Experts share 9 things people should know before fostering a pet

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By Sophia Mitrokostas, INSIDER

  • It's important to have a clear agreement in place with the shelter, which includes who is responsible for the animal's medical bills during the fostering period.
  • Fostering arrangements can last for a few days or many months, so you should ensure you have reliable transportation and plenty of space.

Fostering a pet isn't always easy, but it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Being a pet foster parent usually involves working with a shelter or animal adoption agency to temporarily care for an animal while a permanent home for them is found.

Here's what you should know before fostering a pet, according to experts. 


There are many different reasons pets may need to be fostered.

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In many cases, foster families are often used to help make space in crowded animal shelters.

However, Stephanie Coe, foster manager at Operation Kindness animal shelter in Texas, told Insider that pets are actually fostered for many different reasons. 

"Sometimes a pet may need to heal from surgery, a pregnant mother may need time away from the shelter environment, or puppies and kittens need fostering because they're too young to be adopted," said Coe.

It's important to work with a shelter or agency to figure out the ideal fostering match for your family.


Fostering can be a short-term or long-term commitment.

© REUTERS/Eriko Sugita

Successful foster families need to be willing and able to care for a foster animal until they are adopted or shelter space becomes available.

"This time period can range from several days or weeks to months," Cristie Kamiya, veterinarian and chief of shelter medicine at Humane Society Silicon Valley, told Insider.

Coe explained that being flexible is a must for prospective foster families, especially since the timeline for fostering a pet may be subject to change.

"Typical foster stays can last anywhere from two weeks to two months, and it's important to understand that commitment before choosing to foster," said Coe. 


If you already have pets, it's important to factor them and their personalities into your decision to foster.

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If you already have pets living at home, it's crucial to consider their safety and comfort during a fostering experience.

"It's important to understand the personality of the pets already within the house before introducing them to a new furry friend," said Coe. "Not all animals get along, and the introduction of a new foster pet may cause problems."

To minimize disruption to your household routine, ask the shelter if it's possible to introduce potential foster animals to your pets before committing.


You need to make sure your home and transportation options are a good fit for the animal you plan to foster.

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Depending on your arrangement with the shelter and their rules, you may need access to reliable personal or public transportation in order to foster a pet.

"In most cases, you should be able to transport your foster pet to and from their designated shelter for routine veterinary care, as well as to meet with prospective adopters," said Kamiya.

It's also important that you are able to create a calm, quiet space in your home where foster pets can adjust to their new environment.

"You should have a separate room or area of your home where you can keep your foster pet isolated for at least two weeks — an area that is away from other resident pets," Kamiya told Insider. 


Make sure you understand the fine print of the fostering agreement.

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Molly Farrell, veterinarian and owner of Dyer Animal Clinic in Indiana, told Insider that it's crucial that potential foster families are clear on the details of their agreement.

"You need to have a written agreement between you and the shelter on which party is responsible for the dog's medical and financial needs during the fostering period," said Farrell.

Farrell explained that this agreement should detail the expected fostering time frame and any preexisting medical conditions.

Additionally, the shelter or agency should provide confirmation that the pet has been vaccinated and preventatively treated for issues such as fleas, ticks, and heartworm. 


Keep in mind that you may encounter aggression when fostering certain dogs.

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Sadly, some dogs placed in shelters have backgrounds that include trauma or abuse. In some cases, this can lead to aggression when dogs are placed with foster families.

"Dog aggression is a problem that you could face with fostering," said Farrell. "Some dogs might try to assert dominance in the home. This can create an atmosphere of aggression toward other animals or family members."

To minimize the risk of aggression, work with your shelter to introduce existing pets and family members to the potential foster dog before proceeding with the foster arrangement. 


Fostering a pet can be confusing for children

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When children are involved in the fostering process, the end of the fostering period can be an emotional and confusing time.

"Saying goodbye and bringing a foster back is sad for everyone, but can be especially challenging for foster homes with children," said Coe.

When a foster pet gets adopted, Coe said families should remind kids that the animal is off to a great forever home. They can also try explaining that, by not keeping one foster pet, it leaves the family available to help another animal. 


It's possible to "fail" at fostering.

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Adopting the pet yourself is actually considered "failing" at fostering. 

"Getting attached to the animal during the fostering stage is known as a 'foster failure,'" said Farrell. "Once you form that bond with the pet, it is challenging to give them to their new home."

Adopting a former foster pet is certainly a positive outcome for that animal. However, shelters may consider this situation a "foster failure" because it often prevents a family from being able to foster additional animals in the future. 


Fostering can be a great experience for both pets and people.

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Whether you foster one pet or dozens, caring for an animal in need can be a truly rewarding experience for pets and people.

"It can be incredibly fulfilling to care for a pet in need of extra-special attention," said Coe. "Seeing them grow before your eyes and watching them socialize or heal from a life-saving procedure can be so rewarding."

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