With a little love and patience—and a smidgen of social media persuasion!—foster parents can change the world for cats and shelter workers.
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foster cat lying with woman on a grey couch
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"Cats are delightful creatures, and that's why cat videos are such internet sensations!" This total truthbomb is from Holly Sizemore, chief mission officer of Best Friends Animal Society. Here's another: she tells Daily Paws that foster homes are the single most important asset for saving lives and making sure pets aren't at risk of being euthanized.

If you're batting around the idea, we have a few tips on how to foster a cat so the process is easier. Just remember, you already have two of the best resources: love and compassion. These qualities are essential to nurture a foster kitty and help her successfully transition to a furever family.

"Since many have lost their homes and have been in a shelter setting where the sights and sounds can be quite frightening, it's really rewarding to see a homeless cat, who may be nervous at first, blossom into the playful, sweet furball that defines so many cats," Sizemore says.

Why Foster Cats?

First, there's the absolute joy of it all! Don't take our word for it—just tap into the overflowing goodness felt by Abdul Williams. He and his wife have fostered approximately 40 orphaned cats in the past year, and he positively loves how friendly they are, their playful antics, and teaching them socialization skills.

In this video for Daily Paws' Better Together series, he said he believes they've helped him relax more and manage his anxiety symptoms more effectively, too.

So not only might fostering improve your life, Sizemore points out some additional critical benefits to cat foster care:

  • Saving lives. The ASPCA reports that of the more than 3 million cats who enter the shelter system in the U.S. every year, about 50 percent are adopted—but almost 30 percent are euthanized.
  • Fostering increases adoption rates. When foster parents like Williams take time to acclimate cats and kittens to a home environment, it's much easier for potential adoptive parents to see how they interact with people and animal siblings.
  • Older cats and those who need rehabilitation have more of a chance. Let's face it: we all adore kittens! But cats of all ages deserve love too, and are often overlooked in the shelter selection process. A mature cat used to living in a home simply wants to return to one. You could make that happen!

Cat foster homes also help alleviate the challenges felt by individuals who care for hundreds of animals every day. "Our shelter workers and rescue group volunteers undergo a lot of stress in their jobs trying to protect the lives of pets," Sizemore says. "Their greatest reward is seeing animals find a new loving home."

How to Foster a Cat or Kitten

Ready to temporarily take in one or more cats to love on? Here's what you need to do, according to the Best Friends Cat Foster Care Manual.

1. Evaluate your schedule and emotional investment.

To ease the transition of a shelter animal into your home takes time and daily attention. Kittens require even more effort, especially if they need bottle feeding or extra socialization after being separated from their mother too soon. Also consider how you might feel when your foster cat finds a new home or, unfortunately, when a sick kitty doesn't make it.

2. Consult your local shelter or rescue about its cat foster program.

Each organization has different guidelines, programs, and cat foster agreements. For example, the Animal Rescue League of Iowa has no fewer than five different fostering opportunities. The majority also offer orientation and training sessions so even if you've never had a kitty of your own, you can totally become a foster pet parent. This introductory period will also cover vital aspects of cat care, such as who's responsible for the cost of and transportation to veterinary visits, food, daily needs, and other necessities.

3. Prepare your home.

"Most foster homes have other pets, so it's always advisable to make sure yours are up-to-date on their vaccinations," Sizemore says. It's also helpful to create a separate place for your new foster pet. "Many foster pets do very well interacting with the other household pets, but it's best to have a quiet, safe place for the new pet to land while they get acclimated to the foster home," she adds. It doesn't need to be a grand space—Sizemore says a spare bedroom is ideal, or even a bathroom can work in the short term. Your foster kitty will let you know when she's ready to make an appearance.

In addition to what your local facility provides, Maddie's Fund is a great resource for understanding how to interact with certain types of cats, such as those who are shy or fearful, what to do in case of emergency, and other specific issues. Feline Foster also provides helpful information.

How Much Does It Cost to Foster a Cat?

Sizemore says this really depends. "Many organizations cover the more expensive costs, like medical care, for instance. Some groups can also provide supplies, toys, and even food," she says. "Other groups may not have the resources to provide everything and rely on the fosters for help. Typically the organization makes it super clear during orientation what it can provide." 

She adds that kittens require a bit more medical care, like vaccination booster shots or spaying and neutering. Most groups help coordinate these medical expenses and other needs.

Review your facility's FAQs carefully before committing, and don't hesitate to ask for clearer guidelines and additional resources to help give your foster kitty all the essentials.

How Long Do You Foster a Cat?

It's hard to pinpoint this exactly, as each foster cat has a unique situation. As an estimation, kittens and some adult cats previously homed may attract new pet parents within a month or so, while cats in rehabilitation might need your loving care a while longer.

"I've found that the foster family has a lot of influence in helping their charges get adopted," Sizemore says. "The more the foster family posts cute pictures and videos on social media and spreads the word, the more likely the cat will be placed into a permanent home faster."

Williams is a master at this. He has a vibrant Instagram channel with daily posts of everything he and his wife do to raise their furballs right! On average, the kittens stay with them about 6–8 weeks.

I've also had experience fostering and was, in all truth, totally shameless about reaching out to my social community with regular updates. Since my husband has horrible cat allergies, we can never entertain keeping kitties permanently. So with the last adult cat in my charge, Tabby, the only recourse was to constantly coerce my friends and family with how affectionate and charming he was so someone would snap him up.

"I love you! Pet me!" was a common refrain on posts. Notice the tail wrap around my hand:

Tabby's tail communication was strong. In this photo, it curves toward my husband's leg (laughingly referred to as 'Mr. Allergy Man') indicating he totally trusted him, so I didn't hesitate to point that out—and his adorable lil' raised paw!— as well. So shameless.

Within a week, a dear friend with another cat agreed to continue fostering him. But once Tabby arrived, that was it! Renamed Pippin (like a Hobbit, he was quite fond of 'second breakfast'!), he just clicked with the entire family, and happily lives with them to this day. What really amazes me is in the times we've seen him since, he always runs up, chattering, purring, and wanting pats. Does he remember us? I hope so!

Sizemore says some cats may take a bit longer to find forever homes, and many organizations work with individual foster families' needs. "For instance, many organizations have Facebook groups for their foster families, and people can help each other out if they need to go out of town or just need fostering advice."

Don't hesitate to be creative with promotion. We love how foster mom Monesia Greene teaches her kitties to talk with buttons to make them even more attractive to pet parents. 

Finding a Cat Foster Care Program Near You

Consulting animal rescue organizations in your area is as easy as a web search. Veterinarians might have some resources as well. Working with a local shelter or rescue guarantees you have everything necessary to create the best new life for a foster cat, allowing her to heal and find love with other caring people like you!