Adopting a pet brings with it the need for consistency, reliability and affection — it’s a serious responsibility. You can expect more walks, more play and one more family member at (or under) the dinner table. It can be a vastly rewarding lifestyle 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, PAWS Chicago Lincoln Park Adoption Center director, here are a few tips to consider when adopting your first family pet. Knowing what to expect and how to properly care for and protect your first-time furry friend can help your new pet feel right at home from the moment they walk through the front door.
Before adopting, you want to make sure 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.
When starting your search for a pet with some pedigree, you can locate a knowledgeable breeder or find out a local rescue association for a specific breed. The American Kennel Club (AKC) provides 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.
“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 knowledge on how to care for your specific pet.
On 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.”
Adopting a pet is a serious commitment, and you’ll want to find one 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 is not something you may want to rush. If the commitment is getting any family member anxious, you can always foster, or provide a temporary home, for a pet first, Wilkerson advises.
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.
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 (III) suggests to understand what is covered — sometimes, routine visits are excluded and some plans’ premiums increase as your pet ages.
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. Look for some of these common problem areas when pet-proofing your space, according to the American Humane Association:
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 is great, like throwing a ball, Wilkerson says, but she also encourages all pet adopters 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 tail-wagging, leg-rubbing furry friend can fill you with a lifetime of unforgettable family firsts. Enjoy your family’s newest member.