The best ways to prepare for a new pet

Today’s guest blogger is Brittany Watson, VMD, PhD, BS/MS, director of shelter medicine and community engagement at Penn Vet.

Perhaps you have wanted a dog for years and finally have the time to bring one into your home. Maybe a kitten appeared on your doorstep and you suddenly found yourself a new pet owner. Perhaps the kids were begging for a puppy and you finally decided to adopt. Whatever the reason, the decision to adopt a pet can be both an exciting and stressful time, as you carefully consider which animal is right for you.

First, you have to decide what type of pet is right for you. Cat, dog, or exotic animal? Active or laid back? Young or adult? You also have to consider all of the financial demands that come with pet ownership, including veterinary visits, emergency funds or insurance, training, and supplies. 

Once you have finally made the decision on what pet and how you are going to budget for your new family member, you must prepare to bring the animal into your home. The following tips can serve as a helpful guide as you navigate this process, which can be tricky, especially if you are a first-time pet owner:

Stock up. Make a list of supplies to purchase for your pet. Food and water bowls, beds, toys, collars/ID tags, and proper food are all essential. Cats require litter boxes (one more than the total number of cats in the household) and scratching posts. Dogs need leashes. Crates can provide a safe spot for your pet and are a great option for traveling to the vet or when on vacation.

Build a relationship with your veterinarian. This is perhaps the most important relationship you will establish for your new pet outside of your family. Your veterinarian can be a resource for health and wellness for your pet, not just for emergencies. We recommend making an appointment with your veterinarian soon after adopting your pet. The animal will need a full physical exam and might need follow-up vaccinations, fecals, or testing. This is also a great time for your vet to get to know your pet and for you to ask questions.

Take some training classes. Not only are training classes fun for you and your dog, but they also help provide important skills for your new pet to navigate the human world. For puppies, this can provide safe socialization. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about good courses that use positive reinforcement training. Courses can include obedience and agility training, therapy dog training, nose work, and even games. We want our pets to be excited about learning. Learning about cat behavior is also important. They can learn to do tricks and interact with you like dogs!

Be patient. Your pet is adjusting to a new place. He or she will need to learn your schedule and may take some time to adjust to a new routine. Cats might hide for a couple of days. There might be some accidents that are normal during this transition. Remember, never punish a dog for eliminating inside. You should reward the dog for going outside. If you notice your dog eliminating inside the house, take your pet outside and offer a reward for finishing in the appropriate place.

Introduce Slowly. Do not force your new pet to interact with your other pets immediately. They need to get used to each other first in short interactions. It is good to set up a room for your cat that is separate from your other pets. Cats might need to interact through a gate before feeling comfortable. They may also swat or hiss, which is normal. Dogs should be able to interact with each other for brief amounts of time in a neutral place. These should be short, positive interactions. And they should not be left alone until they are comfortable with each other.

Remember to ask for help if you need it! Feel free to contact your veterinarian, trainer, or shelter if you have any questions. They all want you to be successful with your new family member. When you first bring your pet home, it will be exciting and maybe a little overwhelming. Keeping these tips in mind will help make it a fun and safe experience for you, your family, and your animals. 


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