Plus, the health concerns to keep in mind, according to our animal expert.
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When it comes to shelter animals, the best ways to help them are through adoption, fostering, volunteering, and donations. If you can't adopt, fostering is a rewarding option. Not only are you giving a shelter pet reprieve from what can be a loud and overwhelming environment, but you're also helping to reacquaint the animal to a home environment, which can help get them adopted more quickly.

There are lots of things you should be aware of when fostering a pet, regardless of children or other pets in the home. You should always pay attention to the animal's behavior, make sure they are eating enough, and do your best to make them feel safe. These to-dos are taken up a notch when there are other pets in the home, because you have to make sure the interactions between animals are positive and make sure both pets feel secure.

Here are some things to keep in mind according to Dr. Andrea Y. Tu, DVM, medical director of Behavior Vets of NYC.

Ginger kitten cuddle with adult tabby cat.
Credit: Akimasa Harada / Getty Images

Make Introductions

When introducing animals, you should make sure they are each comfortable, says Dr. Tu. With dogs, a safe introduction requires a neutral location. For example, you could introduce the dogs on-leash, outside the home or you could introduce them at the shelter facility. "A lot of people think their dogs either love all dogs or hate all dogs, but that's only the case for about 10 percent of dogs," says Dr. Tu. She explains that the majority of dogs are either tolerant, meaning they will put up with "rude" behavior until they reach their limit or selective, meaning they like some dogs and not others. "So, it's important to break down that mindset of 'my dog loves everybody,' and really assess how your dog acts around other dogs," says Dr. Tu. She points out that many dogs "shut down" out of fear after arriving at the shelter, and initial behavior tests may not discern their true personalities.

With cats, a safe introduction means complete separation at first. Put the foster cat or kitten in its own room with the door closed (this could even be a small bathroom). "Cats recognize each other primarily through scent," says Dr. Tu. She suggests taking two towels and rubbing down each cat with one. Place each towel with the opposite cat, so they can get used to the other's scent. Do this "scent-transfer" a couple times per day for several days. Then you can let them sniff each other under the door while still in separate rooms. You can test them by placing them in the same room, but still keeping them separated either with a play pen (if dealing with kittens) or separate cat carriers (for adult cats). If there are any signs of hissing or aggression, you may just want to keep them separated during the foster period. If they are tolerant of one another, then you can work up to keeping them in the same room. This process could take anywhere from a week to two weeks, according to Dr. Tu.

Maintain Co-Habitation

Once in the home, you should keep dogs separated at first (by a baby gate, for instance) where they can see each other, but have their own space. "Don't just take off the leashes and assume everything is fine. Let them get used to each other first," says Dr. Tu. If they get along well, this process may go faster, but give it a few days until you're comfortable having them off leashes. This makes it easier to handle each dog if things get tense for any reason.

Common culprits that create tension are toys and food. Dr. Tu advises feeding your pet and the foster pet in separate rooms, and avoiding "high-value" items like bully sticks and raw hides, which can spark resource-guarding aggression. "The same thing goes for toys. If your dog [or cat] has a favorite toy, put it away while the foster pet is around, because that could be a trigger. Err on the side of caution," she says. If a dog fight occurs in your home, do not stick your hands anywhere near their mouths because they might accidentally bite you. Instead, Dr. Tu says to use barriers between their heads like a poster board or something large that will separate them momentarily so you can get a hold of them. With cats, plastic laundry bins turned upside can act as holding pens, perfect to break up a feline spat. If a fight does occur while fostering, Dr. Tu recommends finding another home for that foster pet because it doesn't do any good to have a stressful living environment for either animal involved.

On a lighter note, there are several ways to encourage amicability between the pets in your home. With cats, you can give them rewards and treats when they are around each other, to create a positive association with the other cat. With dogs, pack walks are a great technique to forge a bond between dogs. These are structured parallel walks with dogs (the distance between them depends on their comfort level); this not only creates a fun walking environment, it can also introduce your foster dog to potential adopters. 

Know the Health Concerns

Before fostering, you should ensure your pets are up to date with their vaccinations, not only for your pets' health but also to protect the incoming foster animal. Talk to your veterinarian about common diseases in your area before fostering, especially if you have a pet that's more susceptible to disease. Some common diseases that can circulate between animals are kennel cough for dogs and respiratory diseases for cats (including FIV, FELV, and FIP). It should be noted that you shouldn't foster a FIV-positive or FELV-positive cat unless your cat also has these diseases.

Dr. Tu says it's not unusual for your permanent pet to have diarrhea when fostering another animal. For instance, they can pick up gastrointestinal bugs from kittens or puppies too young to receive preventative care for worms and other parasites. This can be easily treated with medication as prescribed by your vet. Other common communicable diseases are upper respiratory infections (with symptoms like coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, eye discharge, lethargy, decreased interest in food, and decreased energy). If one or more of these symptoms occur, have your pet seen by the vet sooner than later so they can start treatment.

All in all, fostering is a wonderful experience, as proved by the many "foster fail" cases where foster pets are adopted by their foster families. If you want to foster a pet and you already have pets in your home, remember: it can take up to two months for them to get used to their new home. These animals will fit seamlessly into your home, and may even get you thinking about making them a permanent addition to your family.

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