Guest post by Jessica Brody
for ASPCA Month (April 2018)
Pets are good for you! According to the Centers for Disease Control, having a pet can lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and decrease feelings of loneliness. But the benefits run both ways -- by getting a pet you’ll be helping another living being to enjoy a happier existence -- especially if you adopt from a rescue shelter. However, looking after an animal is a lot of responsibility. Read on to learn the main things you need to keep in mind.
Get the Right Pet for You
Many people already have a strong sense of which kind of pet is suitable for them, maybe due to growing up with a certain pet. If not, the stereotypes about cats and dogs hold roughly true -- cats are more independent as they can entertain themselves when left alone and get by in a smaller living space. Dogs need to be walked, need more contact with you and ideally a yard to run around in. They are better for people who are at home a lot, but enjoy getting outdoors often.
There’s also a lot of variation between breeds of cats and dogs. For example, many high-energy dogs including Irish setters or Jack Russell terriers don’t seem to have an off-switch while others such as bulldogs might have trouble keeping up with you. Ask at the shelter to make sure you’re getting a pet that suits your lifestyle.
Prepare Your Home
Whichever pet you choose, make sure there are no harmful items around that they might chew on or try to eat. Cover up electrical cables, and ideally unplug appliances when not in use. For dogs, this includes the trashcan, so get a dog-proof one.
Cats require some additional steps, because they will climb on everything, so don’t keep anything valuable or hard to clean up on a tables or shelf -- including plants. Cats will also try to play with anything string-like, including blind cords, so make sure there’s nothing like this around and secure all windows as they will try to escape.
Finally, make sure you’ve bought everything you need -- food, scratching posts, bowls, a bed, litter tray, leash, and toys.
Get Off On the Right Paw
If you’re bringing a cat home, leave her in a small room to start, which contains food, water, a litter tray and scratching post. Let her out of the carrier in the room and let her look around. She might hide and that’s okay; let her settle in naturally. If she comes to you, try playing with some cat toys, otherwise leave her to it. As she starts to look more comfortable and shows signs of wanting to explore -- which may take days or weeks -- you can let her into a larger area of the house.
For dogs, a similar principle applies -- give them their own space and let them come to you. However, when you first arrive home, take them to their toilet area first and reward them with a treat. This is the start of house training. Again, if she comes to you, play with her and teach her simple commands like “sit.” This interaction will help you to bond. Don’t forget to take her out for regular walks. If you work long hours or will otherwise struggle with this, hire a dog walker to make sure she gets the exercise she needs.
Take Care of their Health
Ask the shelter what vaccinations your pet has received. For dogs, the main vaccines you need to worry about are canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies. For cats, the main ones you need are panleukopenia, feline calicivirus, feline herpesvirus type I and rabies. You may need other vaccines depending on where you live, so find a local vet and make an appointment to discuss this. You should also get your pet neutered or spayed, both to reduce undesirable behavior and to prevent the pitter-patter of additional tiny paws.
Being a first-time pet owner can be challenging. There’s a lot you need to know, and it can take time for your new family member to adjust. Just make sure your home is prepared, and give them time. Your new furry friends will settle in soon enough.