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Want to become a foster family for cats? Volunteer shares her experience

Two kittens and cat in woman arms

Fostering a dog, cat or other pets can make all the difference in helping an animal in need, as well as the shelter it comes from! Here's what you need to know before you start.

By Emilie Heyl

Updated on the

Being a foster family for animals is a bit like being a foster family for children. You take in an animal (a dog, a cat, a rodent) that has had a difficult life, that has been abandoned, and that is looking for a new home.

While waiting for new owners, the animal will be kept by a foster family whose role will be to take care of the animal and, in some cases, to socialise it and restore its confidence in humans. Indeed, some animals have been mistreated before arriving in a foster home. Families might also look after injured animals that need veterinary care or puppies or kittens that need to be bottle-fed. Finally, some animals cannot stand life in a shelter, which can be traumatic for dogs and cats that have always known family life, are not sociable or have a heavy history.

As you can see, your role is essential for them!

Today, I'm going to take you behind the scenes and tell you about my own experience as a foster family for cats. I’ve been fostering cats for two years and have welcomed five cats so far. Are you ready to embark on this journey with me?

How did I become a foster cat mum?

I decided to become a foster cat mum for two reasons. The first reason is because I’m a huge fan of animals. And the second reason is because, while working at Wamiz, I’ve been in contact with many rescue centres and I’ve realised that any little help they can get is enormous for them. So I decided to help as best as I could.

To become a foster family, you will need to contact an animal charity. These charities come to the aid of abandoned animals but, in the absence of shelter facilities, they rely on the generosity of families to take care of the animal while they wait for new owners. Shelters also prefer to give some of the animals they take in to foster families: older or sick animals, for example, are not suited to living in a shelter.

Nevertheless, it is important to find a trustworthy charity. To do this, you'll need to do lots of research. Check the internet, ask people around you, and above all, go and meet the people from the charity. This point is very important, you need to make sure you have a good feeling with the charity you will be volunteering for.

Two white and grey kittens
Meet Billie and Charlie, two sisters I fostered ©Wamiz

What is it like fostering a cat?

It depends on your expeience! But the basic level is just to welcome a cat at home, give it love, water, food, a litter box... while you wait for an adopter. You can take nice pictures and videos of the cat, write a text about its personality, receive visits from potential adopters (the charities only send serious candidates) and bring, if you wish, the cat to their adopter. These are the basics of fostering and what I do all the time. Everytime a cat comes to my house, I have to bring it to the vet after a few days for a full check-up, vaccinations and potentially neutering.

It can happen that the cat is ill, therefore the volunteer can take the cat to one of the partner vets. The feline might have to take a treatment, which the volunteer will have to administer. You will have to feel confident enough to do so. One of the cats I kept had a lot of breathing problems. After much back and forth at the vets, we discovered that Kamoute (the cat I was keeping) had a chronic disease and had to take many treatments.

More experienced fosterers can either take care of baby kittens (who need bottle feeding every hour), or feral cats who need quarantining or socialising. This all depends on the foster’s experience, willingness and time availability.

Can you get paid to foster cats?

No, you don’t get paid to foster cats as it is on a voluntary basis. An important question many people have asked themselves is who supports the animal financially. The shelter remains the legal owner of the animal which is entrusted to a family. But often the expenses depend on the agreements with the charity or the shelter.

The cost of medical care or veterinary expenses are fully covered by the shelter. It may happen, in case of emergency, that the family calls upon another practitioner, but this must be done in total agreement with the shelter.

As far as food is concerned, it is usually the foster family who covers these expenses, as well as toys and accessories. But many charities and shelters provide a kit for the animal entrusted to them (bed, litter box, bowls, etc.). This is done on a case-by-case basis. The aim is to not burden the family budget with the cost of caring for the animal.

In my experience, I pay for the cat’s food, treats, toys, litter box, litter and because I love animals so much I bought a cat tree, cat mat, etc. But this is up to you.

What is the difference between fostering and adopting a cat?

A foster family is often a much warmer alternative to an animal shelter. In this case, the animal can be fostered from a few days to several months, depending on the situation and the needs. Whereas when adopting a cat, the animal is supposed to stay with its family forever.

Now, with that being said, foster families can adopt the animal they are fostering. And to be totally honest, it’s usually what happens. You get so attached to each animal who comes into your home, you create a special bond and it’s extremely hard to say goodbye. I’ve sadly never adopted a cat I’ve fostered because I do not have the best lifestyle for an animal, but they all have a very special place in my heart.

Are you thinking of adopting a cat? Check out these beautiful cats who are looking for their forever home

Is it difficult to foster cats?

Yes and no. I have to say, the hardest thing for me is to say goodbye. I cry every single time…The first few weeks are also hard because you are getting to know each other, to trust each other and I can tell you, you’ll have moments of stress and panic. You don’t always sleep a full night so you can get tired quickly and you also have to get used to taking care of someone.

But all of this is so worth it! The experience is just undescribable, the amount of love, pride, and happiness you get is magical.

Brown and grey cat with green eyes
Meet Kamoute, he stayed with me for 6 months ©Wamiz

How do you socialise a foster kitten or cat?

The key to a safe and successful socialisation is calmness, patience, time and organisation.

