6 min read

Do You Have What It Takes to be a Foster Pet Parent?

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Overview

Want to help give homeless animals a second chance at happiness? Fostering a pet is a “woofderful” way to do just that. Fostering means giving a pet in need a safe and loving home for a temporary period, and it can be a truly rewarding experience.

But fostering a pet is also a big commitment and is no walk in the park, so it’s crucial that you know exactly what you’re getting into before signing up. 

Are you cut out to be a foster parent to pets in need? Keep reading to find out.

Why foster a pet?

There are lots of reasons why fostering a dog or cat is so rewarding. It benefits animals in need, provides crucial help to animal shelters and rescue groups, and offers a host of positives for you, too. 

Fostering out animals allows animal rescue organizations to free up space for more homeless pets in their shelters. It gives fostered animals a chance to adapt to life in a home environment before going to their “furever” home, and it ensures that those dogs and cats that need a little extra-special 1-on-1 care are looked after properly.

Some groups even operate on a foster-only basis, so they wouldn’t be able to find new homes for animals in need without their network of foster carers. And by giving a homeless pet socialization, human interaction, and a stay in a loving home environment, you’ll help increase their chances of being adopted. 

Then there’s your own personal situation to consider. When you foster, you get to help an animal in need get a second chance at real happiness, which is incredibly rewarding. In some cases, you could even help stop dogs and cats being euthanized. So if you’ve ever wanted to do something to help animals in need, fostering is a way you can make a real difference.

Fostering might also be worth considering if you’re not able to commit to pet parenthood for life. For example, maybe your job requires you to relocate regularly, so providing a loving home for a pet on a temporary basis might be a better fit for your lifestyle. So even if you can’t make a multi-year commitment to a pet, fostering lets you channel your love of pets into something positive. 

woman holding a black cat in front of a cat tower

Is fostering a pet hard?

It’s important to remember that fostering involves a whole lot more than hours of snuggle time with a delightful doggo or cuddly kitty. There’s plenty of hard work required, not to mention a big commitment of time and energy, so fostering isn’t for everyone.  

The most obvious challenge you’ll face — and one that puts many people off the idea of fostering — is eventually saying goodbye to your foster animal. Remember, while fostering is only a temporary arrangement, you will form a bond with any dog or cat in your care. And while the aim at the end of the day is to send them off to their forever home, saying goodbye to a foster can be heartbreaking.

On a day-to-day basis, you’ll need to ensure that you give the foster dog or cat all the care they need to stay safe, healthy, and happy. So as well as feeding them and taking care of their daily exercise requirements, you’ll also need to provide obedience training and opportunities for socialization, plus ensure that they get sufficient mental stimulation.

Some also have health issues that require specialist care. For example, you may need to give an injured pet a safe space in which to recover, or regularly administering medication may be an important part of your daily duties.

Then there’s the fact that some shelter animals have lived tough lives before ending up in a shelter. Some have been abused, others have received little or no training, and many will still be in the process of learning all the skills they need to be a family pet. Caring for pets with behavioral issues can be challenging, so it takes a special type of pet parent to take the plunge and foster a dog or cat.

Finally, there’s the financial side of things to consider. Many animal welfare groups and shelters will cover the cost of your foster pet’s food, bedding, and vet bills. That’s not always the case, however, and you may end up out of pocket. That’s why it’s a good idea to find out which costs the shelter will cover before you sign up to foster a pet.

What does it take to be a successful foster pet parent?

If you’re thinking of becoming a pet foster parent, you’ll need certain skills and attributes to succeed. These include:

  • A love of animals. Some people love the idea of caring for a dog or cat but aren’t quite prepared for all the hard work and responsibility of raising a pet. You need a genuine love of animals to be able to welcome them into your home and your heart, and to put in the hard work to provide the care they need. 

  • Time and energy. Caring for a foster pet requires you to make sacrifices. You need to be willing to put in lots of time and effort each day to keep your foster animal happy and healthy. If you’re time-poor, you may not be ready to foster an animal.

  • Knowledge of animal behavior. Some basic knowledge of dog or cat psychology will help you provide a higher level of care to your foster friend. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of what makes a pet feel anxious, frightened, or intimidated, and what you can do to make them feel comfortable. Being able to understand cat or dog body language will also make it easier to manage your temporary houseguest.  

  • Patience. Caring for foster animals isn’t always easy. They may have "accidents" due to not being properly house-trained, they may be timid or aggressive, and they may not get along with your own pets. However, if you’re going to be a successful pet foster parent, you'll need a healthy dose of patience and an ability to take everything in your stride.

  • Mental strength. You’ll need to mentally prepare yourself for the fact that the dog or cat you foster won’t be yours forever. While it’s wonderful when your foster pet is ready to go to their new home, the joy of the situation is also tinged with sadness. Dealing with these separations takes mental strength.

How to prepare to foster a dog or cat

OK, so you’ve decided you’re going to foster a pet. What next?

You can now contact an animal shelter or rescue group near you to find out what’s involved in fostering a pet. For example, find out what types of foster animals are available, what sort of care they need, and how long the animal would stay in your home. Also find out whether the shelter provides food, supplies, and vet care for foster animals, and whether your home must meet any specific requirements (eg, a fenced-in yard) before you can welcome a foster friend.

Next, think about how you can prepare yourself for the arrival of a foster pet. That could mean anything from brushing up on your dog training skills to preparing yourself emotionally for saying goodbye to your foster animal when the time comes. You’ll also need to make sure the rest of your household is prepared to foster an animal and help provide the care that pet needs.

If you’re a first-time foster carer, it’s probably a good idea to start with a pet with relatively low-level care requirements. Once you’ve got some experience under your belt, you’ll be better placed to offer a loving and supporting home for those animals with special care needs.

Finally, you’ll need to make sure that your home is ready for a foster pet. For example, are all potentially harmful objects out of reach of pets? If you’ve got other pets, will the foster animal need to be kept separated from them? Is your yard secure enough for a curious pup?

Check out our guides to puppy-proofing your home and making your yard safe for a dog for more advice to help you prepare for a foster animal. There are also some useful tips on cat-proofing your home in our guide to preparing to adopt a cat.

white dog wearing a yellow bandana that says "adopt me"

Saying goodbye

Let’s face it, when you’re caring for a foster dog or cat for weeks or even months, it’s impossible not to become attached. So when the time comes to say goodbye to your furry foster, don’t expect it to be easy. 

And while it’s natural to be upset, remember that this is also a time for happiness. The dog or cat you’ve nurtured is leaving you to go to their forever home, so be proud that you’ve helped them on their journey to a better life. Even though you’ll miss them, you know they’re going somewhere they’ll feel safe and loved.

Of course, the dog or cat you’re minding could end up as a "foster fail". There are plenty of stories out there about pet parents who were only giving a home to a dog or cat for a short period, but they fell in love with the pet and a temporary visit turned into a lifelong stay. Who knows? If you form a special bond with your foster pet, you might decide that their forever home is right here with you.

Preparing to welcome a foster pet into your home and already the proud pet parent of a delightful doggo? If you’re worried about how they’ll react to the arrival of a new (temporary) furry family member, book a session with an in-home dog trainer on the Wag! app to teach them how to accept their foster brother or sister.


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