Before you take the leap of adding a new pet to your family, there are plenty of questions to answer and shopping to be done. By thinking ahead, you’ll be able to relax and focus on your new furry friend once they’re home.
To start, families should discuss what their daily routine will look like. Who’s responsible for feeding the animal and changing its water? Who will walk the dog? Who will scoop the litter box? Who will clean the rabbit’s cage? This discussion can help your family decide what type of pet you’re looking for. Would a puppy requiring lots of exercise and attention be a good fit? Or would a senior cat looking for a retirement home be a better match?
Once you decide on the type of pet, you can purchase some basic items. Dogs, cats, and rabbits need food and water bowls and some toys. If you know what size dog you plan to get, you can purchase a crate and dog bed. Future cat parents can purchase a carrier, litter box, and scratching post ahead of time. For those getting a rabbit, you’ll need a litter box and a large cage or wire dog crate about four feet long, allowing the rabbit room to stretch and stand on its back feet without bumping its head.
“I recommend waiting to purchase food until adopters know what their new pet is used to eating,” says Sarah Hudson, senior shelter resource counselor at Dane County Humane Society (DCHS). “This way they can avoid upset tummies by either maintaining that diet or transitioning slowly to the new one.”
It’s also a good idea to start pet proofing your home before bringing an animal into it. Check your plants to see if any are toxic to animals and move those into rooms that will not be accessed by your new pet. Electrical cords, dangling strings from window treatments, medicines, cleaners, and breakable knickknacks should all be put away in closed cabinets or closets or otherwise made unreachable.
When bringing home a new cat or kitten, close off a small room to be the cat’s home base, complete with water, food, litter box, toys, and scratch post. The cat may need a few days or weeks to become acclimated to this room. Once that happens, allow it to come out at its own pace to explore other areas. If you move the litter box to another area, be sure to choose a quiet location to allow for privacy.
Puppies and dogs need safe havens too. If using a crate, Sarah advises putting it in a quiet, dark area; placing either a plush blanket or dog bed inside; and covering the top to reduce stress. “The key to crate training is to make it a warm, positive, inviting place for your pet,” says Sarah. “The crate should never be used as punishment. Doing so will only serve to make the crate a scary place for your pet.” For dogs that don’t do well with crates, use a pet playpen or a room with a door or pet gate.
For rabbits, Joan Johnson, senior animal caretaker at DCHS, recommends keeping the cage indoors in a calm environment. Don’t put the cage in direct sunlight, and make sure the area is not musty or drafty. Covering a third of the back of the cage with a sheet creates a cozy spot. “Don't let your rabbit run when they first get home,” says Joan. “The rabbit needs to get used to all the new smells and sounds of their new environment.”
If you don’t have a veterinarian already, start looking before getting your new pet. “Veterinarians are very busy right now, and new adopters could find themselves having trouble scheduling an appointment,” says Dr. Uri Donnett, DCHS’ chief shelter veterinarian. “So starting early and calling many clinics may be necessary. It’s also good to know where your local emergency veterinarians are in case there’s an accident and you need immediate care.”
If you plan to get a rabbit, you need to find a veterinarian that specializes in them. “Rabbits are considered an exotic pet, so their veterinary care can be a little more expensive as well,” says Joan.
And remember the rule of threes: be patient the first three days as your pet transitions from the shelter to your home. After three weeks, your pet likely has learned routines and is expanding their horizons. By three months, pets know they’re home.
Lisa Bernard is the public relations coordinator at Dane County Humane Society.
Dane County Humane Society
5132 Voges Road
Madison, WI 53718