Congratulations on your decision to adopt a pet. You'll come to experience so many wonderful feelings with your dog or cat – and at other times wonder what they are thinking! Fortunately, petMD has created the following guide with a few simple tips on how to best prepare yourself and your family to welcome your new pet home.
- Get Your Pet ID'd
Our beloved pets become lost all the time! In fact, nearly 1 in 6 pet parents will lose a dog or cat within a 5 year period, according to a 2012 ASPCA survey. Reduce your risk by strapping on an ID collar on your newly adopted pet, or equipping him or her with a microchip, a tiny transponder about the size of a grain of rice that uses radio waves to transmit information about your pet. In addition to ensuring your pet can be easily identified, keep your contact information that is on the tag or on file updated. A lost pet can only be returned if someone can reach you.
- Find a Veterinarian
In many ways the veterinarian will be your most trusted advisor and the person you'll rely on the most when you have questions. Need advice on dog or cat food? See your vet. Not sure if you should neuter or vaccinate your pet? See your vet. Is your pet vomiting or scratching? See your vet. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience taking care of animals and truly care about the wellbeing of your pet. So don't wait to find a local veterinarian you can trust and visit on a regular basis — once a year for the annual checkup, at a minimum.
- Pet-proof Your Home
Dogs and cats can be curious especially in new environments. Exploring new places through, smelling, licking, eating, jumping or scratching can be a few ways they make sense of their new home. Your job is to make sure all the dangerous and valuable stuff — chemicals, cleaning agents, clothes, shoes, etc. — are either out of the house or out of reach for your new pet. That means keeping cabinets locked, countertops and floors clear, and electrical cords and wires out of sight or secure to walls. You'll also want to buy some dog and cat essentials like chew toys and scratching posts (more on that in a bit).
- Pet-proof Your Family
Many pets being introduced into a new home will need some time to adjust to the new attention and surroundings. Take it slow and easy and let them naturally find their place in the family. If there are children, especially young children in the home, speak with them first about the importance of being gentle with the new dog or cat. Unwanted or excessive attention by children may inadvertently cause a negative — perhaps even an unexpected — response by your new pet. It doesn't necessarily mean your new pet is "bad," probably just scared. You should supervise the first few encounters and later reinforce proper behavior etiquette around dogs and cats with the children.
- Pet-proof Your Other Pets
When it comes to other pets already in your home, it's a little trickier. If possible, introduce the new dog or cat to your other pets gradually — preferably beginning by allowing your pets to smell an object the new animal has played or slept with. After a week or so, start swapping the animals for a few hours so the new dog or cat can roam around while your other pet(s) are confined to a separate space for a while. Finally, you can make a formal introduction, making sure to never leave the animals unsupervised and paying extra praise and attention to your other pet(s), especially when he or she acts friendly towards the new pet.
- Train Early and Often
Practicing basic training as soon as your pet comes into your home is key to having a well-behaved dog or cat later on. Check with the animal shelter about local training classes and ask friends and family about pet trainers they trust.
For dogs, try practicing simple things like sit, stay, heel, come and down for about five minutes every day and reward him or her with love during the successes. You might find training a cat a little different than training a dog. You'll want to deter bad behavior such as scratching furniture without scaring him. Often, it’s as easy as interrupting the cat during the act. This can be done with a distracting noise like the tapping of a tabletop.
Also, depending on the age and previous life experience of the pet you may have to potty or litter box train the animal. Remember, accidents happen, so try to be forgiving and don't punish your pet. Instead, praise when he or she uses the litter box or goes outside to do his or her "business."
- Establish an Exercise Routine
Though it may seem like your new four-legged friend loves nothing more than to nap on the couch, dogs and cats need regular exercise to stay healthy just like people do. From long evening walks to a daily game of fetch or "chase the toy mouse," starting a fitness routine with your new pet — combined with feeding them a well-balanced, nutritious diet — will help keep them happy and healthy for years to come.
- Buy Quality Pet Food
Getting your new pet a complete and balanced diet is vital part of keeping them happy and healthy for many years to come. However, says Dr. Lorie Huston, a small animal veterinarian with over 20 years of experience, the nutritional needs will vary depending on the dog or cat's life stage. "For instance, the nutritional needs of a growing puppy or kitten are much different than the needs of adult dog or cat that leads a sedentary life. Conversely, as our pets age, their nutritional needs may change again." Consult your veterinarian to see what diet is best your pet's specific life stage and lifestyle.
- Buy Cat/Dog Toys and Other Essentials
Dogs have an intrinsic need to chew and cats love to explore and scratch. So save your shoes, purses, and furniture by having an adequate supply of dog chew toys and cat scratching posts on hand. Other new dog and cat essentials include bedding, gates, crates, food and water bowls, leashes, and collars. Cats will also need a litter box and maybe even a perch or two. Oh, and let's not forget grooming supplies and cleaning supplies. There will be accidents! But don't worry — dog kisses and cat cuddles make it all worth it!
For the complete slideshow on how to be the best new pet parent on the block, visit petMD.