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Adopting a New Pet - Tips For Success

Adopting a pet into a loving, family home is an incredibly rewarding experience. Zoe the Vet shares her tips.

Wandering round your local Cat and Dog Home, looking at those sad doggy eyes and hopeful wagging tails, it can be hard to resist walking out with half a dozen new furry friends.

Adopting a pet into a loving, family home is an incredibly rewarding experience.  Not only will you be giving an abandoned animal much-needed attention and care, you will also be enjoying the benefits of becoming a pet owner.  Research has shown that having a dog in your life can make you fitter and happier while cats can help reduce stress and anxiety.

However adopting an animal is a big life change.  It‘s important to make sure that you’re ready for this and make sensible decisions about which pet will be right for you. Thousands of animals are abandoned by their owners every year because they can’t cope.  It’s tempting to let your heart rule your head when faced with an adorable bundle of puppy or kitten, but you don’t want to be responsible for your pet having to endure further upset if you make the wrong choice.

Make sure you’re ready 

Before you decide to adopt a pet, take time to think carefully about the changes it will mean for your life.
If you adopt a dog they are going to need regular daily walks, come rain or shine.  Will you have the time to do this?

Every pet is going to need company and attention.  Adopting a pet, if everyone is out all day at work or school, may not be the best idea.  Have you thought about who will look after your pet when you are away?  If you are about to go on holiday, wait until you come back before trying to adopt.

Pets can be expensive.  As well as food there will be vet bills and insurance to pay.  Have you planned for this?

Are you prepared to take a lot of time to help your new pet settle into your home?  Abandoned animals can be nervous and stressed, some will have behavioural problems.  Are you patient enough to work with your new pet to deal with these?

Where to get your new pet

Once you decide that adopting a pet is something you are ready for, it’s best to look for a registered Cat and Dog Home.  Staff there will know the animal and will be able to answer all your questions about its behaviour and anything else you need to know.  You shouldn’t be put under any pressure to take an animal home here, while it might be difficult to say no to a neighbour or a friend.

You’ll also be able to bring your children or other family or friends to visit the dog or cat in the Home where you can see how they get on with each other in a safe environment, before you make your final decision.

Once you have your pet at home, you’ll be able to speak to the Home for advice if you have any problems.

Which pet to choose?

It can be helpful to make a list of the things you want from your pet before you go to visit the Cat and Dog Home.  In the face of those deep brown eyes, all logic can disappear!

Work out what kind of pet will be best for you.  If you are at home a lot and have lots of energy and a garden then a puppy or kitten will be fine.   If you are at work most of the day or live in a third floor flat, an older cat or dog who may need less walking or attention might be better for you.
Specific breeds are more suited to different situations too.  If you aren’t able to get out much, don’t adopt a Greyhound, Yorkshire Terrier, Jack Russell or Border Collie who all need a lot of exercise.  Bored animals can lead to aggressive behaviour.  If you have young children Labradors, Basset Hounds, Spaniels, Westies and Pugs are generally considered easy going and a great family pet.

Some dogs will require specialist knowledge, so think twice before bringing home a Rottweiler, Husky or Dogue de Bordeaux.

If you are looking for family friendly pedigree cats consider Ragdoll, Persian, Maine Coone or British Shorthair. Siamese cats are known for their intelligence and will be happy learning new tricks.  Certain cat breeds are more adventurous than others so if you want a house cat to watch TV with, make sure you avoid Abyssinians or Norwegian Forests who love to hunt!

Of course many animals in the Home may be a mixture of breeds.  Make sure you ask staff about your pet’s history and how they have been behaving around staff and other animals.  If they have been used to sniffing round remote country fields then they may be stressed if taken to live in the city centre.  If they are quiet and nervous, they are going to be very worried in a house full of children.

What you will need

If you do decide that adopting a pet is right for you, there are a few things you will need to have before you bring them home:
  • Pet food and bowls - It is often a good idea to find out what your pet was eating in the Cat and Dog Home and keep feeding them this to start with.  You can gradually change their diet once they have settled in if you need to.
  • Bed or basket - Your pet is going to need somewhere comfortable where they feel safe.  Dogs or cats who have been happy living in cages, may welcome a cage in your house.  This can be left open but will be somewhere they can go when they need to get away from a situation that they are threatened by e.g. a crawling baby or another dog. Cats often prefer their beds to be somewhere high, perhaps on top of a cupboard.  If your new dog is not house trained then putting their bed in a room that can be cleaned easily will save unnecessary stress.
  • Toys/Treats - If a pet is bored this is when they will start to misbehave.  Make sure they have plenty of toys in their beds and that you give them treats or chews to reward good behaviour or to keep them occupied when they are on their own.
Other items you may need include leads for dogs, litter trays and carriers for cats, brushes or combs, collars and ID tags.  Your pet should have been micro-chipped at the Cat and Dog Home but a collar with a phone number on is a good idea if your pet does start to wander.

Bringing your pet home

It can be really tempting to make a huge fuss of your family friend on the day you bring it home.  But it’s important that their first day is as calm and stress-free as possible.  

Animals who have been in a Cat or Dog Home, even for just a few weeks, will be nervous of new situations. Make sure you are always gentle and kind.  If anyone in your family may be particularly boisterous or loud, let them meet each other slowly, a few minutes at a time.  Bringing them home in a middle of a child’s birthday party for example will be a terrifying experience.

Animals will get confused if their home environment constantly changes.  So if you plan to leave your new pet at home on their own for part of the day, don’t start off their time with you by smothering them with attention.  Play with them for a while, then leave them on their own for a bit too.

It’s always a good idea to get your new pet checked by your local vet and to make sure any vaccinations are up to date.  If your animal is nervous or stressed, wait a few days before you do this.  In some cases it can be a good idea to take your pet to the vet without them being examined, just so they can get used to this new environment.

Teething Problems

By adopting a pet you always run more of a risk of having an animal with some kind of behaviour problems. Don’t be put off though.  Most problems can be sorted out with the right amount of patience and introducing a routine.


To help your cat or dog settle in you can introduce them to things they are likely to come across in your home.  Doing this slowly and in your own time can help avoid future problems.  If you know your dog is likely to be scared of noises in the house like the hoover or washing machine, try playing with them and giving them treats while these are going on.  If you are not sure how they will react to new people coming to the home, make sure their first experiences are positive.  Ignore barking and reward good behaviour with treats.  Distract dogs with chews if you know someone is coming round, or put them in their cage where they can see but still feel safe.  If there are other pets in the house, give them small amounts of supervised time together to begin with.  Make sure pets are not forced to play if they don’t want to and remember that being picked up or stroked can often make animals more stressed.

If you are not sure how your dog will react on walks, make sure you keep them on a lead to start with until you can be sure that they will come back to you.  A pocket full of treats is a good idea.

The upheaval of moving to a new home may also cause a few toilet training problems.  Never shout at your pet, just make sure they have plenty of opportunities to go outside or use their litter tray and reward them when things go right.

If you find yourself getting concerned, speak to your vet or the Cat and Dog Home for advice on animal behaviour training.

A Happy Ending

Adopting a pet can be an extremely rewarding experience but there are some key things to remember: 
  • Take time to think about it carefully and choose the right animal for you.
  • Take time to settle your new pet in, don’t overload them with attention on day one.
  • Take time to deal with any behaviour problems, start as you mean to go on.

Sticking to these golden rules will make sure adopting your new furry friend is stress free and that soon you will all be enjoying a happy and fun new addition to your family.