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Ultimate pet care guide for pet owners

Everything you need to keep your pet happy and healthy

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Pets are a big responsibility that require time, attention and money to care for. Enjoy every minute of living with pets by starting off on the right foot, focusing on their most important needs and always making time to spend together.

How to choose the perfect pet companion

It’s a big decision to bring a new pet into the family. Feel confident in your choice by following these steps.

  1. Consider your lifestyle. If you’re active and outdoorsy, you might want a younger dog who can accompany you on walks and hikes. If you’re more of a homebody or travel a lot, a lap cat might be a better fit. If you live in an apartment or don’t have much of a yard, a cat or senior dog could be good choices. Or you might be into smaller, more exotic pets like ferrets, hamsters, turtles or snakes.
  2. Decide on your must-haves. Are you looking to get more exercise or more companionship? Do you need lots of quiet or do you want a snuggly pet in your bed at night? Make a list of your ideal pet’s qualities and keep it in mind during your search.
  3. Think about personality. With older pets, you pretty much know what kind of pet they are. A kitten or puppy can be easier to train and bond with, but they could surprise you with bad habits or new behaviors as they get older.
  4. Head to the shelter. You can start your search by meeting lots of pets at your local adoption center. And you can work with a local rescue group to help walk you through the process or answer questions. You can also go online to sites like Petfinder and filter your search by the kind of pet you’re looking for. But watch out for free pet ads online, since these can sometimes be scams.
  5. Narrow down your search. You may have fallen in love with a few pets, so now’s the time to pick the best one for you with your criteria in mind. Meet with your top picks more than once to get a better idea of their personalities. But don’t wait too long to decide or you might miss out to another adopter.
  6. Finalize the process. It’s time to sign the adoption papers and pay any fees. Expect it to take up to an hour to complete the adoption forms. After that, you can take your new pet home to settle in! It’s helpful to have the basic supplies ready before the big day.

Can I set up an overnight stay?

If you can’t decide on a pet, you can try an adoption sleepover. Ask your local shelter if you can arrange an overnight stay with the pet you’d like to adopt. This is a great option if you’re adopting a dog from a shelter, since dogs’ in-shelter behavior is often different from their in-home behavior. It’s also a good way to make sure the new pet will get along with other family members and pets in your home.

Should I foster before I adopt?

Animal fostering is a great way to support local animal rescues. It frees up space in shelters and keeps pets in a healthier home environment. However, some foster parents have trouble parting with their foster pets, and these “foster fails” end up staying with the foster family instead of being adopted out. Some rescue groups discourage foster fails because it often means the foster family has no more room for future fosters. Check with your local rescue to ask about fostering policies before applying.

How to help your new pet feel at home

Every pet is different, and the adjustment period can take some time, so be patient with your new pet for the first few weeks.

Your first day together

  • Have food, water and a bed set up in a small area or room.
  • Bring a leash or hard-sided carrier to take your pet home.
  • Let your pet explore and get settled in their room.
  • Avoid leaving your pet alone for too long and visit regularly for playtime, pets and treats.
  • Give your pet some good exercise before bedtime.
  • Wait to introduce any new pets until the first week.

Your first week together

  • Open up new areas of the house for your pet to explore on supervised visits.
  • Keep your pet’s room available for them to retreat to.
  • Make sure cats have a safe, quiet place to use the litterbox.
  • Start to safely introduce other pets in the home.
  • Get into a regular routine for feeding and exercise.
  • Watch out for signs of discomfort like accidents in the house and barking or meowing. That might mean you need to go back to only giving your pet access to their safe room.

Your first month together

  • Let your pet explore your whole home if they feel comfortable.
  • Continue supervised introductions with other pets.
  • Continue regular socialization with lots of treats and praise for good behavior.
  • Start training for basic commands like sit, stay and come.
  • Consider new activities like dog parks or hikes, depending on the pet.

