What You Should Know Before Adopting a Pet
Adopting a pet brings with it added responsibility. You can expect walks, indoor and outdoor play, emptying litter boxes and belly rubs. It can be a vastly rewarding change for the whole family, but it can also be a stressful one if you’re not prepared, relaxed and ready.
According to Diane Wilkerson, Director PAWS Chicago Lincoln Park Adoption Center, there are a few factors to consider when adopting your first family pet. Knowing what to expect and how to properly care for and protect your furry friend can help your new pet feel right at home from the moment they walk through the front door. You can adopt a pet from a breeder or local animal shelter, and each comes with its own set of considerations.
Make Sure You’re Ready
Before adopting, ask yourself if your lifestyle is compatible with a dog’s or cat’s needs. Wilkerson asks, “Are you home enough to care for a pet? Do you or any members of your family have pet allergies?” Ask yourself, does owning a pet fit into your budget? These are some of the questions you’ll want to answer to confirm your family is up for a pup or cat.
Find a Responsible Breeder
When starting your search for a pet with some pedigree, you may consider contacting a knowledgeable breeder or a local rescue association for a specific breed. The American Kennel Club (AKC) provides a dog breed selector to help you find the right breed for your lifestyle, as well as the AKC Marketplace for access to reputable breeders. Once you locate a breeder, find out about the health of your potential pet and its parents, the AKC advises.
Consider Adopting from a Local Shelter
“When you adopt a pet from an animal shelter or rescue organization,” Wilkerson says, “you are truly saving a life and are making more space available for the shelter to save more homeless pets.” These shelters are often equipped with adoption counselors who can help match you with the right animal for your lifestyle and provide information on how to care for your specific pet.
Ask the Right Questions
During your adoption search, be sure to meet a variety of pets, and ask plenty of questions to learn about what each pet could require in a new home, Wilkerson says. It’s key to communicate the qualities you are looking for in a pet. “If you want a running partner, look for a higher-energy dog,” Wilkerson advises. “If you want a cuddle buddy, a low-energy pet would be a good choice.”
According to PetMD, some other important questions to ask a shelter when adopting a dog or cat include:
- What is the animal’s history? How did the dog or cat that you want end up at the shelter? Was it a stray or was it surrendered by a previous owner?
- Did you conduct any behavior tests? Many shelters test and observe animals’ behavior in order to evaluate their adoption potential. You can ask which tests were done and for the results, which may be helpful in understanding training needs.
- Has the animal received medical care? Standard health checks are typically performed by shelters and rescues. Find out what vaccinations the dog or cat has received, as well as any medications or other medical needs may be required or recommended.
- How long is the adoption process? Each shelter or rescue can have different adoption procedures. Ask about the timeline so you can properly set your expectations.
- What does adoption cost? Fees may vary from one center to the next, and not all pets are priced the same. The age and breed of the animal, among other variables, can affect pricing.
- What’s the right food for this animal? Find out what food the shelter or rescue was feeding your pet, and ask your veterinarian (or the veterinarian on staff at the facility) about ways to avoid upsetting your pet’s stomach, especially if you decide to change food.
Know That the Process May Take Time
Adopting a pet is a serious commitment, and you’ll want to find a dog or cat that the whole family agrees upon, Wilkerson says. On your pet quest, let everyone know that there’s a chance that it may not happen in a day. After all, adopting a pet for the first time might not be something you want to rush. If the commitment is getting any family member anxious, you may consider fostering, or providing a temporary home, for a pet first, Wilkerson advises.
Gather the Gear
Stock your home with the necessary essentials your new pet will need, such as food and water bowls, safe toys, grooming tools, a collar and bedding, Wilkerson says. You’ll also want to scout out a trustworthy veterinarian in your area. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that you ask pet-owning friends and contact breed clubs, in addition to searching for local veterinarians online.
Consider Health Insurance
When adopting a new pet, you may also want to look into pet insurance options for dogs and cats. After all, the cost of their vet bills over time can add up. While researching your options, the Insurance Information Institute suggests to understand what is covered — sometimes routine visits can be excluded and some plans’ premiums may increase as your pet ages.
Pet-Proof Your Home
Before bringing your new pet home, consider getting down on the floor to look at your environment from a pet’s point of view. Assess what items may tempt a new pet, Wilkerson says. The American Humane Association recommends you look for some of these common problem areas when pet-proofing your space.
- Remove houseplants that may be poisonous.
- Use childproof latches to keep pets from prying open cabinets.
- Check for and block any small spaces, nooks or holes inside cabinets or behind appliances.
- Put away craft supplies, especially thread.
- Keep trash cans covered and make sure human food is out of reach.
- Move electrical cords out of reach of chewing.
Socialize and Exercise Your Pet
Playing and socialization are very important for both dogs and cats. “It not only provides exercise, it helps you bond with your new animal,” Wilkerson says. Cats should receive at least 15 minutes of interactive play at least three times a day, if not more, and dogs need at least four walks a day to pack in exercise and play outdoors, according to Wilkerson. When it comes to socializing your pet, one-on-one socialization, like throwing a ball, is great, Wilkerson says, but she also encourages all new dog owners to enroll their dogs into a training course after adoption.
From the first time you bring your pet home to the first time they excitedly welcome you at the front door — a furry friend can fill you with a lifetime of unforgettable family firsts. Enjoy your family’s newest member.
Originally published January 2016.