What Every New Pet Needs
For children of all ages, adopting a cat or dog into your family can be one of the happiest moments in life. Whether this is your first pet or your fifteenth, whether it is young or old, there are many things you need to do to prepare your home and your life for a new addition.
THE DOCTOR WILL SEE YOU NOW
Regardless of the age or breed of your new pet, a visit to the veterinarian should be a top priority. “An animal that is coming out of a shelter, a pet store, or even a breeder has been around a lot of other animals,” explains Gail Buchwald, vice president of ASPCA Cares, a community outreach program in New York City. “Just like children in kindergarten, they may have been exposed to illnesses as an inevitable part of being in a group situation.” The veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination to check for potential problems, ensure that your pet receives any necessary vaccinations, and discuss the importance of spaying and neutering.
GETTING THEM TO GO
One of the biggest fears for many people bringing new pets home is housetraining. In this area, cats and dogs are extremely different. “Cats are much easier. In terms of litterbox training, they are almost hardwired,” Buchwald says. In most cases, the owner only needs to show the cat the litterbox and make sure it has a low rim.
There are still some steps you can take to help ensure that no problems develop. “Cats are finicky,” explains Holly Stewart, the animal behavior manager for the Dumb Friends League in Denver, Colorado, so named because the group acts as a voice for companion animals who cannot speak for themselves. “They like their boxes cleaned regularly, and the box has to be located in a spot that is convenient for them.” In addition, some cats can be picky about where they go. Often, just trying different brands of litter to find one that your cat likes will solve the issue.
Buchwald and Stewart agree that properly housetraining a dog takes a little more effort. “A puppy can hold its bladder for only a short time compared with a full-grown dog,” Stewart explains. “The general rule is the age of a puppy in months is the number of hours he can wait.”
It is also important to create a routine and stick with it. When your pet does go, make sure he knows he did the right thing. For dogs that like verbal affirmation, an immediate response is best. As Buchwald tells us: “Make a fool out of yourself, shower them with more praise and treats than they ever saw in their lives. A high-pitched voice and baby talk combined with stroking and petting show what you want them to do.”
No matter how vigilant you are, accidents will happen. It is important that you respond properly. “Pets can only associate an action with a problem if it is within 3 seconds,” Stewart says. “If you catch your pet in the act, interrupt without scaring and take him right outside.” Punishing after the fact is not recommended.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
It is important that you feed your pet the highest-quality pet food you can afford. “You may think you are paying more,” says Nancy Peterson, a registered veterinary technician and issues specialist with The Humane Society of the United States, “but you will be feeding your pet less and have less to clean up.” Feeding at set times will also make housetraining easier because you’ll know when your dog has to relieve himself.
Dr. Douglass Macintire, professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, tells owners to check that whatever diet they select has the seal of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) showing that it is 100% complete. “That way you can be sure that your pet is receiving all of her essential nutrients,” she says.
A variety of specially formulated diets can help keep your pet healthy at whatever age she is. Other diets are designed to prevent dental disease, a common problem in pets. Talk with your veterinarian about the proper pet food for your four-legged friend.
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
Many accidents can be avoided with a few simple steps to pet-proof your house. Here are a few tips:
Secure window screens.
Make sure doors are locked.
Keep small items off the ground.
Remove objects that are likely to be knocked over and broken by inquisitive pets.
Ask your veterinarian about which toys are appropriate for your pet. Make sure there are no parts that can cause injury or choking hazards.
As all loving pet owners already know, adopting a new animal into your life is a rewarding experience. You will be repaid a thousand times over by the joy and happiness reflected in their eyes every time you see each other.
One of the biggest challenges for pet owners is dealing with destructive behavior. It is important to remember that what we consider destructive is often a natural activity for the animal. “Cats have a natural instinct to scratch and shed their nails,” explains Gail Buchwald, vice president of ASCPA Cares in New York.
Rather than relinquishing your prized furniture to your cat’s claws, many owners have had success by providing their pets with a less expensive outlet like a scratching post.
For owners of new puppies, “doggie school should be the first stop on the train,” says Buchwald. “Obedience classes teach dogs how to behave as good pets while teaching owners how to train a dog and reinforce good behavior at home.”