Things To Consider Before Fostering Cats

By Elisa Black-Taylor

There are several things to consider before fostering cats. While rewarding, you could end up with a lot of heartbreak as well as a dent in your wallet if you fail to check out the cat fostering rules at your shelter or the rescue you plan to foster through. You also need to prepare your home for fostering.

Here are some tips on what you should consider before taking foster cats into your life.

Fostering Cats
Cat Looking For A Home
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Fostering or Adopting?

The first thing you should do before fostering is to ask yourself whether you can bear to give up the cats you foster when a home becomes available. Most fosters have at least one foster failure on their record. By this I mean they adopt the cat they only meant to keep a short time. This is allowed in many cases, but it may limit the number of cats you have room to foster in the future.

Ask yourself whether you’ll be able to spend as much time with your resident cats as before. If you find you’ll have to cut into their playtime, it may be best not to foster.


Find out who supplies the food, medication and cat litter. Some shelters and rescue groups supply food, but not litter or medication. I received food and litter only once in a year and a half from the shelter. It was easier to walk out with a bottle of medication than it was a bag of cat food. This brings us to the subject of what to do should a cat/kitten become ill.


While researching just a bit for this article, I came across several horror stories. On some occasions rescues or shelters who sponsor the foster cat refuse to allow medical treatment for a sick feline. One lady lost every kitten she was fostering because no one was willing to foot the vet bill until it was too late.

When I fostered, I was often given a round or two of antibiotics just in case. Most of the cats I took in were sick and in need of medication anyway. The contract I had to sign at the shelter stated I wouldn’t seek major veterinary treatment without first consulting with the shelter.

Private Fostering

I also did some private fostering for about a year. Those cats were supported by the person who asked me to care for them. We currently have one cat in a foster care situation. Hopefully he’ll be joining his mommy next year.

Dedicated Area for Foster Cats

Have a special area in your home for your foster cats. This is especially important when you take in a mother cat and her kittens. It’s not a good idea to allow your personal cats near the kittens because it could instigate fights and the kittens could be harmed or killed.

Most of our fosters didn’t want to be with the general cat population anyway. They chose to stay either in Laura’s bedroom or my bedroom. The exception was Brinkley. He’s one of our two foster failures. He enjoyed being around the other cats. He still does. Brinkley settled in so well we adopted him. He’s our FIV+ kitty.

Our shelter foster cats
Our shelter foster cats. Collage by Elisa


Sealy was our other failed foster. Laura and I fell in love with him the first weekend. Due to the nature of his injury, I decided it best to adopt Sealy so we could be in control of the medical care he would need for the next several months. Sealy lived in two cages during the first four months. One was in my bedroom and the other was in the living room. In his case, the cages were necessary to keep him wound clean and to avoid injury. It would have been very difficult for us (as well as for Sealy) to nurse him back to health and then let him go.


Make sure your resident cats are all up to date on vaccines. Cats and kittens coming from a shelter are often sick. If not visibly ill, they may carry germs that can infect your resident cats.


Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. Especially during the first few weeks. Wash your hands before as well as after handling your foster cats. Use hand sanitizer and change your clothes if at all possible. Some germs are carried on clothing and you may infect every cat you have if you aren’t changing clothes. This is one reason panleuk spreads so quickly in a shelter. The shelter staff may wash their hands, but the germs that remain on their smocks can infect any cat they come in contact with. It would be nearly impossible to ask staff to change a hundred times a day, and most rescues foster out cats they got from a shelter. There are very few litters that didn’t go through the shelter first.

Know Your Limits

Let the shelter or rescue you agree to foster for know your limits. Some cat lovers aren’t cut out to bottle feed newborn kittens. The rescue or shelter won’t know you can’t handle bottle feeding a kitten unless you tell them. Also determine how long you’re willing to foster a particular litter. There are short term fosters where the kittens only stay a few weeks, to long term where a cat may stay for many months.

I only ran into one really bad situation during the time I was fostering. . It was with an FIV+ cat named Alto. He was very aggressive and HAD to have his own room. I felt sorry for him, even though he received tons of love from us. We thought it would be a short term stay. Unfortunately, it was very difficult finding a rescue willing to take Alto. I contacted the shelter and was told if I brought him back, he’d be euthanized due to lack of space. Alto stayed with us over three months until an FIV+ rescue had a space come open. It was better to keep him alone in my bedroom than to take him back to the shelter. He never complained. Chances are he made someone a good bed buddy. He just hated other cats.

Time Frame

I had a few of my fosters for several months, but the average time was two to three weeks. Dolly and Fox were the fastest to find permanent homes. Cam took a bit longer, but found a private adopter through the shelter. Cam was another of our toothless cats. As with the others without any teeth, she ate anything we put in front of her. I was in touch with her adoptive mother up until the time she got Cam. Dolly was very hard to let go. She reminded me so much of my first cat Smoky.

