- Adopting a pet is fun – but the decision comes with a lot of responsibility.
- Pets are living beings that require food, water, and care every single day.
- They also need to live in safe, comfortable environments, and need to receive proper training to make sure they fit in with a family.
- INSIDER spoke to Kelly DiCicco, who manages adoption promotions at the ASPCA Adoption Center, to learn how people can help their pets adjust to their new environments.
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Adopting a pet is an exciting and rewarding life decision. It’s also a tremendous responsibility.
When you choose to bring an animal into your home, you are making a commitment to provide for them for the rest of their life.
Depending on the type of pet you adopt, you’ll likely have to make some major changes in your life to welcome your new friend into your home.
Knowing what to expect during those first few weeks can make the process a little easier. INSIDER reached out to Kelly DiCicco, the manager for adoption promotions at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Adoption Center to learn how people can be best prepared to ensure the post-adoption period a smooth transition for everyone involved.
Whether you’re a first time adopter or bringing another animal into your home, here are some tips on what you should do immediately after committing to your new pet.
Talk with the shelter about the pet’s personality and other needs
Before you leave the shelter, DiCicco advises talking with the staff and asking as many questions as possible about your new pet.
“When you adopt a homeless animal, the local shelter will usually note the personality traits of dogs, cats, or other animals in their care and inform potential adopters of these characteristics,” she told INSIDER.
Knowing this information ahead of time allows you to be prepared for what to expect once you bring your pet into your home. For instance, you’ll want to know if your animal has any social or aggression issues so you can look for the appropriate training program.
“Don’t forget to ask plenty of questions about the animal’s energy levels and habits before making a commitment to find a match that best fits your personality and lifestyle,” DiCicco said. “When adopting from a shelter, you often have the opportunity to learn more about the animal you are considering bringing home, including their background, energy level, and how they might get along with other animals in the house.”
If you know a little bit more about them, you’ll probably be more patient with them, too.
Make sure your home is prepared for your pet’s arrival
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Any time you bring a new animal into your home, you need to think carefully about how they’re going to fit in with other family members, roommates, and other pets.
“Adopting an animal is a commitment,” DiCicco said. “The first step is to make sure everyone in the household is ready for the responsibility in advance of making the decision. It is important to consider whether your children, other guests or family members who may be in frequent contact with this animal, and your resident pets, are able to accommodate the addition of another pet to your household.
This also means making physical adjustment to your home so that it is safe for an animal to inhabit. “Pet proofing” is similar to “baby proofing.” Basically, it means taking extra caution to ensure your animal doesn’t get into anything that could harm them.
Remove items that could be eaten or chewed on, and make sure electrical wires are out of reach. DiCicco also recommends making sure any plants in your home are safe, since many plants are toxic to animals and should be moved either out of the household or out of reach.
She added that, depending on the animal, you made need to clear the floor of certain objects to keep them from climbing on them or knocking them to the ground. This is especially the case with cats, who are known for shimmying their way up countertops and other posts.
“For kittens, ensure that your home has been kitten-proofed. This includes making sure that any small hideouts where the kittens could escape or get stuck, including around and underneath appliances, are well blocked,” DiCicco told INSIDER.
Have all your supplies on hand
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Ideally, you should have all the necessary pet supplies in your home before you pick up your new pet. This keeps you from leaving them unattended during those first few days while they’re adjusting to their new home.
DiCicco said there are some essential items you should have on hand immediately.
“For cats, this includes a collar, litter and litter box, food, and bowls,” she said. “For dogs, this includes a leash, collar and harness, bed, food, and bowls. For training purposes, an appropriately sized dog crate is also useful. For small animals like rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and reptiles, this includes an appropriate cage or enclosure.”
Make sure your pet has their own safe space
“Just like people, most animals enjoy having a fluffy and cozy place to call their own, and it’s important that pets have a bed or dedicated area that allows them to relax,” DiCicco said.
You may think there’s no better idea than snuggling with your puppy every night. But your feelings might change as your puppy grows into a full sized dog.
“If you let your new pup sleep in your bed on the first night, it may be a hard habit to break a few years down the line,” DiCicco said.
Make it a point to give your pet their own cushion, nook, or entire playpen area if you have the room. By providing them with that safe space, you’ll help them adjust much better to their surroundings.
DiCicco added that sleeping areas aren’t the only indoor spaces to consider when adopting.
“Cats and kittens also need a litter box, which means there is an extra step to figure out the best place to put the litter box so that it is easily accessible to the cat,” she said.
During the first few days, allow your pet to the freedom to explore their new home with limitations
Many different outcomes can occur when you open the door and bring your pet into their new home for the very first time. Some pets may wander in cautiously or hesitate to look at anything. Others may squirm nervously and need to be put in an immediate cage. And some may see it as a chance to run excitedly through your entire home and mark their territory.
“To help your new animal feel at home, set up their bed and food bowls ahead of time to give them a place to rest and get comfortable,” DiCicco said. If they know right away there’s a place for them, it can be much easier for them to get comfortable.
