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Becoming a foster family for cats: 10 things you should know

By Emilie Heyl Content Writer

Updated on the

An additional foster family means a cat saved from danger, distress and often from a certain death on the street.

Saving animals by making room for them in your home. That's how we could sum up the concept of foster family! This concept is getting more and more popular in the UK because many animal lives could be saved if you open your door to them.

In this article, we will explain the concept of foster family and reveal 10 things you should know before committing to this amazing and fulfilling experience.

What does it mean being a foster family for cats?

It is about temporarily hosting one or more cats in order to allow them to find or discover the security and warmth of a home while waiting to find their permanent home. It is impossible to say in advance how long cats or kittens will be fostered as this is directly linked to their adoption (which is generally not foreseeable).

Are you thinking of fostering a cat? Read on!©Africa Studio - Shutterstock

There are different types of foster families:

  • The “classic” foster family: They host one or more adult cats or kittens and take care of them. Usually, the animal was abandoned and therefore is used to human presence. The family will have to take care of the cat (feeding, cleaning the litter box, spending time with the animal, etc.), just like they would for their own animal. 
  • The “social” foster family: This asks for a little more experience. Indeed, a lot of cats or kittens, who are fostered, are feral or stray. Therefore, they need socialisation before they can be offered for adoption. The role of these foster families is to educate the kitten or cat: they must learn to pull in their claws, not to bite or climb on tables or worktops, scratch the furniture, etc. To do this, the family must ensure that the animal learns to trust humans. The socialisation of cats taken in late in life requires more patience than when they are very young. In some cases, these may be very young, unweaned kittens (separated too early from their mothers). In such cases, the family may have to bottle-feed the kittens. If the cat is a stray or a feral cat, it could happen that it will be aggressive and unsocialised. Therefore, the family will have to teach the animal to get used to humans and trust them.
  • The “convalescent” foster family: The family will have to take care of cats in convalescence (injured, sick, etc.). Here the family will have to be used to administering medication to the animal.

What will be your missions as a foster family 

Once the cat has arrived at your home, here are the missions that await you:

  • Provide for the animal's needs: educating, caring, playing, and of course loving. 
  • Sociabilisation: charities can entrust cats that are still a bit "wild" and that will need to be socialised. This requires a greater investment but is only offered to families who feel able to do so.
  • Bring the cat to the veterinarian: take the cat to the vet for all the care (identification, sterilisation, vaccinations, annual visit) the feline needs. Charities will let you know which vets they work with (they usually have preferential rates with certain vets). No cost for families, charities take care of veterinary costs.
  • Keep the charity informed: send photos/videos and information about the cat's character/behaviour to keep the charity up to date.
  • Welcome future adopters: be available for information requests or visits from potential adopters. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, you should discuss it with the charity.

Basic rules you should know before fostering

  1. It is about caring for an animal as if it were your own.
  2. Being a foster family is a commitment. It’s very hard to know how long a cat will be kept in foster care.
  3. It is great to have a room where the cat can be isolated, at least while it gets used to its new environment.
  4. Volunteers must be available to receive adopters.
  5. Be as specific and as honest as possible! Inform the charities of the maximum number of cats you wish to take in, whether you are accepting cats or kittens, and whether you can provide veterinary care and bottle-feed very young kittens. If you are willing to socialise a cat or not, administer medication, etc.
  6. Inform the charities sufficiently in advance of your absences (holidays, planned business trips, etc.).
  7. If living in a flat, it must be secured with, for example, protective nets (for balconies). Beware of windows that open from above: cats may get stuck jumping out of them.
  8. When outside access is possible, it is important to keep all adult cats inside for a month so that they get their bearings and understand that their territory is now this one. As for kittens, they should never be let out so that they don't get used to the outside world (this will facilitate adoptions).
  9. In the event of a problem, the foster family must inform the charity. Don’t be shy to inform the charity on the situation, ask for help, for some advice because you must not feel alone facing a difficult situation.
  10. When the cat is adoptable (kittens must be at least 12 weeks old and fully socialised: good relations with humans, cleanliness, learning what is forbidden, etc.), send photos to the charity so that they can start the adoption process.

