Animal shelters are often busy and overcrowded, so it can be difficult for workers to provide every cat and dog with the individual attention they need. Certain animals — such as nursing mothers, newborn puppies and kittens, and those with medical issues — often require more space or personalized care than a shelter can provide.

That’s where foster owners come in.

The people who volunteer to provide a temporary home for these animals relieve crowding at shelters and care for animals that need special attention. Foster owners also help cats, dogs and other animals adjust to living in a home, and they provide invaluable information to rescue groups that ensures the animal will be placed in the right forever home.

These animal-loving volunteers are vital to the success of shelters and rescues, but before you sign up to foster an animal, be sure you’re prepared for what fostering entails by asking yourself these important questions.

1. Do you have time?

Many shelters require foster applicants to attend a training session, and they may also need to conduct a home visit before placing an animal with you.

Once an animal is in your care, it’s your responsibility until the animal is prepared to return to the shelter — and the shelter has space for it. You may be asked to shelter an animal for a few days, but those few days could turn into a few weeks or months depending on circumstances. While you likely won’t need to be home all day to care for an animal, you may have to postpone or cancel plans.

Also, keep in mind that there’s more to fostering than simply providing food, water and attention. The animal in your care may require frequent bottle-feedings, regular walks or grooming. You may also have to housetrain a puppy or work with an animal on behavioral issues, which takes a serious time commitment.

2. Is your entire household on board?

Your family or roommates need to be supportive of your decision to foster, and they should be willing to treat foster animals as part of the family. An important part of fostering is preparing an animal to live in a home environment, so it’s important that everyone in your household be willing to lovingly accept new animals into their daily lives.

Also, consider how your own pets will react to the introduction of another furry family member. If your cat or dog is possessive of you or has a history of acting out when other animals are around, your home may not be a good fit for a foster animal.

jealous dog wants owner's attentionIt's important to give your own pets just as much time and attention as the animals you foster. (Photo: Budimir Jevtic/Shutterstock)

3. Are your pets up to date on vaccinations?

Animals placed in foster homes may have health issues, and they could potentially expose your pets to worms, parasites, respiratory infections and other diseases. Before you bring a foster animal into your home, talk to your veterinarian and ensure that your pets are up to date on vaccinations. Keep in mind that you’ll likely be responsible for any health costs related to your own animals.

4. Is your home ready for fostering?

The shelter you’re fostering for will likely provide you with a checklist or fostering tips to help you get your home ready, but you’ll need to have available space for an animal and be willing to pet-proof your home — especially if you’ll be fostering mischievous kittens or puppies.

Also, keep in mind that your home and belongings may become damaged while fostering. From scratched furniture and overturned plants to chewed-up slippers and housetraining accidents, another animal in the house means more messes.

5. Are you emotionally prepared to return a foster pet?

You’re probably interested in fostering because you’re an animal lover with pets of your own, so it can be understandably difficult to part with an animal you’ve become emotionally attached to. However, fostering involves caring for cats and dogs that you’ll eventually have to return to the shelter. It may help to keep in mind that, thanks to you, the animal is now more likely to find a loving forever home.

While foster owners can certainly adopt an animal they’ve developed a bond with, becoming that animal’s permanent home may mean that you won’t have room or time to continue to foster for the shelter. And losing a good foster home means the rescue will be unable to take in as many homeless animals.