Your First Time… Adopting a Pet

Adopting a Pet (Image Credit: Scarleth White)
Adopting a Pet (Image Credit: Scarleth White)

As a pet-owner (verging on animal hoarder), caring for my animals has been enormously rewarding. It comforts me to know they have a home because of me. But then again, it is a serious commitment. Pets, by definition, are entirely dependent on their owners—physically, financially and for the rest of their lives. A pet should never be an impulse purchase. If you’re thinking of adopting, first make sure you’re qualified.

Perhaps you know exactly what you’re looking for—a cat or dog, which breed, which gender, color, size and length of hair—or maybe not. Maybe you don’t have a type—you’re not that shallow. There are other circumstances to consider, like your schedule, outdoor access, living space, etc.

I should know. My boyfriend and I have a puppy and two cats, all snugly crammed inside a studio (garage). Not to mention we watch Animal Planet religiously. Our lives revolve around our animals to some degree. It’s just like parenting, I swear, so be prepared. Don’t adopt until you’ve thought of EVERYTHING, or at least everything I’ve listed in this article.

For starters, are you going to adopt a cat or dog? The biggest factor to consider is your living situation—the amount of time and space you have to dedicate to them. Puppies require pretty constant supervision, unlike cats and older dogs. If you don’t have outdoor access, cats will be a safer bet. Dogs require intermittent trips outside to do their business, unlike cats, who have an indoor sewage system to rely on when their owners are away—the litter box. The other option, if you do have a secure outdoor enclosure, is to keep your dog outdoors while you’re away, as long as the temperature is moderate and they have shade, access to clean water, and a roof in case of rain. Cats are pretty independent animals compared to dogs. It’s up to you how much you’re willing to commit.

CATS

Should you consider getting two?

Cats are often happier with a companion they can count on to be with them at all times. This gives your cats a sense of comfort and security, and most importantly a playmate. Playing is a positive and healthy interaction. Cats too long deprived of play succumb to more destructive, solitary tendencies like spraying (urinating on your walls). But just because they have a playmate doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. An owner can reduce aggression and anxiety in cats by playing with them. If you choose to get two cats, make sure you purchase separate litter boxes, because cats are not accustomed to taking turns.

Indoor or outdoor?

Cats who live indoors statistically live longer. Outdoor cats encounter many enemies, from vehicles to wild predators—coyotes, gators, snakes, raccoons, you name it. Not to mention, they’re more likely to attract some ticks and fleas and even worms and other harmful parasites if they’re outside.

Home Sweet Home

Cats need places they can perch and observe safely from above. Cat trees range from seventy to several hundred dollars, and are sold at any pet store or online. It’s important that your cats have places they can call their own. They need a structure they can climb, nooks and crannies they can hide in, surfaces that they can scratch and areas they know are theirs and theirs alone. If cats don’t feel a sense of ownership of space, they will develop behavioral issues. They may spray, become aggressive, scratch and climb the furniture, and wreak all kinds of other havoc on your house, so share your space.

Get your pet to the vet

It’s smart to take them right away, especially if you’re adopting from a shelter. Kittens need a few initial rounds of shots, and after that your cat will come back annually. Have a couple hundred dollars saved for each appointment. You should always have a little extra money set aside in case your cat falls ill, gets injured, or needs to be left with a sitter (they’re expensive). Make sure you save all your receipts and paperwork!

Spay and neuter!

Even if they live indoors and there’s no chance of reproducing, cats are masters of escape and will do anything they can to get outside and find a mate. If they don’t, frustration builds, and some cats may resort to spraying as an alternate release. Females who are spayed are less at risk of developing breast cancer, and neutered males have no chance of developing testicular cancer (since they have no testicles). Fixing them can be expensive, up to several hundred dollars. Following the operation, cats should not be let outside. Litter boxes should be emptied and exchanged for shredded paper, because dust from cat litter may cause infection. And whatever you do, don’t let them lick. They’ll lick it raw unless you stop them. Try distracting them with treats, but if you leave your cats alone make sure you put them in a cone (or an Elizabethan collar). Cats despise these with their lives and they’ll put up a decent fight. Don’t be impatient. Try rewarding them with treats when they are calmly in the cone, to create a positive association. Keep an eye on the incision area to ensure it’s healing properly.

Do not declaw!

Declawing cats is cruel. Imagine if somebody clipped the tips of all your fingers off. It causes cats to shift their weight to the back of their paws when they walk, which can result in joint damage and arthritis later on. Using the litter box can also cause excruciating pain, so many cats resort to having accidents around the house. So what’s worse—a little scratching, or a minefield of feces? Is it worth it? I think not.