Before taking the plunge, you should be aware that letting go of a cat with whom you have lived for several weeks or even months is always difficult. There are other things you should be aware of before becoming a foster family. Let’s find out 10 things you should know.

10 things you should know before becoming a foster family

Becoming a foster family for cats? A wonderful way to help animals and charities but what is really the role of these families and how to welcome an animal?

Many people don't know this, but foster families also exist for animals and, for the most part, they make it possible to relieve many animal protection charities that do not have premises or shelters to welcome all abandoned animals.

By fostering a cat, you are actually saving two cats.

As the name suggests, a foster family will take in an animal until it finds a family to adopt it. The foster family will have the duty to take care of the animal by offering it a home and a little love for an indefinite period of time, which can vary from a few days to several months or even years. Being a foster family is like being a volunteer for an animal charity and taking care of the animal as if it were your own.

Sounds easy? It isn’t always so easy to foster a cat. Find out 10 things you should know before becoming a foster family.

Do you get paid to foster?

As a volunteer for a charity, you obviously don’t get paid to foster. This activity actually costs money, since the animal's food must be paid for. Charities pay for the veterinary expenses and some even pay for the animal’s food. But this is not always the case.

Is fostering a pet expensive/what do you have to pay for when you foster? 

This all depends on you. Some families spend quite a bit for the cats they’ve fostered because they bought cat trees, cat toys, loads of treats, wet food, new equipment, etc. Whereas other families bought the basic equipment a cat needs, such as a litter box, cat food and maybe one or two toys.

Cats don’t need much to be happy, as long as they have a clean litter, enough food and water, a few toys (even objects you can find in your home, like a piece of string, a hairband, etc.) that’s already great. But some families decide to go the extra mile and invest on more stuff for their foster cats, just like they would for their own animal.

Every charity has their own policy, so you’ll have to discuss expenses with the charity you are helping but most of the time, you will have to pay for the cat’s food and litter. Some charities help out with the food expenses, especially if you are fostering more than one cat. Normally, you shouldn’t have to pay for veterinary expenses, it will be the charity who will do so.

How long does fostering last?

The fostering duration will depend mainly on the adoption requests of the cat in question. Fostering can last from a few days to several months, without it being possible for anyone to precisely define the time frame. Now, with that being said, it could happen that a charity gets in touch with you to foster a cat for a fixed period of time because the cat is already in foster care and the family might be going away for a few days or weeks. So you’d be helping another foster family by taking in the cat for a fixed period of time. But otherwise, it’s very hard to determine how long a cat or kitten will stay in foster care.

For quarantines, the fostering lasts at least 1 month and can last longer if care is needed. If a foster family is nursing kittens, the fostering will last at least until the kitten(s) are 3 months old. The same applies to foster families who are socialising a cat. Indeed, it all depends on the cat and how long it takes the animal to be socialised and adoptable! Some cats only need a few weeks to be socialised, others need more.

How do you prepare for a foster kitten or cat?

First, you need to buy the basics: litter box, food bowl, toys, and a cat carrier. You don’t need the full equipment just yet, just the basics so that the cat feels comfortable. Then you can buy a cat tree, more toys, etc. whatever you feel like buying, it of course depends on your budget. Once you have all the equipment a cat needs, you’ll have to get the feline its food and litter. If it’s possible, try to find out what food brand the cat is used to eating.

Once you have all the equipment for your future foster cat, you should prepare a calming environment for him because the cat will feel stress. Make sure you create some hiding spots. Placing a cardboard house is a great idea, cats love them. You can also use loads of blankets and build mini shelters. Let your creativity speak! Last but not least, you could buy some cat relaxants to help soothe the cat.

If you are welcoming kittens, make sure you kitten proof your home (or room where the kitten will stay). Cover your sofa and furniture, remove your carpet as there could be some accidents.

Little tip: Leave the cat or kitten in a room for a few weeks, just so the feline can get used to its new environment, get used to the noise, smell and humans he’s surrounded with. If it’s possible, choose a room where you spend most of your time in (in a living room for example). Even though they will be places for the cat to hide, he’ll still know there is a human presence there.

