Nora Grant, DVM
Fostering a pet is one of the greatest gifts a pet owner can give to a pet and a shelter. As people come into your shelter or clinic to offer their home to a foster pet, you have the opportunity to set them up for success. These three tips will help them reduce the stress commonly associated with this transition.
Preparing a safe haven
Introduction into the new home can be a fearful experience. Foster caregivers should create a safe zone, which will allow the pet to adjust to their new surroundings gradually.
- For cats, the bathroom or small bedroom will be best for the first few days. Advise the foster caregiver to place all bedding, food, water, and a litter box in that room, and remember to tell them to spread the items out in different spots. They can use the cat carrier with an open door or with the top removed and fill with soft bedding, and safe toys. This not only provides a safe spot but also continues to help the cat get used to being in the cat carrier. Recommending a calming and comforting feline pheromone product such as Feliway® Classic may help reduce the signs of fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS).
- For dogs, recommend the caregiver acquire a crate. Provide suggestions on sizing and placement. It should be big enough for the dog to stand up and turn around, and be in a quiet room with soft bedding. Place a water bowl and food dish nearby, if desired. Leave the crate door open. A few toys also can be placed in the crate along with some treats to get the dog interested in getting into the safe zone. Recommending a relaxing and comforting canine pheromone product such as Adaptil® may help reduce signs of FAS and help the dog adapt to his new surroundings faster.
- If the transition is not going well, the veterinarian can make specific recommendations on the additional use of an anxiolytic medication or nutraceutical for the pet.
Once the pet is exploring the new home, look for safety hazards that could create problems.
Everyday objects the pet might encounter could be perceived with fear or anxiety or pose a health threat. There’s a new “baby” in the house and they need to “baby-proof” it. Here are some recommendations you can share:
- Puppies and kittens love to chew, so remove or secure all items that might be within reach such as exposed electrical cords or items that might fall or dangle.
- Secure backyard fences to prevent climbing or digging underneath, and plug any holes. Suggest they watch the dog carefully during first few days to make certain they didn’t miss any safety issues.
- Provide non-slip flooring with secured rugs or yoga mats or carpet, and cover shiny surfaces. Ruggables is a company that makes a throw rug that is non-slip and washable.
Playing with their new foster pet is very important during this critical time of acclimation to the new environment or home. It is important to expose them carefully to new stimuli such as people and other pets, as well as to novel sounds and places.
- Toys for cats and dogs will differ but make sure they are safe. Check for small parts that could be swallowed or insides that could be eaten. Small catnip-stuffed mice attached to dangling material scraps, paper balls, and ping pong balls work nicely for cats. Hard rubber chew toys, tennis balls, and non-breakable Frisbees are favored toys for dogs.
- Moderate exercise is important for all pets, but it is not about physically exhausting them. Too much exercise can cause injury or have the opposite effect and make them more active. Short walks are fine to introduce them to new sights and sounds. Use a harness with at least a 6-foot leash and not a retractable leash or any type of punitive collar.
- Inside enrichment food puzzles are great for dogs and cats of any age. Fear Free Happy Homes has many tips for creative toys that can be made at home, or they can order food puzzles online.
- Positively reinforce good pet behavior with tiny treats and emphasize to the new owner not to punish or scold the pet for mistakes. Refer the new owner to Fear Free Happy Homes for more tips on training.
Encourage the new foster family to enjoy this very special time with the foster pet. Love is a two-way street and they will both enrich and prepare this pet for a new forever family as well as receive the many emotional and health benefits of life with a pet. Thank them for this wonderful service they are providing. Perhaps they might become that forever home!
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
This article was brought to you in collaboration with our friends at Ceva.