7 steps to introduce a new dog to your current dog

How your resident dog reacts to your new pup can be unpredictable. You can be proactive about a good first impression with these steps:

  1. Pick up your new pup alone. When you’re heading to pick up your new dog, leave your current pup at home. This way, you’ll allow yourself the room to manage their interaction in a controlled environment.
  2. Ask for help. Get someone to help you introduce your dogs. It’s best to have one person to handle each dog.
  3. Choose a neutral space. To avoid territorial behavior, introduce your puppers in a neutral space before bringing your new dog into the home. Some pet owners suggest introducing their new pups while on a walk.
  4. Keep your dogs leashed. Make sure each dog is on a leash at the first meeting. However, keep a loose slack and allow them to smell each other out. Even if your dogs seem to ignore each other at first, it’s best not to force an interaction that could cause them to become defensive.
  5. Take it slow. Be patient and allow each dog to initiate interaction with each other on their own time. Be mindful of your dog’s body language, like teeth baring, raised hackles, or growling. If you notice any agitation, separate your dogs, giving each dog individual attention before reintroducing.
  6. Offer treats for good behavior. Observe the interaction between your two dogs and reinforce positive behavior with a treat. Just be sure you have enough treats for both dogs.
  7. Keep a close eye at home. Once your dogs have mingled peacefully, you can introduce them within your home on a leash. If your dogs remain calm while you lead them around the house, you can remove the leash. Make sure to put away items of tension until you’re sure your dogs are comfortable with one another, such as food bowls, beds and toys.

Can I follow the same steps for introducing a new cat?

Yes, you can use similar steps to carefully introduce a new cat to your home. Split your pets up with a carrier or pet gate instead of a leash. Most important for cats is scent, so you can swap your pets blankets or bed to allow them to get used to each other’s scent before interacting face-to-face.

The basics of pet care

All pets require care on your part. Your pet’s exact needs and the cost of care will depend on their age, size and energy level. You can best care for your pet by preparing for these basic pet care tasks:

  • Exercise. Walk or run around with your pet at least once a day either at a park, trail, around the neighborhood or in your backyard. Your pet might need 30 minutes up to a few hours of daily exercise, reserving the most for energetic pets.
  • Potty breaks. If your pet stays indoors, you’ll want to set regular times when your pet takes bathroom breaks outside. For cats, you may want at least one litter box per cat, plus an extra strategically placed wherever your cat plays.
  • Grooming. Most pets shed hair, whether or not they’re a short-haired breed. Brush your pet on a daily or weekly basis to keep unwanted shedding at bay and keep their coat healthy.
  • Interactive play. Nearly every pet likes your undivided attention and can learn from their playtime with you. Opt for age- and pet-appropriate toys for unlimited enjoyment.
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Pet supplies you need for your new furry friend

Food

Find your vet’s recommended pet food locally, or set up an automatic shipment through your favorite online pet supply store like Barkshop or Chewy so you never run out.

Water bowl or fountain

Keep your pet’s water topped up with a cutesy traditional water bowl or one that refills your pet’s bowl as they drink it down. A fountain can offer a soothing trickling sound while filtering the water for a clean taste, and it’s recommended by vets and cat owners alike to help encourage cats to hydrate and prevent urinary tract infections.

Collar, leash and poop bags

Stroll around the neighborhood in style, whether you’re going for a breakaway neck collar or a harness with a retractable leash. And keep a few bags handy to keep the neighborhood tidy if your pet needs a bathroom break along the way.

Brushing and bathing

Ban stray pet hair from your house with a fine-toothed comb or shedding brush, and follow up with regular tub time complete with a comfy spa-like tub and treats for extra love on bath day. For dogs who don’t enjoy baths, you can try a peanut-butter filled rubber toy to keep them busy.

Pet toys

Spark your pet’s inner joy with interactive toys made specifically for your dog, cat or any other critter that’s part of your family. Some pets enjoy soft toys for shaking or cuddling, while others need puzzle toys that keep them active or help them learn. And don’t forget a scratching post!

Litterbox

Set up your cat’s litterbox in a quiet room without a lot of foot traffic. A general rule is to have at least one litterbox for every cat in your home, though some vets recommend having an extra in case of fighting or location preferences. Standard usually need to be scooped a few times week, while automatic litterboxes typically scoop themselves and don’t need to be cleaned for weeks.