Daily Upkeep

Daily upkeep includes feeding, sifting litter boxes and changing water. Feeding typically occurs twice daily. Make sure you are not over-feeding them! Feline obesity is real. Ask your vet what they suggest is a suitable portion size for your cat’s weight.

Continuous/Monthly Expenses

Expenses include wet and dry food, litter, flea medicine, which I suggest you buy in bulk because you’ll get a better deal, but be ready—it’ll cost you. A six-month supply will cost over a hundred. Buying food in bulk will also save you money, but make sure you keep it stored in something airtight, safely sealed so no critters get inside and it stays fresh.

Be Prepared

Before you bring your baby home, you should already have the following:

  • Cat tree and Scratchers
  • Food (wet and dry)
  • Food & Water Dispensers (Keep these separate!)
  • Litter & Litter Boxes
  • Collar

DOGS

How many?

If you work or you’re away from home a lot, it might make sense to get a pair of dogs, especially if you’re adopting from the pound. Shelter animals have often been abandoned in the past, resulting in anxiety when left alone. But keep in mind, two dogs can do a lot of damage and they need a lot of room. So if you live in an apartment, one might be a safer bet. It all depends on their demeanor and amount of energy. Older, calmer dogs may not require as much space, in which case two would do just fine, but younger energetic dogs need room to run and play around.

Get your pet to the vet

Puppies need three rounds of shots before they’re ready to embark into the world and interact with other dogs. Once all three rounds have been completed, you’ll be given a tag to attach to their collar confirming they’ve received all their vaccinations. After the initial rounds, you’ll return every one or three years to renew the vaccines (Save a couple hundred dollars for each visit). Make sure you save all your receipts and paperwork!

Flea and Heartworm Medication

You can buy these from your vet or from the pet store and apply them every month. You save money when you purchase these in bulk, but stick to singles if your puppy is still growing. The proper dose is determined by their weight, and dogs can do a lot of growing in a month.

Spay and Neuter!

Neutering eliminates any risk of testicular cancer in male dogs, and females who have been spayed have less chance of developing mammary cancer. Neutering also reduces aggression in males. Surgery costs several hundred, so save up, and once your puppy’s old enough (six to eight months), snip-snip. It’s important that you don’t let your dog lick the incision, or it may become infected. Any time you leave your dog unsupervised while healing, it will need to wear a cone around its neck, to prevent licking while you’re not looking. Dogs, like cats, despise the cone, so reward them with a treat once they’re calmly in their cone, to create a positive association. Make sure they’re calm before you reward them.

Daily Doggy Duties

Feeding, taking them outside to do their business, bagging up their business when they’re done, and walking them. Bigger dogs need longer walks. The more you tire out your dog, the less destructive they will be when they get home. If you live in an apartment or a smaller living space, you might consider lengthening your daily walks or taking several walks a day to compensate. If they know they have an outlet, they’ll be able to contain their energy.

Continuous Expenses

Expenses include food and flea and heartworm medication, which I suggest you buy in bulk. You’ll need to stock your poopy bag supply when you run out. But the most critical continuous expense is your time.

Be Prepared

Upfront expenses (doggy down payments) include:

  • A leash and collar, and a tag inscribed with your dog’s name, your street address and phone number.
  • Food. Make sure your dog receives a healthy, balanced diet. Some fat is okay for dogs as long as they receive protein and fiber. Do your research. Lots of cheaper foods use corn, which is unhealthy for your dog. Find a brand that uses quality ingredients. This can be expensive so it pays to buy in bulk, but if you do, make sure you store the food in airtight containers to keep it fresh.
  • Food and water bowls
  • Poopy bags
  • Chew toys! Lots of them. Dog toys are made to be destroyed so don’t expect new toys to last you very long.

Whichever furry friend you get, make sure you don’t leave harmful substances lying around. If they ingest household cleaner or medication, make sure you call the Pet Poison Hotline immediately: 855-289-0358. Program this number in your phone. Some human foods that are toxic to animals include:

  • Chocolate
  • Garlic and onions
  • Grapes, currants and raisins
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Unbaked bread dough
  • Alcohol

And there you have it. Everything you need to know before adopting. There are lots of cats and dogs in need of homes and loving owners, but remember your responsibilities.


Images courtesy of Scarleth White
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With any luck, I will rewrite this crazy world into the kind that you and I would like to live in.

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