Expert Advice

Thinking Of Fostering A Pet? Here’s Everything Your Family Needs To Consider First

It’s not for everyone, says a veterinarian.

Kids snuggle with a dog on the bed.
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So, your family has decided to foster a pet. Maybe it's because you're not ready to adopt a pet of your own yet, or maybe it's because you have too many pets. Either way, you still want to help out a furry friend who could use some love.

"When you foster a pet, you give an animal in need the opportunity to have a better quality of life. By fostering, you become part of an animal rescue and a family finding their new member," Dr. Paola Cuevas, veterinary consultant at Dogster, tells Scary Mommy. "By taking over this responsibility, you get to enjoy an animal's company and see them recover their confidence and trust in life day by day. It is a great act of kindness, compassion, and love. That is the main benefit, in my opinion — it helps you become a better person, and nothing can buy that."

But it's also crucial to note that fostering an animal, while generous, comes with a lot of responsibility. Before you commit to letting a new animal into your home (and heart), there are a number of things to consider.

What does fostering an animal actually mean?

"Fostering an animal means taking a rescue animal but soon-to-be pet temporarily into your home and taking care of their health and wellbeing between the time of the rescue and the time they move into their new forever homes,” explains Cuevas.

There are a few reasons why foster homes are needed for animals. Foster pet parents help give opportunities to animals rescued by organizations currently at total capacity and can no longer hold another animal in the facility. For example, an animal that has been rescued and medically stabilized in the center will be sent to a foster home to make some space for a new rescue.

On other occasions, Cuevas says foster animals are those requiring extra care and attention that the staff at the shelter or animal society is unable to provide. As such, fostering is used as a sort of training and socializing for rescue animals to learn how to live with an owner or family.

"In all of these cases, fostering is the temporary care of rescue animals to ensure they get physically and behaviorally ready to find their forever homes," Cuevas says.

What does fostering entail?

Sure, looking after a cute animal on a temporary basis sounds fun. There's a lot more to consider, though, which is why foster families are typically vetted by the animal organization before signing off on placing a pet in their care.

"Foster managers will do a visit to the foster home before deciding what animals suit best for each foster parent's lifestyle and home combination," Cuevas explains. "It is not necessary to have a yard if you will foster a cat, for example, but if you do have a yard, they will take the opportunity to have you foster an active dog."

Likewise, if you're someone who needs to work several hours a day, you will not be given a pet that needs medication or lots of attention but a pet that can spend some time alone.

"Definitively, if you foster an animal, you will need to make some pet-proofing of your home or at least the space in your home where they will be allowed to use," Cuevas says. "This is necessary to ensure it is safe for the animals and also so they don't destroy your property or personal belongings. Besides that, it is quite flexible, and foster managers study each case to make the best match."

What is expected of the family who fosters an animal?

Is fostering about giving lots of kisses and ear scratches? Yes, and also way more stuff that isn't quite so much fun.

According to Cuevas, fostering generally entails the care and daily husbandry of the fostered animals, including daily feedings, regular baths, walks, and playtime. In some cases, fostering will also entail special care, such as medications. "Since a foster parent is usually the first-ever experience for an animal with an owner, training and socialization are usually part of the package," she says.

This is why it's essential to consider that fostering an animal might be challenging in some cases — especially with those who may need extra attention and are fearful or aggressive. "In many cases, they are not housetrained, so you will have a challenge and some cleaning to do," Cuevas explains. "If they have medication treatment schedules, you will have to plan your schedule around theirs."

How long does fostering typically last?

Cuevas says the average stay is around 60-90 days. However, it depends on the situation. "Some animals get adopted before this is usually the case of cute puppies with great photos and social media publicity," she says. "Senior pets or those with some special care and medical needs or behavioral issues will take longer."

As a foster, you’ll always need to keep in mind that you must follow the adoption protocol set forth by the organization for which you’re a foster. In other words, if your friends or family fall in love with the pet you’re fostering and want to adopt, you still have to refer them to the actual shelter or rescue — where they’ll have to apply, just like everyone else.

What if you love the animal too much?

Naturally, when caring for an animal for an extended time, it's only human to develop an attachment to your new furry friend. Cuevas says it is "very common and only natural for foster parents to get emotionally attached to an animal they spent time with and to whom they have dedicated so much love and care."

If you're so attached that you don't see your new friend being adopted by anyone else but your family, consider yourself a part of the "foster fail" club. According to Cuevas, this happens about 50 to 70% of the time with foster families.

"A 'foster fail' means when foster parents are unable to let go of their attachment to the pet and go through the adoption process to keep the pet," Cuevas explains. "It is called 'failure' because, in a way, the organization loses a potential future foster. But, in my opinion, these are also success stories since, in the end, the pet found a forever home. While it is not something planned but rather that happens naturally, fostering an animal is the best way to find the pet that is just ideal for you to adopt since you get a 'practice period' to form the perfect bond with them."