Becoming a foster is one of the best things you can do to support your local animal shelter or pet rescue. Cat fosters are needed year round, but especially during kitten season (in the springtime) and emergency weather events. If you’ve decided to foster cats, whether long term or temporarily, there are a few things to know before you get started.
Sign Up Now
Offer to step up as a foster volunteer by contacting your local animal shelter or rescue organization now. Even if they don’t have an animal ready for you, it’s best to apply as soon as possible so that you’ll be approved ahead of time.
Let the shelter know you are willing to temporarily foster kittens or cats in an emergency and maintain a good relationship with the specific shelter staff in charge of the fostering program.
Pet-Proof Your Foster Cat Room
When entering a new environment, some cats may urine spray the walls or furniture. This is a way for wary cats to feel more at home in a new environment. Before the cat enters the designated room, make sure any heirlooms or new furniture has been removed. Use commercial cleaning products that contain chemicals designed to remove the odor and smell caused by pet urine.
Unlike dogs, cats feel safe off the floor, so provide a cat tree or sturdy elevated, padded shelf in the room for the foster cat to roost. Aim to spend time petting and playing with them three or four times a day as your schedule permits.
Once the cat has gotten used to your home (and you can confirm that they’re not having accidents), you can give them a wider space to roam.
Wait to Introduce New Pets
If possible, keep short-term fosters separated from your personal pets, especially other cats. You may not receive medical information on these foster felines, and you don’t want to risk exposing your cats to contagious diseases. This also avoids sparking a feline altercation that could result in injury to the cats and even to you.
If you can spare a bedroom or spacious laundry room for the foster cats and kittens, it can be a great temporary solution for everyone. If your foster is long term, make introductions slowly and at your pet’s comfort level. A new animal can cause stress on everyone, so take it as slowly as you need.
Dogs tend to be pleasers, but cats are observation learners who take time to build trust. Avoid rushing up to greet a kitten or cat. Instead, coax them towards you using a wand toy or an extended index finger for them to sniff and rub their cheeks against as a kitty “hello.”
Recognize Signs of Stress in Cats
Signs of stress in cats can include dilated pupils, ears flattened back or out to the side, body low to the ground, freezing in place, hair on the back puffed up, a low growl or hissing, and perhaps panting or rapidly breathing.
If your foster cat is exhibiting any of these signs, try to spray a calming or pheromone spray throughout the cat’s designated room and carrier. These scents mimic feline odors and are designed to calm down cats.
When you need to pick up a frightened foster cat, keep yourself from harm by wrapping him in a thick bath towel. Always pick up the toweled cat from the back with his head facing away from you.
Share What You Learn with Your Shelter
When fostering cats, you’ll want to act like a detective around your temporary guests. The shelter may not have a complete picture of the cat’s behavioral or medical history, so take note if these cats or kittens aren’t eating, have diarrhea or experience other health or behavioral changes that warrant a call to the shelter foster manager or your local veterinarian.
When the need for fostering comes to an end, you may find that you have bonded with the cat. If you have the space and the financial ability to adopt, view yourself not as a “foster failure” but as a “foster success.” Of course, the point of fostering cats or other shelter animals is to give them food, shelter and an enriching environment to thrive and win a permanent home. In some cases, that home may be yours.