Cat fosters are needed no matter where you may live. If you choose to join those who care for cats until a home can be found, notify your local shelter. They can put you in touch with area rescues or discuss their own fostering needs.

A cat foster family plays an important role in placing the cat in a permanent home. Many times a foster can determine whether the cat will do well around kids, dogs or other cats. We’ve had a few who were only suited for homes where the cat would be the only pet.

In closing, I’d like to say this is an excellent way to find out whether you’re ready for a permanent cat. Few situations in life allow you to try something out before you commit. Fostering cats is a good way to learn whether you want a long term relationship with a cat or whether short term, only when you want it, is better for your lifestyle.

For every cat that goes into foster care, a space opens up for another cat in need. Fostering means saving the life of a cat who could otherwise be euthanized for lack of space.


5 thoughts on “Things To Consider Before Fostering Cats”

  1. Hi Elisa,

    Cute foster cat collage 🙂

    I can tell by your article that you’ve had a lot of experience fostering cats.

    I think a lot of people don’t know the scope of what they are getting into the first time around. They don’t realize how important it is to hook up with an organization that will cover expenses, especially medical bills.

    It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to raise a group of foster cats. If they have medical issues, even more so.

    It’s hard to part with a cat after you’ve nursed him back to health and had him a while. The bond can get very strong in a short amount of time.

    Your article is great for preparing a person who would like to become a foster cat parent.

    =^-^= Hairless Cat Girl =^-^=

  2. I was shocked and surprised to learn that workers in the shelter don’t wear disposable gowns when working with sick animals. For humans this is a very basic standard of care. You protect yourself and other patients by wearing a gown, gloves and maybe a mask when working with a patient in isolation. I think Michael is right when he says that our killing of so many cats diminishes our respect for the cat. If you saw a nurse move from a patient in isolation directly to your loved one’s room without having worn a gown in the infected patient’s room, you’d be upset and rightly so. Sure, she washed her hands, but what about the germs clinging to her scrubs? You’d be horrified. But workers do it with cats and it’s no big deal. It’s like the cat doesn’t matter very much. I suppose gowns are too expensive. But these poor infection control practices are terribly expensive to the cats who lose their lives from diseases being spread all around the shelter. That lack of an extra gown or smock costs some cats everything they had. But it just doesn’t matter very much since the same cat would probably eventually have been put down for lack of space anyway. That fact is so shocking that we fail to be shocked at the crappy standard of care the animals get prior to that point. The medical care animals get should whenever possible mirror care for human patients. I’m not talking about heroic measures here. I’m talkiung about a few disposable or even washable gowns. Shelter workers could bring a few old shirts from home and put them over their clothing when working with sick animals. Used gowns get shoved in a plastic bag and washed either at the shelter or at the worker’s home. It’s a bit of extra wash, but it would be considered a bare minimum of infection control for humans.

  3. Its very important to foster cats because it means there are more that can be put in the shelters. I fostered about 16 kittens with Cats Protection. They paid for food, litter and vets trips. Some of the kittens were feral and some were older ones that got overlooked for adoption in favour of smaller cuter ones. It was hard work socialising them but they all found good homes.
    I would never have been able to keep any because they had to go to homes with safe gardens which I didn’t have, but there was one feral kitten with a lovely nature, smooth black fur, and one eye, that really tugged at my heart.

  4. Great article, Eliza. I started fostering for my local shelter in October, after being a volunteer there since February. All the kittens have to be approved by a vet before they can go into foster care, and the shelter provides everything, blankets, food, bowls, litter, litter boxes, even litter scoops! Literally everything! I lost a kitten from my first litter, and it was heart breaking, this kitten was a bit slow to begin with, but I’d managed to bring him back to health twice, so the third time I thought we would be okay. He was dead within hours, despite my best efforts. I spent that night on the phone to an emergency vet, so I know I’d done the right thing, his death was inevitable. They believe he had heart or organ problems, and he was just a ticking time bomb. I didn’t have the heart to send his body in for an autopsy, instead I made him his own little garden, and laid my precious baby to rest. Fostering is great, but it can come with a devastating downside, and it can be dangerous if the foster carer doesn’t have any background knowledge/experience in caring for baby animals. A baby will go downhill FAST and you need to know how to deal with that, and how to bring him back to health. My kitten wouldn’t have lasted 3 days with an inexperienced foster carer, yet he remained my special baby for 4 weeks. He was 8 weeks when he died. I think about him every day, and still love him so much.

    I am now fostering a litter who almost died after being transported to the shelter in an insulator bag, on a scorching day! They are so traumatised that they hate everything, even each other, so for the past week I’ve been working on socialising them and turning them into someone’s future loving companion, I have been having wonderful success, they are turning into gorgeous little smoochers!

    I hope people read this article before fostering, it isn’t as simple as taking home a litter, feeding them, picking up their poop and cuddling them until they’re big enough to find their new homes. In can involve extremely intense work and care.


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