Can you be a foster family if you already have a cat/dog?

Yes, you can be a foster family even though you already have a dog or cat at home. Actually, having an animal of your own means you have some experience with pets and know how to get the animal to adapt to its new environment. There is also the possibility of giving your pet some company and a new friend to play with. 

Having a dog or a cat at home could help the foster animal adapt quicker and feel more comfortable. Of course, if your dog or cat doesn’t get along with new pets, then it will be difficult to become a foster family. Therefore, your pet will have to be calm, gentle and welcoming.

Fostering a cat or a kitten has many advantages. ©Media Home - Shutterstock

Do you need a spare room to foster a cat?

No, not necessarily. You have all sorts of foster family profiles, some students living in a studio and some families living in houses. 

Now, with that being said, what is important is to keep the cat in one room the first few days and even weeks. Basically the time for the cat to adjust to its new environment. In the room, make sure the animal has access to the litter box, the food and water. You probably won’t be seeing much of the animal to start with, but little by little and with a lot of patience, the animal will start to come out when you are in the room.

Where should a foster cat sleep?

This all depends on the cat’s personality and your tolerance. This is your decision to take: Do you want to sleep with the cat in your bed? What if the cat is super active at night and won’t let you sleep? The cat might also be meowing and scratching at your door at night, so would you be willing to let your door open and let your feline explore and sleep at night in your bedroom?

Make sure you prepare a few warm and comfy places for the cat to sleep on. Cats decide wherever they want to sleep but it’s up to you to put some boundaries. If you are ok with the cat sleeping in your bedroom, then that’s fine. If you don’t want to, then you can make your cat sleep in the lounge, or another comfortable room.

Little tip: The first few days and nights, we would advise you to keep the animal in one room. It will help the animal feel more comfortable and confident. You’ll have to create some hiding spots for the feline because cats love to hide, especially when they are afraid. When the cat is comfortable around you, comes out when you are in the room, you can slowly start opening new doors and let your cat sleep wherever he (and you) wants.

How long does it take a cat to adjust to a new home?

Of course, the answer to this question will depend on the personality of the feline and, more importantly, the experiences it has had throughout its life. Cats that have had traumatic experiences with humans will be more wary and will need more time to feel confident and secure.

In general, if a feline has no emotional baggage and no socialisation problems, a week or a week and a half will be more than enough time for the cat to feel comfortable in its new environment. Some shy kittens will need a little more time.

You’ll have to be patient with the cat! Its whole environment has completely changed and it’s disturbing for an animal, especially because cats are animals of habits. You’ll have to make sure you give the animal some space and time to adapt to its new environment. With patience, tenderness and time, you’ll see the cat will slowly adjust to its new home.

Can I still go on holiday if I’m fostering?

Yes of course, you can still go on holiday if you are fostering. You will just have to inform the charity well in advance so that they have enough time to organise themselves and find a foster family who will be able to take care of the cat in your absence.

Do you get priority to adopt the animal if you’re their foster?

This depends on the charity's policy, but usually yes you would get priority to adopt the animal you’ve been fostering. It kind of makes sense to be honest, the cat has gotten used to you and your home, so if you decided to adopt the cat you’ve been fostering it will be smoother for the cat rather than going into a new home and having to adapt all over again.

What are the benefits for the cat and yourself to become a foster family?

There are so many benefits to fostering an animal, not only for the animal itself but for you too.



Cats in foster care are happier and better socialised than those living in shelters or in cages. You are simply doing a good deed! Indeed, you are getting involved in animal protection.
The cat has the opportunity to discover life with children, other cats/dogs, a garden, life in a flat, etc... You are giving a new start to an animal that has not had much luck so far.
By helping one cat you are in fact helping two cats because when welcoming a cat in your home, you are making room for another cat in the shelter. You love cats but cannot adopt one permanently because your situation does not allow it, but you get to spend a few weeks/months with one.
It’s less scary for a cat to stay in someone’s home than to stay in a shelter with plenty of other cats, a lot of noise and less space to play around, etc. If you want to adopt a cat but are unsure about it, this is a trial period for you. You will always have priority over adopting cats in your home.
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