For cats and dogs, DiCicco recommended giving them some space to get acquainted with the sights, sounds, and scents of their new home, while keeping an eye on them.
“When it comes to cats, some kitties are more sensitive than others and may prefer to initially be confined to one room, gradually being given more space to explore over time. This helps them adjust to their environment without feeling too overwhelmed,” she said. “If you are getting a puppy or dog who is not yet housetrained, consider creating a special area for the dog. using baby gates or a collapsible pen ahead of time so that any ‘accidents’ don’t damage carpets. Kitchens often work well for this.”
Be sure to have the right food on hand
Although you may have a particular diet you want your pet to follow, you probably shouldn’t force it upon your new pet all at once.
As DiCicco explained, it’s best to discuss your pet’s nutrition with shelter staff, if you’re adopting, and the animal’s vetirinary health team. If you’re going to make any changes, take it slow.
“Shelter staff can give you insight on what your new pet has been eating, along with their preferences, and the veterinary office is a great place to get nutritional recommendations and to get feedback on different brands of pet food,” DiCicco said.
This also means paying attention to how your pet responds to certain foods during those first few months. Sometimes the diet you had in mind for your pet works well for one dog but doesn’t work all that great for another.
DiCicco said that once you ascertain that your pet doesn’t experience any adverse reactions to the new food, gradually increase the ratio of new food in their diet until it’s completely turned shifted.
“Not only does this help their tummies and bodies adjust to a new diet, but it may even encourage a picky animal to start liking a food they wouldn’t try before,” she said.
While some animals – like cats and dog – have a straightforward variety of food brands and diets to choose from, other pets require other types of food as well.
“For example, rabbits and guinea pigs must be given a variety of vegetables daily,” DiCicco said. ” Always double check to be sure that the veggies you are providing are non-toxic to the species and that the nutritional content can be well handled by their systems.”
Begin potty training them immediately
One way to create a stable environment for your pet is to give them a space where they can safely use the bathroom. If your new animal is a cat, that means you should have their litter box in a designated area that’s accessible to the cat, said DiCicco. But if they’re a dog, you need to start working with them on a regular housebreaking.
Animals tend to thrive on routine, DiCicco said. This means you should mirror your pet’s feeding schedule with a walking or potty schedule that gives them the chance to “go” outside or in their litter box.
According to the ASPCA, you should praise your pet anytime they successfully “go” outside so they understand that they’re making a positive choice.
Of course, this entire process will take practice and patience by both the owner and pet. But as long as you keep things consistent and establish those routines, your pet will eventually learn what to do.
Come up with a plan for obedience training
Training your pet is essential for their own safety and the safety of others around them. Even the most well meaning animal that’s easily excitable can quickly become out of control and hurt someone if they aren’t taught how to behave around others.
By establishing clear boundaries from the beginning, you’ll help your pet develop positive behaviors that will last throughout their lifetime. You’ll also bond with them a lot better because they’ll know to listen to you as an authoritative figure.
It’s important to remember that all rescue animals come from unique situations, which means that training isn’t necessarily one-size-fits-all. Some animals may have aggression issues, while others may be mischievous for other reasons. But this doesn’t mean they are untrainable.
If possible, you should come up with a plan for training your pet before you actually adopt them.
“All animals are different,” DiCicco said. “If your dog needs to learn some basic manners and skills, like ‘sit,’ ‘down,’ and ‘come’ when called, you might benefit most from group obedience classes with a professional.”
Whether it’s group classes or at-home private sessions, different types of training suit different animal temperaments. There are programs available for many types of pets including dogs, cats, rodents, and even birds.
“While formal obedience training for cats is less common, you may find yourself wanting to train your cat in certain ways, like being more comfortable while being placed in a carrier,” DiCicco said. “This type of training can easily be done at home by feeding your cat’s meals in the carrier itself – this way, they begin to associate it with something they enjoy! Positive reinforcement with food rewards is always encouraged.”
Slowly introduce them to your family (or roommates)
- Flickr/Chris Yarzab
Although you may be excited to show off your new pet to friends and family, it’s important to err on the side of caution. Your pet may not be ready to interact with other people, and that’s completely OK.
“You wouldn’t expect a new person in your home to know your routine and to snuggle you on command, so apply the same ideas to your new pet,” DiCicco said.
Your animals have been thrust into an entirely new environment. Giving them too much change at once may be overwhelming. In other words, you may want to avoid showing them off for the first time at an event like a birthday party where there’s bound to be a ton of people.
It’s better to take it slow, DiCicco recommended, and let a dog or cat approach you. By allowing the animal to initiate the interaction, you’re less likely to frighten them and trigger potentially aggressive behavior. “It’s also particularly important in the first few weeks of having a new pet to get into the habit of consent petting,” DiCicco said. “This means that instead of the human initiating the petting, the dog or cat initiates the petting. Stop every few seconds, and only start again when they nudge you for more.”
