Getting a new pet is a big decision that should not be taken lightly. You must have an open heart, time for adjustment to a new family dynamic, and patience, as your new pet learns to trust you. If you have other family members, especially children, you want to ensure your child’s, and your new pet’s safety, by guiding them to interact appropriately. Here are some considerations when planning to add a new family pet.
Who should you consider when adopting a new pet?
Pets create physically and mentally healthier humans, but before you consider pet adoption, ensure you think through your future life with a new pet, and consider your current family structure. Are there already pets in your home? Are there currently, or will there be (human) children? How often will family members be home?
- Current pets — If your household already includes pets, how do you think your current pets will react to a new pet? Can your current pet and new pet be introduced before bringing the new pet into the family structure? Minimizing stress on existing pets and creating slow, controlled introductions may help.
- Current children — How do your children act around pets? Some children are gentle, while others don’t understand that pets are living creatures who can feel fear and pain.
- Future children — If you are planning to have children, but want a pet first, choosing a pet who is tolerant of children is especially important, because you need a dog or cat who will accept your baby.
What should you consider before pet adoption?
- Lifestyle — Do you picture taking your dog to work, or do you work from home and picture your dog at your feet all day? Will you be able to fit walking, feeding, and playing with a dog, or feeding and playing with a cat, into your schedule? If you think you will seldom be home, you should choose an independent cat, or perhaps decide against a pet—you definitely should not get a social dog.
- Is this your first pet? — If you’ve never before had a pet, think about the reason for a pet, and the relationship you want. Do you want a pet to hang around with at home, or one to hike with and climb mountains? In the first case, look for a lower-energy dog breed; in the latter, find a high-energy breed who loves to walk. Do some research to decide what kind of pet will fit your expectations, and ask questions at the animal shelter or the breeding facility about the dog or cat’s personality to find a good fit.
When should you consider adopting a new pet?
- After losing a pet — If you have recently lost a pet, pinpointing when you are ready for a new pet is difficult. Prepare for a new companion slowly and carefully, and perhaps visit an animal shelter and meet some dogs or cats, until it feels right. You will always be ready, at some point.
- Before or after human children? — The trickiest part of pets and children is not knowing how a pet will react to a child, and visa versa. If you have no children, but are planning on a family, choose a breed known to be tolerant—shelters will often have notes on how specific animals act around children. If you already have a child, look for a dog who the shelter can vouch for is good with children, or choose a puppy who can be trained. No matter your choice, introducing the child and the pet slowly, under supervision, gently correcting any inappropriate action—by child and pet—and creating a positive experience, is vital.
Where will you keep your new pet?
Pets take up space. They move around, they run around, they need somewhere to sleep, and they need a safe retreat, especially from children. Consider your current space when choosing a pet. For example, some dog breeds need space to run and regular exercise, and would not do well alone all day in a small apartment.
Why you should consider a new pet
A few of the reasons why pets make excellent family members:
- Pets are good for your mental and physical health.
- Pets make excellent family members, who can teach your children responsibility.
- Pets make loyal,wonderful, lifetime friends.
How to introduce a pet to your family
Some pets are passive by nature, but golden-hearted pets also can be pestered to the point of biting. Initial introductions to a pet need to be slow and controlled, and adults need to supervise all pet-child interactions until the child understands how to properly handle a pet.
- Pets need to understand that the child will not physically hurt them — Teach your children to only use “gentle hands”—no pulling on the pet’s tail or ears, no sitting or stepping on the pet, no tight squeezing, or any physical action that would be inappropriate with another human.
- Pets should initiate any interaction — A pet may choose to sit on a person’s lap, or let a family member know they want to play. However, a child who gets right in a dog or cat’s face, continues to wake them up when they are trying to rest, or who will not let the pet escape, will annoy and upset the pet. Teach children that pets need their space.
- Pets need their possessions — Children need to learn to share and let other children have their possessions. Similarly, pets do not want their food or toys taken away.
- Pets need a quiet, low stress environment — Teach your children not to yell or scream at or around your pet.
At Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital, we want to be a part of your decision to add a new furry family member. Give us a call if you have any questions about (furry) family planning, or schedule an appointment to discuss your choices with our team.