Fostering - what is it?

Fostering is keeping animals in your home on a temporary basis. You take an animal into your home with the understanding that it will stay until a permanent owner is found for the animal. Either the animal is reclaimed (if it was a lost pet) or is adopted.

Fostering allows the animal to live in a better environment than at a shelter. The animal is in a home, and getting more indiviudalized care than would be possible at a shelter.

Fostering helps shelters expand their capability to help animals. You are providing additional care and space. This is an important contribution!

Where do you get your fosters?

I get my fosters from the shelter where I volunteer. Some people do their own rescue, vetrinarians may direct people to them or they might get their fosters by word of mouth. "so and so found a litter of kittens, can you take them?"

Adults vs kittens

Fostering kittens and adults are very different. Each has its own set of needs and its own challenges. The animals brought to shelters are often in rough shape. You will need to be able to monitor your foster's health and provide care in your home. This could include medication, shots, bathing, and vet trips.

Kittens often arrive very young, sometimes only a few days old. Bottle feeding kittens is very time consuming, but also very rewarding. Kittens are very fragile, get sick easily and need a LOT of care. Fostering kittens may sound like tons of fun, and it is, but it is also tons of work! Kittens need to be wormed and vaccinated. Any signs of illness such as discharge from their eyes, coughing, sneezing, decreased appetite, decreased energy level, or change in stool consistency should be taken seriously! It is not uncommon to have a fever spike quickly, or dehydration to set in in a matter of *hours.* Young kittens can die overnight when they seemed mostly fine the day before.

Adult cats require much less oversight than kittens. Their immune systems are fully developed, so they are much more resistant to getting sick. Often we do not know the background of our shelter animals. Adults have lived somewhere else before. What habits did they learn? Animals turned into a shelter are often done so for behavioral problems, can you cope with an adult who might be aggressive or never learned what a scratchingpost is? some behaviors are not evident while at the shelter, or the person who turns in the cat may not give the whole story.

Senior cats are very low key but have special needs of their own. They need to be watched almost as closely as kittens. An increase in how much they drink could be a sign of diabetes or the start of kidney failure. A lump under the skin could be cancerous, if it grows quickly it must be removed. Senior cats may have impaired vision, hearing, and smell. They can also develop arthritis or heart disease. Like adult cats, we often do not know their history.

Senior cats, however, are the most appreciative foster you will ever have. A senior cat who has been in a shelter is very happy to be in a home, with someone consistant to look after them, and with time to share. An older cat may still play, but will also be happy for quiet company while watching tv. They are much less demanding than kittens and young cats!

Important things to consider

What are the regulations about pet ownership where you live?
Many counties have regulations on the number and type of pets you are allowed to have in your house. Check with your local animal control to learn what is and is not allowed in your house! It may seem like a good idea to 'sneak' in extras, but it is unfair to the animals. They could be confiscated, euthanized, and you could be charged with the violation of county ordinances. That will have a big impact on your ability to do rescue in the future!
How many pets can YOU care for at once, and still give each quality care?
Taking care of healthy pets is easy, but once one gets sick suddenly there is much more to do!
Many illnesses are contagious, if one cat gets sick, it can spread to the other cats in the house. How many sick animals can you take care of?
Food and litter cost! Your may not always be able to get food and litter donated, or may run out before the shelter can give you more (if you are fostering for a shelter). Can you afford to buy food and litter for your fosters?
Medical care also costs! If your foster is sick and needs medical attention, you may have to take it to your local vet. Can you afford to pay for this care? Some shelters work with vets, but are you close enough to take the foster to that vet? Can the foster's illness wait until you go to the shelter next? Emergencies can't wait. Can you afford a trip to the emergency vet?

Quarntine new arrivals!

You never know what your fosters have been exposed to. Shelters have a lot of traffic, animals come from all different situations. Therefore the risk of a shelter animal being exposed to assorted virii, bacteria, and funal infections is high. Remember that animals can be carriers, exposing others to a disease, without showing symptoms.

