Are Foster Dogs a Risk to My Dog's Health?

Existing pets aren’t always accepting of fosters, either. As you weigh the decision to foster a dog, you can choose how much extra stress you want to take on; your pets, on the other hand, cannot, and they're relying on you to remember this. If you have a pet who doesn’t deal well with change, is aggressive toward or frightened of other animals (especially on his home turf), or is sick or fragile, you might want to pass on fostering and contribute in other ways.

Weighing the Risks

Even if your pet enjoys company, there are some risks to bringing another dog into your home. The chances of infectious disease will be minimized if you work with a shelter or rescue group that sticks to effective protocols, making sure incoming pets are given health screenings and have current vaccinations. Keeping your own pet healthy and insisting on fostering only pets with known health status — so you can evaluate and minimize risk — will go a long way to protecting your pet from illness.

The biggest risk to your dog will likely be “kennel cough,” which he could catch from a dog who’s asymptomatic on arrival but who breaks out with the illness later. The best protection is to make sure your own dog is kept current on this particular vaccine and on all others, as your own veterinarian recommends. Before bringing any foster dog into your home, it's a good idea to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to make sure your dog is healthy and current on appropriate parasite preventives as well.

Not all health issues put your pet at risk, of course. For example, there's essentially no danger to your pet if you're fostering a dog recovering from a heartworm infection or an accident such as being hit by a car. If you are fostering an animal with an illness that does present a risk, be sure to work with your veterinarian for the health of all animals and people concerned.

Other potential problems are bites and physical injuries. Again, if you know (or strongly suspect) that your dog is going to react aggressively or defensively to another dog in the house, you probably shouldn’t be fostering. Experienced fosterers assume there’s always a possibility of a dog fight, and they manage the environment to reduce fight triggers (such as one dog with a toy or treat the other wants). They also know how to stop a fight safely, with as little injury to dogs and people as possible. Remember, too, that even well-meaning dogs can hurt one another, as can happen when playful dogs are mismatched in size or age.

I’m not trying to put you off fostering, believe me! But I do want you to go into it fully informed and properly equipped for the challenge, so you can better enjoy the heartwarming benefits. My motto is always “Lose the risk, and keep the pet.” In this case, I’d change it just a little: “Lose the risk, and keep fostering pets!”

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