What You Should Know Before Adopting A Pet – by Sarah Cohen, ORSCC, L.C.S.W., P.P.S.C.

Adopting a pet can be a great choice. This not only saves a life but also makes space in shelters and rescues for the next pet in need. While this blog will focus on dogs and cats, this holds true for other types of pets as well. Read on to find out what to consider before bringing a new pet into your home.

Do I have the time and commitment to care for a new pet?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many have considered adopting a pet. If you will be returning to the office, who will help care for your new furry family member? Can you afford a dog walker or dog daycare? Do you have time for daily dog walks or trips to the dog park? If not, a cat or two may be a better choice, as they are more independent and do not need walks. Cats use litter boxes, so there is no need to rush home and let the dog out. I always like adopting adult cats, because you can see their personality when you meet them. 

Kittens and puppies are cute and will pull you in. Just be sure that you are ready for their energy. They will need the training to teach them about scratching posts and toys, rather than using your furniture! A rescue group or shelter will have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to help you navigate this.

Am I financially prepared for the cost of adopting and caring for a pet?

Animals can be expensive! Be sure to plan ahead. There are additional fees beyond the adoption fee and their new bed and toys. You will need to provide food, adequate housing, toys, treats, and regular veterinary care for your new pet. You may want to set up a savings account for unexpected veterinary expenses or consider pet insurance.  You should be prepared for unexpected illnesses, as bills for veterinary care can add up quickly.  Estimates vary, but you should have at least $2,500-5,000 available for emergencies in case your animal gets sick or injured. If you are interested in reading about pet insurance, you can read our blog here.

Should I adopt a purebred or a mixed breed? Can I find a purebred at a shelter?

Did you know there are many breed-specific rescues, for both cats and dogs? In fact, 20% of pets that end up in shelters are purebred. If the breed of pet you want is unavailable, many rescue organizations have waiting lists. You may want to consider a mixed breed animal, as they often have fewer health issues, and you can get the best of both breeds! If you are adopting from a rescue or animal shelter, be mindful that sometimes these pets may not show well in this environment, since it can be stressful for them.

What dog breed is best for my lifestyle?

If you love to run, perhaps a Labrador, Shepherd, or Hound mix would be best. If you live in a small apartment, consider either a calm older dog or a small lower energy dog, or plan to get a lot of exercises. Energetic dogs really need a yard, a running or hiking partner, or a park. All dogs will benefit from regular exercise, but some breeds need more than others. Lack of exercise may result in behavior problems. If you have small kids, herding breeds may not work for your family, as these dogs may try to herd children and resulting in ankle nipping. They are trying to do their jobs and protect your children, but this can be a hard behavior to break. Large breeds can be strong and harder to control, especially if the dog does not receive basic obedience training. If you are not an active individual or family, consider adopting an adult dog or cat.  If you have balance or mobility issues, a young energetic pet may accidentally push someone over. An older, more settled animal may be safer for you and your family.

Which pet is best for children?

This can depend on your child’s age, but generally, an older pet is best with young kids. A child may not understand the fragility of small animals and may tug on tails or ears. Children may even accidentally drop a puppy or kitten. An animal may scratch, nip, or bite if frightened by a young child’s antics. Puppies and kittens can be unpredictable and may bite or scratch playfully. This behavior can be dangerous for kids. You could consider looking for a pet who has already lived with a family and maybe accustomed to children.

No matter which pet you choose, all interactions between your new pet and children should be supervised. This is best for everyone’s safety.

Why should I consider an older pet?

Older dogs and cats make great pets and tend to be ever so grateful that you brought them home. Many of them have lost a home due to the death of an owner or a lifestyle change, and are mourning the loss of their families. Older pets in shelters and rescues are often overlooked. My formerly feral street cat is the one who jumps in my lap and who appreciates the daily meals, whereas the cats I adopted as kittens take it all for granted. They will bond quickly and will love you faithfully.  Some rescue groups have incentives to help with medical care or may waive the adoption fee if you take in a senior animal.

What should I know if I choose to adopt from a shelter or rescue?

Shelters and rescues vary greatly in terms of what they can do for the animal and post-adoption support. Some shelters and rescues quarantine animals prior to adoption, but many don’t have space. You should ask this because many street and shelter-born diseases do not become apparent until 7-10 days later. You want to avoid exposing your family or existing pets to communicable diseases. In California, animals should be spayed or neutered by the shelter or rescue prior to adoption.  Shelters and reputable adoption groups will not only spay/neuter an animal, but will update their vaccinations and provide a microchip. Most rescue groups test cats for FIV/Leukemia.  This is particularly important if you are introducing your adoptee to other cats. If the organization does not provide this, you may want to test your new cat prior to mixing with the pets you already have.  Puppies can get parvovirus, which is a highly preventable, but contagious disease. Many shelter animals are not vaccinated prior to arriving at a shelter, so this population is more at risk for these illnesses.

Shelters and rescue groups may ask a lot of questions. Some will want to do home visits, others do not.  Pick the group that works for you.  It may feel intrusive, but remember they have rescued the animal and just want to make sure you and your prospective pet are a good fit.  Different groups have different policies, so if one doesn’t feel like a good fit, remember there are plenty of other groups out there.  Find one that works for you.

What should I do next?

Do your research and be sure this is the right decision for you. Adopting a pet is a commitment for the next 10 to 15 years, or possibly longer! Stay tuned for our next blog which will give you tips on bringing home your new pet. No matter what you decide, adopting an animal is a big decision but also is an exciting one! They will become a part of your family forever, and provide you with many laughs and lots of love.