Nearly 4 out of 10 pet owners end up surrendering their animal companions to an animal shelter — amounting to a whopping 7.6 million cats and dogs every year — in part because the pet owners weren’t truly prepared for all that comes with adopting a furry family member. If you’re thinking of bringing home a new pet from a local shelter, humane society, or pet charity, here’s what you need to know to ensure it’s a right fit for both you and your new animal companion.
|Consider with CUDDLY: What you need to know before adopting a petGetting your house readyAssociated costsIntroductions Spaying and neutering
6 Tips For Adopting the Perfect Cat or Dog For Your Home
Before you find your forever pal, we’ve broken down some top tips and tricks to think over including:
1. Adopting A Pet: Think Before Adopting
Don’t rush into it. It’s tempting to make a spur-of-the-moment decision when you see a cute kitten or are craving the emotional attachment of an animal companion, but this can quickly backfire if you haven’t given pet adoption careful consideration. Case in point, one Canadian animal rescue saw a 250% increase in people giving up their pets as the COVID-19 pandemic wound down (many people were craving the emotional support of a pet during the pandemic). Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals reports that shelters across America always see an uptick in animal surrender after the holidays.
Adopting A Pet: Be Prepared For A Long-Term Commitment
Go Beyond Google Searches
It’s important to research the types of cat or dog breeds available, and what aspects of their appearance and personality appeal to you. But equally important is seeing what they’re like in real life. Visit with friends or family who have a similar pet, or visit a shelter or breeder to get some hands-on experience with the type of pet you want.
Spend Time With Your New Pet Before Taking Them Home
Beyond breeds, each animal has its own quirks, preferences, and behaviors. If possible, spend time with your potential adoptee before making them a permanent member of your family. Animal fostering is a low-commitment way to see what owning a pet is like, and more specifically, what a specific animal is like in your home and around you and your family.
2. Adopting A Pet: Your House Needs To Be Ready
Bringing home your adopted pet is not unlike bringing home a newborn baby — there are many obstacles and safety hazards in and around your home that you may not be aware of, especially if this is your first pet. Consider the following living space areas and pet supply items to get before your big day:
- Items to bring your adopted pet home: These include a pet carrier, a collar and leash; don’t forget to add your contact information, and a cozy blanket! If your new pet is a kitten or puppy, they may also benefit from a comforting warm water bottle.
- Basic pet supplies: You’ll want a supply of food on hand (ask the shelter what food your pet is already eating, as switching foods immediately can stress them out), plus dishes for water and food, treats, and toys if applicable. Other supplies may be species-specific (e.g., doggy poop bags for puppies, or a litter box for a cat).
- Pet-proof your home: The American Humane Society recommends basic pet-proofing strategies, like switching to covered trash cans; blocking off small spaces where a pet can get stuck, such as behind your laundry appliances; and keeping human food and medications up high out of the pet’s reach.
3. Having A Pet Can Be Costly
U.S. News & World Report‘s money columnists report that pet adoption is often far more wallet-friendly than buying a pet from a breeder. The adoption fee varies from shelter to shelter, but to use the Animal Humane Society as an example, it can range from $129 to $767 for dogs and $39 to $317 for cats.
However, the cost of adopting a pet doesn’t end when you pay the initial adoption fee. Be prepared to budget for all these costs — the average American will dole out an estimated $500 annually for a pet, according to Kansas State University — in advance before adopting your new pet.
Taking your adopted pet to the veterinarian for their annual wellness check will cost you an average of $150 to $200 for dogs and around $150 for cats. Of course, this can rise depending on your pet’s needs:
- Spaying or neutering can be anywhere from $100 to $200
- Specific medications, such as heartworm medication or allergy drugs
- Dental cleaning
It’s recommended that pet owners have approximately $1,500 saved up for unexpected emergencies. Of course, pet health insurance can help — but that has a cost, too.
Food And Supplies Cost
Pet owners spend anywhere from $201 to $7,000 a year on pet food depending on the type of food they choose, according to Tufts University’s Clinical Nutrition Service. This is typically dictated by the type of food you choose (e.g., raw, frozen food is far more expensive than dried kibble), and whether your pet has any special dietary needs.