While this allows the animal to build trust, it’s still critical to be mindful that this approach isn’t guaranteed to work 100% of the time. DiCicco noted you should always gauge your pet’s behavior to see how they respond to different people.
“If the animal begins to show signs of feeling uncomfortable you should end your session and try again later. In dogs, this could include ‘whale eyes’ – a term used to describe when a dog shows the whites of their eyes – paw lifts and pacing,” DiCicco said. “In cats, this may include hissing, swatting and keeping their ears pinned back. People don’t like being forced to interact with someone they’re not comfortable with, and neither do pets! Giving the dog or cat a few of its favorite tasty treats during the session can help.”
As a general word of caution, DiCicco recommends you don’t leave babies (or small children) unattended around any pet. This is because they can’t comprehend why an animal wouldn’t want to share food or be smothered with touch, and are at risk for provoking your pet in the wrong way. Instead, keep them at a distance and under your watchful eye so your pet can get used to their presence.
During the first few weeks, pay close attention to how your pet is adjusting to their surroundings.
As a new pet owner, it’s your job to ensure your animal feels comfortable in their new home. But this takes much more than buying all the supplies, food, and training books.
“Be on the lookout for other signs that they’re comfortable,” DiCicco said.”In cats, this could include slow blinks and leaving their legs stretched out. In dogs, this could include soft body language and eyes and a wagging tail.”
“Both cats and dogs are social species, and have evolved behaviors related to forming and maintaining social bonds,” she continued. “One sign of comfort that is easy to spot is when your furry friend seeks proximity by following you around the house. It’s also common for cats to ask for attention by rubbing against your legs or for dogs to put a paw on you as a call for engagement.”
Of course, it’s equally important to note their negative reactions and avoidance behaviors as much as their positive ones.
“Some avoidance behaviors your pet leaving the room or maintaining a buffer zone along with subtle signs of stress such as yawning, lip licks and shake-offs,” DiCicco said. “This can mean they are uncomfortable with a situation, not necessarily you. If you notice this, see if you can do something to help them feel more at ease.”
Set some money aside for emergencies
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According to CNBC, emergency vet visits can cost families anywhere from $800 to $1500 dollars. An unexpected expense like this often forces people to make difficult decisions about their pets, which can be devastating.
To avoid finding yourself in this situation, you need to develop an entirely separate fund that’s specifically for your pet’s needs.
“As responsible pet parents, we have an obligation to care for our furry friends in sickness and in health. Bringing home an animal is more than the initial adoption fee,” said DiCicco.
Be sure to also factor in all the different non-emergency costs if you want a better idea of how much you should set aside.
“Additional costs of caring for a cat or dog include food, veterinary care, grooming, and proper identification – a collar with tags and a more permanent identification such as a microchip, which is often included with adoption,” DiCicco said. “The ASPCA has a pet care cost table that shows the annual estimated costs of owning a pet. It’s important for new adopters to understand the financial commitment of caring for an animal and plan accordingly.”
Schedule their first vet appointment
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DiCicco recommends bringing your pet to a veterinarian within the first few weeks of adopting, which will allow them to administer vaccine boosters and establish a plan for ongoing care.
Remember, your pet is a living creature, which means they require check ups, vaccinations, and health care. Prior to leaving the shelter, DiCicco recommends you consult with the staff to get a summary of your pet’s health profile so you can learn about any medical issues your pet might face, like diabetes, hypertension, or allergies.
But as far as other pets go, the priority is ensuring they’re properly vaccinated and spayed. The good news is that many shelters take care of this process for you.
“Many shelters, including the ASPCA Adoption Center, make sure all adoptable animals are spayed or neutered, up to date on age appropriate vaccinations, and microchipped before they are ready to find a home,” DiCicco said.
Some examples of vaccines your dog might receive while in the shelter are the DA2PP and FVRCP vaccine. Both dogs and cats over 12 weeks old also receive rabies vaccines.
In any case, it’s a good idea to create a medical record for your pet and keep track of their overall well being. The sooner you make that vet first visit, the sooner you’ll be able to get a thorough look at your pet’s health and develop plans for how to ensure they stay healthy for life.
- Jim, The Photographer/Flickr
Let’s face it, you’re probably going to run into a few challenges during those first few weeks – or months – with a new pet. Whether you’re dealing with a cat who won’t stop scratching furniture or a parrot who won’t stop chirping at night, it’s bound to happen.
“No matter where they live, where they come from, or where you find them, all animals – even animals within a specific breed – have individual personalities and dispositions,” DiCicco said. “Just like people, they need time to adjust to new surroundings and environments.”
The key to moving past those hurdles is to understand that developing good habits doesn’t habit overnight. The best thing you can do is display a consistent attitude so your pet understands that you want what’s best for them, no matter how frustrating it is.
“You can help your pet adjust by being patient and giving them time to get acquainted with their new home,” DiCicco said.”If your new pet is hiding or seems fearful at first, don’t fret! Most animals adjust to new environments after varying amounts of time, so your new dog or cat may not act the same in the first few days as they will once they feel comfortable later down the line.”