By Victoria Heuer
Some of the greatest moments in life include the day we met our pets for the first time, and the day we adopted them and they came home with us. Here are 10 things to consider before bringing a new dog or cat home.
#1 Can You Commit?
Will you have the time to walk your dog three times a day? Will you remember to exercise your cat every evening? If the answer is no, and you have no one who can perform those essential tasks, you should stop right here and consider a fish or a parakeet as a low-demand animal companion.
#2 Will Your Pet Fit Your Lifestyle?
Choosing a pet based on how popular or cute it is, is probably one of the worst decisions people make. Too often these pets are unceremoniously dropped at an animal shelter when they show themselves to be too high energy, too needy, too intolerant … the list is endless.
Get to know the breed you are interested in and be open to changing your mind if it doesn’t fit your ability to provide for its temperament. Ask lots of questions from the people adopting the animal out, maybe even find a breed specific group to ask questions of some of the members. A great example is the recent Chihuahua craze. Sure, they’re adorable and can live in any size home, and they’re very low maintenance. The catch is that they are not usually very tolerant of children and are one of the breeds that are known for biting children without much provocation. A pet cat should also match your personality. Some cats, for instance, require a lot of attention and interaction while others are mostly independent. Do your research and choose wisely.
#3 Interview Veterinarians Before the Adoption
Before you have settled on the type of pet that will suit you, ask your friends for their veterinary recommendations. A veterinarian can be an excellent source of information to help you choose the best pet to suit your lifestyle and needs. Not all vets are the same, and you want a veterinarian that best matches your needs. This will be a lifelong relationship and as such, the choice is very important. Again, do your research. Read online reviews of the vets in your community (with a grain of salt), ask groomers in your area who they recommend, and make interview appointments with them.
Our tip: Don’t rely entirely on a vet’s friendliness toward humans (i.e., you). A good veterinarian often has better skills relating to animals than to people. It is also your prerogative to ask the vet if she/he can provide a few references.
#4 Make Your Home Pet-Friendly
Did you know that something as simple as chewing gum can be deadly for dogs, or that ibuprofen is toxic to cats? It is highly important to go through your home now, before you bring a new pet home, to search out hazards and get them out of the way or out of the house. This includes cabinets at pet level, counter tops, bottles of chemical on the floor, small toys, electric cords and curtain cords. And it doesn’t stop there. You will also need to check your home and yard for toxic plants for dogs or cats, and if you carry a purse or bag, you will need to find and discard any potential dangers – like sugar-free gum, which often contains xylitol.
#5 Choose an Age and Breed Appropriate Food
Not all pet foods are alike. Some are better than others, and some make claims that are not always backed by facts. It would be easy to just grab the pet food bag or can with the nicest design on the cover, but that is not what is going to guarantee our pets’ long term health. Choose the best food for your dog or cat and always look for a diet labeled complete and balanced. From the time they are young until the time they are seniors, your pet food choices should be guided by the pet’s specific needs, life stage, and lifestyle. You can do some cursory research to get a good idea of why it is important and what to look for, but for the best advice, consult your veterinarian.
#6 Be Prepared for an Adjustment Period
If it’s a puppy you’ll be adopting into your home, be prepared for crying. Yes, just as with human babies, baby dogs cry during the night in their first days in their new home. But unlike human babies, it is not a good idea to take your puppy to your bed to soothe him. The best thing you can do before bringing the puppy home is set up a quiet, enclosed space with a comfortable bed, or a kennel that can be closed, keeping your puppy secure from wandering. Choose the spot that will be your dog’s permanent spot. During the day, let your puppy have free, supervised privileges to roam around the house to smell everything. This will also be a good way to spot any hazards you might have missed on the first go ‘round.
Bedtime for cats is a bit easier. Arrange the kitten’s sleeping area in a secure area close to his litter box so that he doesn’t get lost looking for it, and then leave him to romp around in his area until he drops off to sleep.
Things get a little bit trickier when you are bringing a new pet into a home with pets. You will need to make sure that your resident pet does not feel threatened enough to strike out at the newcomer.
#7 Train Your Pet
If your happy home is going to remain a happy home, the housetraining will need to start immediately after bringing your pet home. If you are adopting a kitten, introduce him to his litterbox as soon as you get him inside. If it is a puppy, leash him up and take him outside to start getting to know his neighborhood. Most puppies will be intimidated by their new surrounding, and you don’t want to put a fright into your puppy. A very short walk on the first outing is all that is needed. Begin training on that first outing. When the puppy relieves himself outside, while he is doing it say, “Go now.” Repetition of this command will eventually make it so that you will be able to take your dog out in any kind of weather without worrying about how long your dog will take to relieve himself.
#8 Select Appropriate Pet Treats and Toys
The right treats are essential, especially for puppies. Treats are one of the best tools for behavior training when used sensibly. Experiment with a few different dog treats and stick with the one that has the highest value for your puppy. That will be the treat he will do anything for, including staying by your side even when a clowder of cats goes by. Stay practical when giving treats. It is tempting to be liberal when it comes to treating our “little babies,” and just like giving candy to a human child, too many snacks can lead to an unhealthy body; even healthy snacks can add up in excess weight. Do always keep a back of treats in your pocket for training opportunities. Be careful with rawhide; it can be torn into pieces and swallowed in large chunks, potentially leading to choking or intestinal blockages. Toys should be free of buttons, strings, and anything that can be bitten off and swallowed. Stick with rubber balls made for dogs (the harder to tear apart), nylon-bones, non-toxic stuffed toys, and ask other dog “parents” for advice on toys that hold up under puppy pressure.
For cats, feather wands are always popular, and a lot of cats are responsive to laser light devices. And don’t forget the old standbys: the catnip stuffed mouse toy and the old boxes. Cats love treats too, so go with the same advices as above and treat sensibly.
#9 Consider Spaying and Neutering
Neutering, a term that can refer to spay or castration surgery, can typically be done as early as eight weeks of age. Generally, the neutering procedure is performed around four to six months, plenty of time before the animal has reached the age of reproduction. Some people choose not to based on the feeling that the animal will lose its sense of identity (male), that the animal will be missing out on the life milestone of giving birth (female), or that the animal will lose its ability to be protective. None of these reasons are based in fact.
The best thing you can do for your pet’s health is to have him or her neutered. Yes, neutering does decrease aggression in most instances, but it does not make a dog any less protective of his or her human family. And your female animal will not feel less-than for not giving birth. It would be worse for her to have her babies taken from her than to have never given birth at all. She will not know the difference. She will also be less prone to cancer of the mammaries and ovaries. Ask your veterinarian for their recommendation.
#10 Outfit Your Pet with Proper ID
Finally, ensure that your puppy or kitten is properly outfitted with ID so that if he should ever get loose — and it does happen to most everyone eventually — you will have him returned safely to you. Have your contact information on your pet’s collar, either on a tag or printed directly onto the collar (the latter can be custom ordered or made by you). Also, keep photos on hand. This is a good reason to track your pet’s growth, but you may need those images when it comes time to post them around town or to leave with the local shelter in case your pet is delivered to them. A GPS device that attaches to the collar is a clever way to track your pet, but it loses its efficacy when the collar gets lost.
Microchips are the best assurance for identification and need to be used in combination with a collar for the best chance of finding a lost pet. Make a point now of remembering to update your contact information with the company that keeps records for the microchip every time there is a change in your contact information. It can make the difference between your pet being returned to you or staying lost to you forever.