Bringing home a new pet can be fun. Fun, if you know what to do, that is! Read this before you:
Stop in at the breeders
Take home that “doggie in the window” or free kitten
Invite that friendly stray in
Adopt that cute animal from the humane society
Here are some helpful tips to get you started. These are questions you and your family should talk about ahead of time.
Should we get a purebred, or mixed breed cat or dog? If a purebred, what is the best breed?
The advantage to bringing home a registered, quality purebred dog or cat is that you will have an animal that will have predictable size and appearance, and some general breed temperament traits that may help you know if this is the right type of dog or cat for you. For example, a senior might best adopt a smaller quiet dog, or they may end up being taken for walks instead of the other way around! People in an apartment are best not to adopt a giant breed or active hunting or herding dog. There’s just not enough room for everyone, and nowhere to run!
The active family should consider a hunting breed dog with typical athleticism suited for hiking, swimming, and playing Frisbee. Some breeds are not recommended for families with very young children. Giant breed active pups can inadvertently knock over young toddlers due to their 70+ pounds of weight. Terriers are bred to have a strong prey drive, so may not be as safe around small mammals and kittens. Belgian Tervuren, Chows, and Rottweilers are examples of breeds best owned by experienced dog handlers. These are large, intelligent dogs and in the right hands, make very nice pets on average for an adult or mature children family setting.
Purebreds often come with a purchase guarantee so that if health problems occur, there is good support from the knowledgeable breeder. Reputable breeders often test parents of the puppy for things like eye and hip problems. This shows the breeder cares about the quality of their breed. The four most popular dog breeds are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Yorkies and German Shepherds. Persian cats and Siamese cats remain popular cat breeds.
Lots of wonderful pets can be found at the animal shelter. Offering these unwanted animals a home is a great way to show you care. Unfortunately, irresponsible pet owners continue to breed their animals, too many for the number of loving homes. Remember, breeding should be left to the professional breeders!
People often ask about aggressive dog breeds. The aggressive tendency is more developed in dogs bred to fight and protect, but with proper training and handling, any breed can make a good pet! Individual dogs within any breed can have bad behaviour and some lines may be known to be high strung and nervous. Do your research! Note that spaniels, toy breeds, and others cause bites too, not just the pit bulls you hear about in the media. Before buying, try to visit the breeder’s facility to see the setting and how the parent(s) and siblings behave, if possible.
Are we up to adopting a young puppy or kitten, or is a mature pet better suited for us?
Adopting a young, freshly weaned puppy will require dedication for potty training, leash training and general obedience training. Supplying a caregiver who is staying at home is good. If everyone is out of the house for a full working day, spending enough time with a youngster can be a challenge. Inadequate training can lead to frustration and behaviour problems, or even pet relinquishment.
Is a cat (or fish, bird, or small mammal) better than a dog for our lifestyle?
Dogs are now the number two most popular pet, second to cats. This is in part due to the busy modern lifestyle that many individuals, families and couples have. Taking time to walk an active dog twice a day does not fit into the day timer for many people these days. And of course, those pets we buy for our children may not end up being walked and fed by them some or most of the time! Cats are easier to keep because they can be left longer periods, don’t require walking (though some do enjoy an amble around on a loose leash). Most find cats generally less demanding for attention and time than a dog.
Birds are not a better option for those with little spare time since proper care for birds, especially the larger ones, require a considerable daily commitment. A minimum of an hour a day should be slotted for the big birds. Birds also require a lot of room if they are housed in a pleasant natural cage setting.
Fish are good for those with limited time. These days, many beautiful fish can be found, but make sure you research them so you don’t put a salt water fish in a fresh water tank, or mix aggressive with submissive fish! Know their special needs and be aware that good quality equipment will help to keep them healthy and happy. If you do not want to adopt the more demanding fish species, try goldfish, they are very hardy.
Make sure if you adopt a more exotic species that you know about their care first. We see too many cases of metabolic bone disease in iguanas, rabbits and guinea pigs with bad feet from improper housing surfaces and bedding, and vitamin C deficient guinea pigs. Don’t be surprised or dismayed by that snake that needs live mice for dinner! Research carefully first.
Will the pet be indoors all the time? If outside, do we have a safe area for playtime? Both inside and out, how much room do we have to donate to pet territory?
This is good to plan ahead. A yard may need a fence if you live on a busy street. A few very athletic dog breeds may need a much higher than average fence or they will jump out. Some terriers may dig out under a standard fence, so a buried wire fence may be important pre-planning.
