8 Things I’ve Learned Fostering Cats from The Humane Society

Thinking about fostering a cat from your local shelter? Read this first.

Things I've Learned Fostering Cats From The Humane SocietyiStock/Ztranger

When my husband and I (okay, mostly me) decided that we didn’t want to have any more children—we already have three kids, ages 2, 4, and 6—I became obsessed with the idea of getting a dog. My husband balked—”don’t you think you’re busy enough?”—I still really wanted to get a dog. We decided to compromise by fostering pets from the Oregon Humane Society.


After signing up, I realized my husband was probably right. I’ve always been a cat person (we have two of our own), and the thought of getting a dog—even temporarily—seemed daunting. So instead we started fostering cats. Here’s what we’ve learned so far after pet fostering seven cats and kittens.

  • Start them in a small space. We have a designated room for our foster animals. It’s large enough that there’s space for our whole family to all be in there with them, but small enough that they feel contained and safe. Any room with a latching door will work fine.
  • Keep them separated from other pets in your house. Many foster cats and kittens are at least a little bit sick. Often, kittens will come to your home with the cat form of pink eye, or some tummy troubles, or an upper respiratory infection. You don’t want to expose your forever cats to these illnesses. You also don’t want to cause anxiety in either your pets or your foster, or start any turf battles.
  • If you already have pets, spoil them a little. The first time we brought home a foster kitten, one of our cats went on a hunger strike. She was not having this little fur ball under her roof, spending time with her family! We coaxed her back to her usual self with some special food treats, a new catnip toy (catnip stimulates the appetite in addition to being fun to play with), and lots of extra snuggles. She came around after about a day and hasn’t had the problem since. But now I always beat her to the punch and give her some special wet food the day we bring home a foster. (She trained me well.) Check out 17 things your cat wish they could tell you.
  • If you’re attached to your furniture… don’t be. Especially if you’re fostering cats, prepare for accidents. Some kittens are not yet fully litter trained. Even if they are, some kittens can be too excited playing to get to the litter box in time or, more commonly, they’ll miss the box a bit. We had one kitten who was especially hesitant to use the litter box. For this one, we moved her into the bathroom so she wouldn’t soil the couch. We also added some litter attractant to her box, and sprayed Feliway, which contains pheromones that relax cats, on spaces we didn’t want her to pee. After a few days, she got it. But we stayed prepared by lining the couch with garbage bags and putting blankets over them.
  • It’s not all fun. In case the above litter box story didn’t tip you off, fostering cats can be a lot of work. You need to play with them and cuddle them (I didn’t say it was all hard work!). You may also need to administer medicine, do exercises with them if they are wounded, change their litter boxes frequently, and bring them in for checkups. It’s definitely a time commitment. But you will be rewarded with lots of adorableness and purrs. These common ideas about cats are actually misconceptions!
  • Know when and who to call in case of an emergency. When you foster a cat, you should receive instructions for warning signs to look out for (diarrhea, fever, etc.) as well as a number to call off-hours in case of an emergency. Keep this information handy.
  • Keep track of your receipts. Often, the Humane Society will donate supplies to you if needed. But if you can afford to buy the supplies yourself, it helps save the organization money. And keep in mind that any kitty litter, food, and other supplies you buy for your foster animal can be tax deductible. Hold onto those receipts.
  • Be prepared for a few tears. After spending a few weeks with these little cuddle bugs, it can be really hard to bring them back and let them find their forever home. Just remember that they will find that home that is perfect for them. And also if you adopt all of them, you won’t have room to foster more! You may not recognize these subtle ways that your cat is showing affection.