Providing a Successful Foster Home for a Wayward Cat

So, you’ve decided to take your love of cats one paw print further. A local rescue organization is in dire need of foster parents for the influx of spring strays, and you couldn’t say no this time. You’re picking up the new recruit in two hours, but you’re clueless about fostering and whether you’ve got the skills to turn a wearied stray into an adoptable kitty.

And, your anxiety is justified. Fostering a homeless feline can be a positively rewarding or an absolutely stressful experience, depending on your approach to this unique arrangement. Among the flurry of furry activity at your local shelter or rescue organization, a new foster parent like you might walk away feeling overwhelmed and wondering, “What am I thinking?” But have no worries. By following some tried and true advice, you and your permanent feline fixtures will be grinning like Cheshire cats, and your temporary feline addition won’t be losing any of its nine lives over the situation either.

And, when it comes to nine lives, homeless cats start out with a definite disadvantage. That’s why providing transitional refuge for a stray cat can have such a profound effect on the outcome of that pet’s life. But before you bring foster pets into your home, make certain that they have visited a veterinarian and are up to date on all vaccinations, advises Susan Stevenson, Cat Coordinator of Second Chance Pets in League City, Texas and a foster parent herself. If you’re working with a rescue organization, they’ve often covered this step for you. If you have discovered a homeless cat in your neighborhood that you hope to bring under your roof, you will have to do this step yourself to insure your potential guest is free of diseases such as feline leukemia or FIV.

Once you’re boarding your new feline, Stevenson strongly recommends that you confine the foster pet to one room in the house, despite the temptation to give it free reign, especially if you foster regularly. “It’s only fair to your own cats, because it’s very stressful on them to have lots of different cats coming in and out of the house.” Separating the transients from the regulars makes both the foster pet and the other animals in the house feel less threatened.

If you are boarding a kitten or cat that is feral, or wild, socializing the cat can be a toilsome effort. Check out websites such as www.alleycat.org for more information on caring for a feral cat.

If you are fostering more than one cat, and if you have the space, it’s advisable to keep foster pets separated from one another to prevent feline feuding. Stevenson recommends keeping your foster cat in a room that is large enough to accommodate running and playfulness and also one equipped with ample kitty toys. A window is also a plus, because it provides natural light, while the view offers stimulus for the frisky at heart.

Since foster pets are often prone to illness due to frequent changes in their diet and environment, watch the pet closely for subtle signs of sickness. Symptoms such as sneezing and runny eyes are often indications of an upper respiratory infection, a common condition in strays. A trip to the vet might be in order, and medication may be necessary. If you are working with a rescue organization, contact the organization first before scheduling an appointment.

The physical health of your fortunate foster is vital, but of equal importance is preparing your kitty to be a loving pet for another family. Providing sufficient stimulus and affection is necessary for the cat’s development and overall well-being. As a cat lover, this is probably the most enjoyable part of fostering. Stevenson recommends visiting your foster cat a minimum of two times a day to check on food and water, but, most importantly, to play. An active cat is a happy cat. And, the more types of people the cat interacts with the better. You want your foster feline to recognize and enjoy the presence of men, women, and children, as long as the child is old enough to handle the cat properly.

The time will come to show the rest of the world the fruits of your labor. If you are working with a rescue organization that holds regular adoption events, take your happy and hearty foster kitty to these events regularly, if possible. But be prepared, advises long term foster parent Sarah Enticknap, due to the stress of a new environment, your sweet and loving angel at home might become a monster at the actual event. If this is the case, and you feel comfortable, encourage potential owners to observe the cat at your home, where the cat is relaxed and does not feel threatened. Or, advertise your pet on reputable websites such as www.petfinder.org, where you can upload an endearing photo and brag about your kitty’s charm and ability to play fetch with toy rodents.

Unfortunately, finding a permanent home for some pets can be difficult due to a number of factors including age or temperament. Patience can become the name of the adoption game, when your foster pet becomes a not so temporary part of your life.

When you finally do find loving full-time parents, it can be bittersweet, especially for newby foster parents, who have grown fond of their pet. The most successful foster parents are those that do not get so attached that they have difficulty giving the pet up for adoption. Finding a compatible lifelong match for a foster pet should be the most rewarding part of fostering a pet.

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