In a day, the time you should devote to socialising can be significant and, depending on the type of fostering, it can take several hours a day. If you don't have this free time, don't start fostering! The experience can quickly turn out to be disastrous and the lost time will be difficult to make up for those who will take over. I would spend most of my day with the cats I fostered. Luckily I could work from home, so I would usually stay in my lounge with the cat, and take small breaks to play with them or feed them.

If you decide to welcome kittens at home, it will be important to get the kittens to meet strangers otherwise you will not allow a good socialisation of the kittens (even if the kitten is sociable). The kittens will remain fearful and will flee as soon as a stranger comes to your home. Obviously, this complicates things at the time of adoption! So don’t hesitate to invite your friends and family to see the kittens you are fostering. Come on, who would say no to this kind of invitation? I remember my friends queuing up to meet the two kittens I fostered!

Now, when it comes to socialisation, food and playtime will be your main allies.

Playtime: Avoid playing with your hands (this also applies to sociable kittens). Get a fishing rod or a feather duster, to play from a distance, at first... Start with small playtime sessions (5 to 10 minutes), observing their reactions, several times a day. Don't rush things. Gradually, with the feather toy, you can start to stroke the cat, to touch them. If the cat backs away, stop and start again later.

Food: Everytime you go and visit the cat or the kitten, offer a treat (a piece of ham, chicken, cat treats, etc.). At first, you put the treat in front of them. As you go along, try to get them to take it in your hand. This little ritual will allow the kitten to assimilate your visits to something pleasant and positive. When the feline has really started to gain confidence, mealtimes will also be the best time to stroke them. You should therefore make yourself available to stay with them during mealtimes.

Be patient: You should never rush into anything. Here are common mistakes to avoid:

- Sudden gestures that show your fear
- Petting too quickly
- Hugging a kitten when it is still very reluctant

All these little mistakes can make the cat regress.

Here are the different signs that can indicate an evolution:

- The cat or kitten is calm and does not move when you are there
- The cat or kitten lies on their side and waits to be stroked
- The cat or kitten is interested in what you are doing
- The cat or kitten blinks
- The cat or kitten purrs
- The cat or kitten seeks contact, without running away from you

How do you say goodbye to a foster kitten?

People fear this moment the most. Personally, saying goodbye is the hardest thing about this beautiful experience. You get attached to the animal, you bond with them and when they find their forever home and leave, it’s difficult. But it is worth it: you will have saved two lives! That of the animal taken in, as well as another cat that will have taken its place in the shelter.

Charities choose the adopters well. They visit the future adopter’s home, and have long conversations with them. When adopters come to my house to meet the cat, I am even happier because I get to meet the new family. This always reassures me because I can get a sense of whether their environment will correspond to the feline’s needs, and see how impatient and happy they are to be getting a new four-legged friend! 

Black kitten
Meet Koko, the very first cat I fostered, she was a 6 months old kitten ©Wamiz

There may be a check-up a few months after the adoption. It's just a friendly chat between the former foster family and the adopters, to see if everything is going well. I usually get pictures of my little sweethearts and seeing them so happy, it feels good too.

There is no shortage of cats looking for a home. As soon as a cat is adopted, within 2-3 weeks, another cat comes to me to be pampered. And I often say: there are plenty of adopters, but not foster families. I have more impact by being a foster (I have "saved" 5 cats) than by being an adopter at all (I have never "saved" a cat).

How much time should you spend with foster kittens or cats?

When an abandoned animal arrives at your home, it will be expected that the cat will not be socialised. This means that you may encounter more or less serious behavioural problems in these animals: inappropriate toileting, destruction of furniture, aggressiveness, etc. You will have to be patient and understanding. You will probably have to train the cat not to destroy furniture, to pee in the litter box, etc. And what is wonderful about this, is that by doing so, you’ll increase the chances of adoption. How rewarding is that?

I’ve been very lucky because I’ve only had one accident in all the cats I’ve fostered and they were two month old kittens. When it comes to furniture, I bought a cat scratcher and I’ve let the cat scratch on old chairs that don’t have much value.

Then there is the question of availability: are you a student, working more than 8 hours a day, unemployed? Your availability has great importance on your capacity to become a foster family: if there is no one at home for several hours a day, you will not be able to foster all types of animals. When I started becoming a foster family, it was during the pandemic, so I was at home all day with the animal. And honestly, it’s the best way to socialise a feline. Most of the time, a cat that you foster is either extremely scared, not used to human presence, can be aggressive or shy. So most of the time they will hide. But if you spend time in the same room as the animal, it will definitely help and accelerate the process of socialisation.

I spend a lot of time with the cats I foster, when it’s possible I try to spend the whole day and evening with them. Even though I’m doing my own thing (watching TV, reading a book, playing on my phone) I try to stay in the presence of the cat. I fostered two kittens who were full of energy. I would spend at least 2 hours playing with them in the morning, an hour at lunch and then at least 2 to 3 hours in the evening. With adult cats, it really depends on the personality of the animal. If the cat isn’t shy, he will either stay close to you (Kamoute would never leave my side) or just sleep all day in another room. But make sure you do spend some time with all the cats you will foster, it’s really important for socialisation and bonding.

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