Newly Adopted Pets

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Just adopted a cat or dog, or thinking about adopting one? We’ll talk about how to introduce new and existing pets, basic needs, training and socialization, and more.

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Adopting A Shelter Dog: 5 Tips For Success

Animal shelters can be scary places for a dog. Noisy, and filled with strange sights and smells, shelters can be intimidating for even the bravest canine soul. Timid dogs and those who haven’t been well socialized can become downright terrified when placed in a shelter environment. Candy was one such dog. A 6-year-old Australian Shepherd mix, Candy had been surrendered to my local shelter by her family, who was moving away.  She had been in the shelter for nearly a month when I went to see her. When the shelter worker brought her out to meet me, Candy’s tail was tucked and she trembled all over. She looked around nervously, and didn’t make any attempt to interact with me. I could tell she was traumatized by her situation. Despite her behavior, I sensed sweetness in Candy and adopted her a few days later. Next came the work of integrating this terrified dog into my home. During that time, I learned a lot about how to help an older dog who has been abandoned by her family and is suddenly expected to adapt to a completely new life. Here are some tips based on what I discovered.
  1. When considering a shelter dog for adoption, keep the dog’s situation in mind. Realize the dog is likely anxious and suffering from abandonment. The behavior you see at the shelter—cowering, anxious barking, aloofness—may not be typical for that dog in a home environment.
  2. Don’t expect too much immediately from the dog once you take him or her home. The dog you adopt may have been left by someone he loved or lost and unable to find his way home. These facts, combined with time spent in the shelter, have likely left him with some emotional trauma. It will take him a while to feel safe and secure.
  3. Create a routine. A great way to help your dog get comfortable in her new home is to give her a routine. Feed her in the same place and at the same time every day. Take her for a walk at the same time each day, and take the same route. Knowing what to expect each day will help lessen her anxiety.
  4. Have patience. It will take your dog time to learn to trust you and to understand the rules of the house. Just when it seems as if your dog is starting to catch on to what you want, you may see a temporary backslide. While some dogs adapt fairly quickly to a new home, others may take many months before they start to feel like a member of the family. Patience is key and will pay off in the long run.
  5. Enroll in training class. Once your dog has had some time to settle in, sign up for a training class which uses humane training techniques. Taking your dog to class once a week will put him on the fast track to learning how to respond to requests from you. Attend a class that utilizes play and treats to teach the dog. Training should be fun for you and your dog. It will also speed up the bonding process, help you communicate with him, and increase his overall confidence. Find a Fear Free Certified Trainer here.
Once your shelter dog comes to realize that he’s in his forever home, you’ll be amazed at how he will blossom. The love he shares will be your special reward. This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT
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Adopting a Shelter Cat? Here’s How to Prepare

June is both the ASPCA’s Adopt a Shelter Cat Month and the American Humane Association’s Adopt a Cat Month. Either way, it’s a very special month for cats.

Cats definitely need adopting. According to the ASPCA, about 3.2 million cats enter shelters annually. However, only about half are adopted. While some are euthanized for medical or behavioral issues, most are euthanized simply because there aren’t enough homes.

Adopting an adult cat (especially those hard-to-rehome senior cats) may save a life. If you already have a cat or two, adding another—using gradual introduction techniques—is certainly possible without causing a household cat war.

If you’ve never had a cat before, you may learn that your preconceived ideas about cats are probably wrong. For example, cats aren’t aloof; they love their people. It’s just that cats being cats aren’t generally quite as demonstrative as most dogs. Even better, while 10 years may be elderly for a large-breed dog, a cat with a decade of life under the belt is merely middle-aged and can give you years more of companionship.

With those factors in mind, here are 10 things to know about adopting shelter cats:

1: Cats, like dogs, have individual personalities. Discuss with family members in advance the kind of cat you think might be the best match: do you want an active cat who is a sort of feline superhero or do you want a couch potato kitty? Also, if you happen to be a senior citizen yourself, maybe a senior cat is best.

2: During a shelter visit, you’re getting only a quick glimpse into a cat’s personality. For example, that cat you’re calling “lazy” might have just played with two consecutive visitors, and is now pooped and taking a well-deserved catnap. Ask an adoption counselor who sees all the cats daily to assess what they’re really like.

3. Shelter cats are already spayed or neutered and treated for parasites, and often they have received additional medical care or have been microchipped. What a bargain!

4: Shelter cats are a relative bargain, but over the life of your cat there will be costs involved for food and medical care. Any pet is a financial commitment and responsibility.

5: Stock up. Your new arrival will need a litter box (or two), cat litter, food and water bowls, food, scratching posts, safe and stimulating puzzle feeders or interactive toys, a cushy bed, a brush for grooming, a toothbrush and pet toothpaste, and nail clippers.

6. Catproof your home. That means, among other things, no lilies or other dangerous plants and no dangling yarn for a cat to swallow. Even an adult cat can get into trouble.

7. Take your new cat to a veterinarian for a post-adoption exam that includes a baseline for heart rate and blood work so there will be a basis for comparison in the future.