To guard agaisnt exposing your home population to whatever the fosters may carry, it is a good idea to have a quarantine policy. New animals should be kept seperate from the established animals. I quaranien for two weeks, some people do a longer or shorter time period. You can disucss this with your vet to come up with a workable amount of time. I generally keep my quarantines in a cage or pen for their entire two weeks. It is easy to clean, to make sure other cats do not have contact, or only limited contact, with them, and it is easy to monitor how much the new animal eats, drinks, etc.

Sharing space with the permanent cats...or not

soem cats mix well with others, some do not. Whether or not you want your fosters to mix with your established cats is up ot you. I keep seniors seperate from kittens to minimize the stress. Most seniors do not want to deal with kittens all day long.
Kittens benefit from socializing with other cats, it also will help them adjust to a new home that has other animals. But kittens also get sick easily and can be bullied by an adult cat. You need to determine on a kitten by kitten basis who can a dcan't intermix with your cats.

Food and medication

Often if you are fostering for a shelter or rescue, they can help you with food and medication. The shelter I foster for allows me to have donated cat food and allows me to take meds that I need from their supply. But sometimes they do not have enough or any of what I need for my fosters.

There are several ways I have found to save money on medicatoin and food costs. The first, strange as this may sound, is ebay. I have found products like Advantage for much lower prices than my vet or local stores or most online stores offer. I also have found many coupons, often in large lots, for high quality foods and litter.
Doing many searcheson the web, and e-mailing with people who I have met through ebay, has lead me to better and better sources for medications and other pet supplies. (link coming soon).

It is also important to have a good relationship with your vet. Most vets will give rescuers a break. They know that a rescuer is going to have a high volume of animals, which is good for their business, and they can afford to help out some. What your vetrinarian can arrange with you will differ from practice to practice. Another important thing your vet can do is to teach you how to handle situations at home. I can give sub cutaneous fluids myself, as well as shots, and have a protocol for differnet symptoms. This means that I can do some treatment at home. You should always let your vetrinarian know what you are dealing with at home and how you are handling it. Do not make the mistake of assuming you can replace your vet!

Keeping track!

It is essential to keep track of your fosters' medical records. A the very least you need to record when they received their vaccinations, wormings, flea treatments, and any other medications. It is best if you describe any side effects, after effects of vaccinations, and the symptoms of any illness. Ideally you keep a day by day journal of how a sick animal is doing. When dealing with many animals, this may not be possible. I have found a quick way to note medication schedules & the onset of symptoms is to jot notes on my wall calender. I write the name of the foster, their medication & symptoms on the first day and also note when the medication course is scheduled to end.

If caring for a tiny kitten (bottle baby) it is very important to keep daliy notes. Tiny kittens are very fragile. A slight change in eating volume, or weight gain, can be an important signal. Tiny kittens need to gain weight steadily, usually at about a quarter ounce a day. Weighing them is the only way to track their weight gain. You should also track how much they eat, in cc's or fractions of ounces, the color, consistency of thier feces & urine.
When you take your foster to the vet, bring your notes with you! If keeping a calender, copy down the pertinent dates for your foster. This is a very important guide for your vet.

How do you let them go?

I take my fosters with the understanding that I only have them for a little while. I think most people who foster end up keeping some of their fosters as permanent pets. I know that the more I foster, the more I am helping the shelter. If I fill up with permanent cats, then I cannot foster as much.

It is often hard to say goodbye to the fosters. when yo uhave bottle fed a kitten and raised it to a happy, healthy, ball of purring fluff, you want to make sure it is going to a good home. Knowing that the shelter does its best to screen potential adopters helps, altoh I know that not every adoption turns out well. I offer as much advice as I can give about the kitten, including any behavioral habits, cute tricks etc. I send the baby along with some food so that it can be switched to its new diet more easily. Yes, I am often sad when they leave. Many times I give them one last cuddle goodbye. Having 10 + kittens running around at home does make it a little easier to see them on their way. I try to busy myself with the remaining fosters and my permanent cats. Over time, it gets easier.

Overall I find fostering to be very rewarding. It takes a lot of work, but the reward, for me, far outstrips the effort. And how else can you get a continuous supply of kittens?

Meet my current adult fosters here
Helpful Links for FosterCareGivers!