by Michelle Lievense
Congratulations! You're a hero. You’re one of those rare people who’s willing to bring a complete stranger into your house, provide loving care and help nurture them into a new forever home.
Of course, we're talking about fostering dogs and cats (although fostering humans is also pretty special). Four-legged friends have so much love and joy to share, but they often need a guide. While there aren't many numbers available about the shelter system, we do know that behavioral and health problems are the two most common reasons pets are re-homed or surrendered. In fact, 47% of dogs and 42% of cats that are given up each year are surrendered because their pet guardians can't manage challenging pet behaviors.
As a foster, you’re taking on the distinct challenge of helping a homeless dog or cat who is in transition. Most of these foster pets may need to overcome their past so they can be the best possible fur baby for their new pet parents. Let's talk about the responsibilities and challenges involved when you take on a new foster pet and how to ensure they are healthy and happy.
When You Foster Pets, You Have an Important Job
Fostering cats and dogs isn't just a matter of feeding an animal and putting a roof over its head. You’re charged with providing them with a safe, loving home environment and healthy sustenance.
In the simplest sense, this means offering healthful food, affection on their terms, socialization and exercise. Everyone's time and commitment vary, but these basics are often enough to save lost causes and rehabilitate tough cases.
The right food, soothing health aids and chews can actually help an animal struggling to adjust grow into a calm, obedient love bug. Sometimes commercial food has harsh fillers that cause digestive upset. Allergies, particularly to the additives in pet food, can cause significant discomfort or difficulty concentrating. What looks like an untrainable dog to some can be something as simple as a dog distracted by cramping and painful gas.
Affection on Their Terms
Cats and dogs are so soft and touchable. It's easy for people to forget that they aren't plush toys. It's also easy to forget that every cat and dog has a history. Even the ones with healthy backgrounds have boundaries. Novice guardians don't always realize that there’s a proper way to approach cats and a proper (different!) way to approach dogs. By providing a safe place when you foster cats and dogs, you’re showing them that some humans are worth trusting.
Even the introverted cat who likes to sit at the top of the cat tree and lord over the living room just out of reach is making an effort to be in the same room as his or her favorite human. Fostering kittens and cats is an opportunity to play games, introduce them to other pets and help them learn how to show affection or dictate boundaries without causing harm. Dog parks, doggy day care and playdates are all training opportunities that help dogs understand the proper way to interact with others.
We all need regular exercise. Not everyone can manage a seven-mile hike every week with a dog and a harness-trained adventure cat. However, when fostering dogs and cats, you can play indoor games and allow fur babies to run around. When fostering kittens, exercise is especially important. A little walk around the block for foster dogs is especially good for excitable smaller dogs and bigger dogs that need a little extra space to move around.
Beyond food and shelter, fostering cats and dogs means noticing if they run and hide when a big truck rumbles down the street or when dogs bark in the distance. These reactions can give you key insights into whether they may need a little extra TLC for anxiety and nerves.
They’re in an entirely new space, often without anything familiar to accompany them on their journey. You should always check with your veterinarian first, but keeping calming chews, CBD products and soothing health aids on-hand for foster pets could help them cope with the stress of a new environment -- which can make all the difference as they adjust to their happy new home.
How to Keep Foster Pets Happy and Healthy
By taking in a foster pet, no matter how briefly, you’re changing that dog or cat's life forever. You're saving them from euthanasia. You're giving them a taste of what a healthy home can be. And you're helping get them on track if needed, so their behaviors will be more easily managed by their new forever home. You’re the hero in your foster pet’s story, and as we all know, heroes don’t always wear capes.
Michelle is a writer who serves organizations working for a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions. At Heelr, Michelle uses her time as a vet tech, her academic studies in animal science and behavior, and nearly a decade working on a ranch teaching animal husbandry to write on a variety of cat and canine health topics. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found hiking in the mountains of Colorado with her dogs or snuggled up with a good book and her cats.