An introduction to pet fostering

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Why should I foster a pet?

Saving a pet’s life through fostering is an incredibly rewarding experience. Yes, it will take some of your time, a little extra cleaning, and perhaps a tiny piece of your heart.  But once your foster pet spends time with your family, it will leave you with a feeling unlike any other because you stepped up and saved a precious life!

What is pet fostering?

When you foster a pet, you will usually help an individual who has a temporary need for someone to care for their pet, or help an animal shelter or a rescue org. that has pets in need. You will bring them into your home and care for them on a temporary basis; typically until they’re ready to go up for adoption or are adopted by a forever home. The average length of stay for a foster pet can vary by situation from a couple of weeks to a month or two.  

Why do pets need foster homes?

Some common reasons are:

  • The owner has a personal situation – The owner may have a medical need and can’t care for their pet for a while. Or the owner is moving and the new home doesn’t allow pets. In this case, a temporary home is required until the pet is adopted. And sometimes they may have a house guest or a visitor who is allergic to pets.
  • Overcrowding of animal shelters – It is heartbreaking that many must euthanize adoptable pets daily to make space for incoming pets. By fostering a pet for even a short period of time you can save two lives; the one you foster and the one who takes the animal’s space at the shelter. There are thousands of rescue groups who take in pets from overcrowded shelters.  They don’t have a physical shelter and rely solely on temporary foster homes until the pets can go to an off-site adoption facility or be adopted into a new home. 
  • Pregnancy/Babies – Pregnant pets (dogs, cats) and moms with babies need foster homes until the puppies or kittens are old enough to be adopted or a shelter can take them.  (This is typically at around 8-10 weeks of age.)  Sometimes shelters simply don’t have the space to keep families, and babies are at a high risk of getting sick there. A foster home can save these young pet families from the high risk of being euthanized in some shelters.   
  • Orphaned – Particularly in spring and summer, orphaned and underaged kittens and puppies end up in shelters without their mom. Some need a safe place to go for just a few weeks until they’re old enough to be adopted.  Others may not be eating on their own yet and need to be bottle-fed. Shelters don’t have the space to house these babies until adoption or enough staff to handle the bottle babies.  
  • Treatable illness/injury – Many dogs and cats need a foster home while they recover from an illness, injury, or surgery before they can enter an adoption program.  One of the most common ailments is a cold. These are fairly simple to treat in a foster home (about two weeks on average), but they can be a common reason for euthanasia in a shelter.
  • Stress – Shelter life is extremely stressful on pets.  Some of them simply need a break from the overwhelming stress.
  • Socialization – Pets that need additional socialization can also benefit greatly from spending time with a family in a foster home.

What does fostering involve?

Unlike some pet adoption fees, fostering is free and all veterinary care should be covered by the pet owner or the rescue organization’s vet. They can often help provide most of the supplies needed too, such as pet food, bowls, a crate, etc. And of course, if your help to cover any cost is helpful too. You can easily outline details in a foster care agreement like this one that you can easily create and sign online.

You will also likely be asked to take your foster pet to any veterinarian appointments, adoption events as well as to scheduled meetings with interested adopters.

While it can be helpful to have experience with pets, it’s not always necessary. Many adult and senior dogs and cats have lived in a home before and need little to no training. Of course, there’s always an adjustment period while they get to know your house rules, schedule, etc., so try to be prepared and patient. Other dogs and cats (particularly younger pets) will need your gentle guidance in learning what it is like to be in a home. Helping your foster pet learn or polish his lifesaving skills can keep him from becoming another tragic statistic. And, of course, your foster pet will need lots of positive interactions with your family which will involve kisses, cuddling, and having fun! Discuss any concerns you have with the owner, shelter or rescue org. to make sure you know how to take care of the pet.

I’d like to help!  What are my next steps?

You can easily search on websites like us ( or contact your local animal shelters or rescue organizations. You’ll get matched with a foster pet based on your family’s lifestyle, preferences, and the length of time you can foster. To learn more about fostering a pet, check out our FAQ. The Pet Academy has great free online courses for deep-dive training on fostering too. Happy fostering!