Other supplies to consider that will need regular replacement include:
- Pet bedding
- Pet toys
- Pet treats
Licensing Fees, Grooming, And Other Potential Costs
If your city or municipality requires a pet license, you’ll likely need to buy that annually. Other expenses that may or may not apply to you include:
- Dog training (around $100 for dogs)
- Wear and tear on your home and furniture, including the cost of replacing a rug or buying stain remover for upholstery
- Pet sitters or kennel fees for when you’re on vacation
- Pet fees for those who are renting a home, or who take their pets with them on vacations
- Grooming costs whether you do it at a groomer or are buying supplies to wash your pet and trim their nails at home
- End-of-life cost considerations if you’re adopting a senior animal, such as cremation or burial
4. Introducing Your New Pet To Your Pets
Coming into a new place can be scary for an adopted pet. Once you bring your new animal companion home, Dr. Karen Snowden — an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences — says it’s critical to establish a consistent routine with your pet to help them get used to you and your routine. That includes introducing your new pet to any current furry family members!
Introducing A Dog To A Cat
If your adopted dog has never lived with a cat before, a cat’s behaviors, smells, and more skittish nature can activate a playful nature or even the dog’s prey drive. Try desensitization to make the introduction calm for everyone involved:
- Separate the dog from the cat with a see-through gate and place the dog’s toys, bedding, and food near the gate
- Place the cat’s food and toys on the opposite side of the gate so both animals are exposed to each other
- When your dog first sees the cat, let him sniff at the gate and watch the cat for a few minutes, then distract the dog with treats or toys (this will help your puppy associate pleasure and reward with seeing your cat)
- Repeat, slowly expanding the time between the pets seeing each other and you distracting the dog
- Over time, seeing the cat will no longer be a foreign concept and excitable to your new dog
Introducing A Cat To A Dog
The same desensitization approach works in reverse. Alternatively, since the cat is entering the dog’s territory, you can try switching living areas. For example, let’s say your dog always relaxes and eats in the pantry.
You can move the dog’s items out of the pantry, set up the gate, and place your new cat and the cat’s items in the pantry. This can help even out any power dynamics involved, since dogs can be territorial of their space.
5. Get Your New Pet Spayed Or Neutered
Many cities and states require all animals to be spayed or neutered. Check local regulations to see what applies to you, and don’t forget the timelines recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association:
- Cats should ideally be neutered or spayed by five months of age
- Dogs should be fixed based on their breed and weight (45-lb. breeds or less should be neutered by six months, while larger breeds should be neutered or spayed at 9-15 months or when they’ve stopped growing)
Get Dog Tags or Microchip
According to one recent study of more than 50 different animal shelters:
- Microchipped dogs who were lost were returned to their owners 52.2% of the time
- Non-microchipped dogs were only returned 21.9% of the time
- Microchipped cats had a return rate of 38.5%
- Cats who weren’t microchipped were only returned to their home 1.8% of the time
If you can’t afford the procedure — it can cost as little as $10 or as much as $50, depending on your location — or don’t want to microchip your pet, get pet tags with your contact info and inspect them every six months to ensure any important details haven’t worn off of the pet tag.
6. Adopting A Pet: Does A New Pet Fit Your Lifestyle
There’s a lot more to owning a pet than the fun stuff like cuddles and playing. Ask yourself if you are ready for the below task that comes with proper pet ownership.
Walks And Exercise
Most dogs require several hours of exercise a day, and cats also benefit from playtime and mental engagement. Do you have enough spare time to give your adopted pet the attention and focus that they deserve?
Training isn’t just about having a pet who can do tricks. It’s also a key way to keep them safe (i.e., training your dog to drop something in their mouth that they shouldn’t eat, or having the dog heel to your side when there’s oncoming traffic), and also helps them bond to you. However, training takes time, commitment, and consistency on your part.
Every breed of animal has its own energy levels. Think high-energy dog breeds like Fox Terriers and Pointers versus more low-energy breeds like a French Bulldog or a Bull Mastiff. Look at your own activity levels, hobbies, and lifestyle and ensure that you find a rescued pet breed that is aligned with your own activities.
Thank You For Considering Pet Adoption
Millions of animals each year need the love, attention, and devotion you can offer. By researching everything you need to know before adopting a pet, you’ve already shown the initiative and commitment many of these pets need.
Now that you know the basics of what to consider before bringing home a new pet from a shelter or humane society, both you and your furry companion have the foundation for years of happiness.