as long as she needs to do it. Just make sure that mom has plenty of food nearby.2 The rescue organization or humane society will either supply the food, or tell you what to buy.
→ Fostering Adult Cats
The biggest thing you’ll want to do when bringing in an adult cat is to make sure they feel at ease. This is important for a lot of reasons — for example, the cat might not want to eat at first because of the new surroundings.
This can be dangerous because if a cat doesn’t eat for more than a day, that can lead to serious health problems. That might lead to the need for veterinary care.3 So if the cat you’re fostering won’t eat, try to entice them with tuna or treats.
Also, you’ll want to provide a comfortable bed, a bowl of water and a litter box, and you’ll need to clean the box every day.
Introducing a Foster Cat to an Existing Pet
If you’re thinking of being a foster parent, it’s clear that you love animals. So it’s only natural that you might already have a pet or two in your home. If that’s the case, you’ll want to do a little planning to ensure your guest gets along with your resident pet (or pets).
Let’s first look at how to introduce a foster cat to another cat.
→ Introducing a Foster Cat to a Resident Cat
See if the animal rescue group or shelter has a blanket that the foster cat has slept on for a while. If so, you can ask to bring it home for a couple of days. If your resident cat already knows the scent, that could reduce the chances your kitty will be upset when the foster cat arrives.
Make space for the foster animal in a separate room. Set the room up with food, litter, water, bedding, and a couple of toys. Put the foster cat’s dish on one side of the door, and put your cat’s dish on the other side.
This will allow both cats to associate each other’s presence with something positive (food). That could help ease tensions when it’s time for the cats to meet.
If things are going well, try switching the living arrangement. Put the resident cat in the room where the foster cat was staying. Then, let the foster roam through the house. Leave the litter boxes where they were, as well as the food and water dishes. This will help the cats to get more used to each others’ scents.
Now it’s time for the cats to see each other. Open the door to the room, but put a pet gate across the entrance. If everything seems fine, introduce your guest to your resident pets. Supervise closely, and make sure there’s no fighting.
The cats don’t have to be best friends, of course. As long as they tolerate each other, consider your efforts successful.
But if the cats are still hissing or fighting after about a week, you might have to return the foster. After all, the safety of both cats comes before anything else.4
→ Introducing a Foster Cat to a Resident Dog
If you have a pet dog, you’ll want to keep them separated from the foster cat for a few days. Leave the cat’s food near the door, and put some treats for the dog on the other side. That way, they will smell and hear each other.
Put the dog in the room after a few days, and let the cat roam. Then, put the cat back into the room. The dog will experience the cat’s scent throughout the home.
Have someone hold the dog on a leash and bring in the cat when it’s introduction time. See if the cat will stay in your lap, or next to you on the couch. Gradually bring the two closer to each other. Give the dog treats to encourage calm behavior.
If it looks like the two will be able to get along, that’s great. If not, keep them separated.5
Eventually, the time will come for your cat to be adopted. It can be hard for some foster parents to give up an animal they’ve no doubt bonded with. But doing so will give them the chance to save another life by fostering another cat. There are a few things that might make it easier for you to let go.
One thing you can do is try and get friends and family members to bond with the cat. Going out tonight? Have a friend “cat sit” for you. That way, you won’t feel as though the cat is yours exclusively. You won’t worry the cat will be unhappy with someone else when adoption time comes.
This won’t only help you, it will also help the cat’s socialization with other people.
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
People choose to foster cats and kittens in hopes that they will eventually become some other person’s beloved pet. In doing so, they help save lives. Don’t be worried if you become so attached you can’t the animal go. If that happens, congratulations! You’re adopting a pet who will give you years of loving companionship, and lots of snuggly purring!
Also, remember to spay or neuter your pets. If more people did so, that would reduce the need for foster homes.