If letting cats outdoors, they need to have extra vaccine protection for the leukemia virus and a good identification method, such as implanted microchips. All pets should have a microchip to help reunite them with their family if lost.
Outdoor cats do not enjoy as long of a lifespan overall compared to housecats because of the risks from fighting, falls, being hit by cars, etc. People are now building small outdoor enclosures for their kitties in the backyard so she can enjoy the view of birds but not hunt, and enjoy the fresh air without getting into a spat with the neighbourhood tom! This is a wonderful strategy for a cat.
Do we have the resources (time, money) to take care of the pet?
This is a biggie. Owning a pet is expensive! Average lifetime costs run in the thousands. Pets live longer now because of better nutrition, higher standard of home care, and advances in veterinary medicine. The average cat lifespan is approaching 17 for indoor cats. Dog longevity is dependent on size, giant breeds are old at 5, while some of the medium sized breeds routinely live well into their teens. Some of the large birds outlive a human!
Where to start? Make a budget. Don’t forget: equipment, toys, leashes, collars, food, pet beds, kennels, grooming, boarding, training, regular medical care, etc. Feeding a giant dog can be quite pricey. And a dog that requires regular grooming must be in the budget—hair keeps growing!
Time is another issue where it is important to be realistic. If you do not have plenty of spare time, perhaps owning a pet is not in fact the best option. Neglect is a form of animal abuse, and not having enough time is not a good excuse. People abandon their pets if they have not thought things through ahead and find the pet unsuitable, too much work, too expensive etc. If you cannot easily accommodate the routine, it’s best to refrain from getting a pet!
Do we know how to train and handle this pet?
Handling a pet properly requires some familiarity with the species. Do you know how to carry a cat? Lift a lizard? Hold a hamster? Knowing the normal behaviour of the future pet is important. A good example is cats. It’s normal for them to scratch. This is not a vice, cats scratch, so buy a scratching post before Kitten decides your couch is better. Cats are active at dawn and dusk. They are not being spiteful when they race over your bed at 11:00pm or 5:00am! Rabbits can give a walloping kick with those powerful hind feet, so early gentle and gradual handling to accustom them to people is essential. Scolding that eight-week old puppy when you get home from work for messing in the house, and pushing his nose into it is not the right way to housetrain a dog. On the contrary, doing this will worsen things!
There are lots of things to know about handling and training which you should understand BEFORE you bring that cute pet home. Talking to your local dog trainer, veterinarian, and veterinary technicians about the hard facts, and tips and tricks for the type of pet you intend to adopt is important. Veterinarians are well trained to counsel people regarding adoption of a pet. Make an appointment with a local veterinarian/technician who handles the species you wish to adopt. They can help you with many questions.
Have we bought the right equipment? Is the house “kitten and puppy proofed”?
Buy only the equipment you need to start. You can add luxury items later.
Make sure all items are pet safe. Toys should be well constructed, the correct size for the pet, and not have loose parts that can be bitten off and swallowed.
Consider the puppy or kitten to be a toddler! Loose wires should be tucked away, chocolates well out of reach of puppy, and socks and shoes not left around on the floor so puppy can enjoy some smelly chewing. Sewing needles and thread are a favorite of cats. We spend a lot of time doing expensive surgery when they get stuck! Keep toxic chemicals out of reach. Put a lock on the cabinets containing chemicals and drugs, as our pets seem to have a knack for opening these.
Fine china and glass is not a good idea on the coffee table when Puppy bounces past! Likewise, shiny jingly jewelry is a great target for kitty. She will enjoy hiding or eating your family heirlooms, so tuck them away also!
Are we up-to-date on our knowledge? Pet nutrition and health care has changed a lot in recent years!
Use your veterinary health care team, local library, bookstore, reputable internet websites and breeders to help you get ready. Your preparation for the new adoptee is not finished until you have a good understanding of basic health and nutrition, first aid, training and housing needs, and normal behaviour and handling.
Have fun! Make learning a family experience and invite the children to help you work together to make the adoption a success. This often means the difference between a lifetime of pleasure with a pet, or a pet relinquished. When ill-prepared, and decisions to adopt were made on a whim, the family may be poorly prepared for their new charge. Make your life and the pet’s life fun and easy by preparing for adoption of furred, feathered, or exotic pet.