Many shelters use foster homes as a feeder network for getting cats onto their adoption floors. Other shelters are “virtual,” meaning they consist only of foster homes and adopt cats directly out of those homes, or through pet supply stores.  Fostering is a vital function in getting friendly cats and socializable kittens into adoptive homes.

If you have taken in a cat or kittens or are just looking to help out, we highly recommend that you reach out directly to humane organizations that have veterinary and foster staff and a defined, established foster program. It is important to ask for their fostering guidelines and to understand the vetting schedule, policies, procedures, their expectations of you as a foster, and the level of general and emergency support and supplies they can provide. Be wary of organizations that claim to represent multiple rescue groups, as they can add confusion to the process.

It is important to understand that fostering is not just “babysitting” cute, fuzzy kittens. Fostering isn’t just something fun to do for the kids. Fostering is a serious responsibility and, depending on the situation, can be a lot of work. Foster homes have three main purposes:

  1. Socializing cats that are shy or fearful, so they approach people
  2. Medicating and/or convalescing cats that are sick or injured, so they are healthy for adoption
  3. Holding cats while they get vaccines, deworming and other necessary vetting

Once cats are friendly and socialized, healthy and vetted, they are ready to leave their foster home and go for adoption. If you are thinking about fostering, understand that there are many cats and kittens in need. Making requests such as “I only want friendly and healthy kittens,” rules out many of the cats in need and makes you less valuable as a foster. It also adds complication for an organization that is likely inundated with requests from people who need help with cats.

Anything can happen during the foster period. Cats can get sick or the shelter may be full, meaning you need to hang on to the cats longer. If you decide to foster, consider committing for the entire length of time necessary to place the cats, not just a few weeks. It is burdensome for an organization to have to find a second foster home for your cats when they could have used that home for additional cats in need.

If you are planning to foster, you should have a separate room with a solid door, such as a bedroom or den, where you can isolate fosters cats from any resident pets, for the duration of the time you are fostering. If you will be fostering kittens or socializing shy cats, you may wish to remove any furniture that they could crawl under and hide. You may also need a large wire dog crate, especially for socializing kittens. 

If you are taking in fosters from a shelter, they should have received basic vetting before getting to you. If you are taking in cats directly from outside, be especially careful that they do not come in direct contact with your pets. There are many cat viruses and respiratory infections that can transfer to pet cats. Ringworm (a fungus), fleas, ear mites and intestinal parasites can additionally spread to dogs, ferrets or even people.

The Best Friends Fostering Guide