8. Fear Free. Seek out a Fear Free practice or Fear Free veterinarian to help make veterinary visits palatable before the cat has an adverse reaction. Learn more at

9: Think two. Cats require exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction. Two cats may be better than one, providing twice the benefits for one another and for you. For example, purring has been shown to be beneficial for our health; when cats purr, we smile. What’s wrong with smiling twice as often? Make sure that the two cats you’re adopting get along well; littermates are always the best idea. If you currently have a single cat, adopting two can keep them focused on one another rather than your existing cat. (Of course, it’s possible – albeit unlikely – that the two will gang up on your existing cat).

10. Make nice. Get advice on introducing new cats into a home with an existing cat, multiple cats, or a dog. In general, the newcomer(s) should be secluded in a sanctuary room such as a second bedroom, den, or guest bathroom. Use comforting tools such as the calming pheromone Feliway, combined with play, a great stress-buster. If the newcomer is scared and hides, never force yourself or try to drag him out. Instead, be quiet and patient, using enticing treats to help develop trust. The cat will come to you when he or she is ready. Finally, the more time you take to let cats get to know each other and become familiar in their new surroundings, the better.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant), hosts two national pet radio shows and is on WGN Radio, Chicago. He's a regular contributor/columnist for many publications, including CATSTER, Veterinary Practice News, and the Journal of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. He's appeared on dozens of TV shows, including Oprah, many Animal Planet Programs, and National Geographic Explorer. He has contributed to or authored many pet books and veterinary textbooks such as "The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management" and co-edited Decoding Your Dog, by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. He speaks at conferences around the world.
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Introducing Cats and Dogs: How to Help Ensure Harmony in the Home

Picture this. You work in an open-plan office, but you simply don’t get along with the person in the desk alongside yours. Or someone in the office insists on wearing perfume that gives you a headache. Once you leave that office environment and go home, it’s fine, but the tension starts up again the next day when you are back at work. Now consider this same scenario with regard to your pets. If you have dogs and decide to bring a cat home, you can’t simply plonk the cat down and let the pets work it out. They could be fearful of one another and even show signs of overt aggression. And there’s no escape like in the office scenario! It takes forethought to introduce a cat to a doggie-dominated household. Follow a strict game plan to ensure that pets will accept one another and, ideally, become firm friends.

Understanding Your Dogs

You may adore cats but your dogs may have other ideas about feline intrusion. It’s important to understand the characteristics and innate traits of your dog(s). Some dogs have a strong prey drive. It may be impossible to introduce a cat to the household if your dog is already an adult and set in her ways. Be realistic. Has your dog ever seen a cat before? How does she react? If in doubt, don’t adopt a cat. This avoids having to rehome a cat or take her back to the shelter. If you are confident enough to proceed, never choose a new family member simply because you think he or she looks cute. All animals have the irresistible cute-factor! Personality traits that gel between species are the key to success.

Personality-Matching Pets

This means doing homework and being knowledgeable about and accepting of your pooch. Mixed breeds can be a challenge, especially when your lovable mutt has a diverse parentage! Having your dog’s DNA analyzed via a home test kit may be beneficial in understanding the breed traits that contribute to her personality. It’s also worth having a discussion with your veterinarian, who knows and understands your dog and may be able to give some insight into how your dog may react. Apart from personality traits, take into account your dog’s age. Here again, a veterinarian can offer sound advice as to whether to adopt a kitten or an adult cat. Similarly, bringing the right cat into the mix is important. Do your feline homework. For example, orange tabbies, tortoiseshell-patterned felines, and calicos are known for their “big personalities.” They may be more willing to stand up for themselves or challenge your dog. Those traits may or may not be the best fit with your canine family, depending on whether they are outgoing or sensitive or timid. If possible, adopt a cat who has previously lived in a multipet household or was previously fostered in a household with dogs. Learn as much as you can about the cat’s personality. Don’t be shy about asking the shelter or foster family for any available background information. Some cats are surprisingly mellow and laid back.

Getting to Know You

Introductions are crucial. Behavior experts suggest that new pet housemates meet by smell first. Sequester your new cat in one room. Rub her and the incumbent dog(s) with socks and then swap them out to set up an olfactory introduction to one another. Then confine the dog with a puzzle feeder to distract her and let the cat explore the dog’s territory. After that, confine the cat with a fun toy and let the dog sniff around where she's been. Closely supervise face-to-face meetings. Have the dog on leash so you can gently redirect her if needed. Never leave your menagerie alone until you are sure they are comfortable with one another. The cat should have an escape route that allows her to go up (a cat tree, for instance), under, or inside an object where she can be safe and that will offer privacy from the dogs.

Other Useful Tips

Brush all pets in the household with the same brush to mingle their scents. Use pheromone plug-ins that replicate both cat and dog pheromones. Place them around the home to ease any anxiety and fearfulness. If you have concerns, ask a Fear Free veterinarian or a qualified animal behaviorist for advice. Be patient. It can take a week to several months for relationships to develop, but when you see them all getting along and even playing together, it is well worth it! This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
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Introducing Your Dog to a New Dog

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Meeting the Basic Needs of Your Cat

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Training and Socialization 101