How to train your pet and deal with behavior problems

Behavioral training teaches your pet basic commands like sit or stay, and it includes collar training or curbing bad habits that your pet is developing. But there are several ways that you can teach these basics and beyond.

  • Clicker training or treat training involves teaching your pet different commands, and then making a clicking sound or offering a treat to show your pet that they did the right action. A clicker is a keychain-sized tool that makes a clicking sound when pressed.
  • Online training videos can help you level up your clicker training, or introduce new training methods. You can buy these or go with a reputable trainer on social media, but look up customer and viewer ratings to make sure their methods work first.
  • Group obedience classes like those at PetSmart work well if you want personalized training mixed in with pet socialization.
  • One-on-one professional training works with you and your pet on behavior training plus next-level tricks, like going through an obstacle course or balancing treats on their nose.

How to pet-proof your home

Pet-proofing essentially means that you use safety gear, gates or take extra precautions to keep your pet safe in your home. If you have a puppy or kitten, pet-proofing also keeps your belongings safe when your baby pet gets in the chewing mood.

First, you’ll need to figure out what safety gear you need for your pet. Try laying on the floor of each room in different directions, and spot anything that your pet might get curious about.

Shoes laying underneath a bed or couch, unhidden wires and open trash cans are all fair game for mischief. Once you’ve identified safety hazards, you can:

  • Clean up any of your belongings that your pet could chew up.
  • Buy pet gates to keep your pet away from specific areas.
  • Keep doors to some rooms closed unless you’re with your pet.
  • Hide exposed wires in casing or by taping them along the backside of your furniture.
  • Relocate trash cans to an enclosed spot or buy ones with lids that your pet can’t easily figure out.
  • Anchor unsteady furniture to the wall to prevent it from falling if your pet jumps on top.

How to potty train your pet

Pet parents have many preferences and ways of potty training, so you can relax and pick the method that fits your schedule and training style the best.

A few potty training methods to consider:

  • Crate training involves keeping your pet inside a crate with just enough room for them to get up and turn around. This discourages your pet from pottying inside the crate, and helps build bladder control.
  • Litter boxes or puppy pads involve teaching your cat or dog to use boxes or pads inside the house. This lets you go out and about for the day without worrying, and then you can clean up after your pet when you get home.
  • Outside potty breaks involve taking your pet outside on a regular schedule, then rewarding your pet when they do their business in the right place.
  • Positive reinforcement involves praising your pet for doing the action that you wanted, including when they use the right space that you’ve set up for their bathroom breaks.

How to maintain your pet’s good health

Keep your pet happy and healthy with a little know-how about your pet’s health care. But consult your vet for official advice, since these tips are only meant for learning purposes.

What to expect with your first vet visit

  • Physical checkup, may include checking your pet’s ears, eyes, teeth and belly
  • First vaccinations, depending on your pet’s age
  • Parasite testing and deworming
  • Your vet may recommend pet food, preventive medicine, specific toys and general pet care
  • Clipping your pet’s nails if you’d like
  • Answering any other questions you might have

Keep up with preventive health measures

Stave off many pet health problems when you keep up with these common types of prevention:

  • Yearly vet checkups. Remember that once-over your pet got the first time you took them to the vet? Rinse and repeat that physical every year so that your vet can tell you about any health problems in the early stages.
  • Flea and tick treatment. Keep pesky fleas and ticks away by using the vet’s prescribed medication, or ask for an alternative if you’d like to know your options. Over-the-counter meds may not work as effectively.
  • Heartworm preventive. Prevent this flea-borne parasite with prescription medication, and test to see if your pet has heartworm every year.
  • Teeth and ear cleaning. You might get rid of earwax buildup with simple cleaning solutions, and either brush your pet’s teeth, give dental chews or get regular dental cleanings based on what your vet recommends.

Your vet will let you know the proper steps for keeping your pet’s teeth and ears clean.

Pet insurance can support your pet’s medical care

With pet insurance, you can plan ahead for the vet care that your pet will need. Pet insurance can reimburse you for a huge portion of your vet bills, like 80% or 90%. Along with that, you can buy different pet insurance policies for taking your pet in for anything from broken bones to an upset stomach or annual vaccines and checkups.

The three types of policies to be aware of:

Wellness

Covers routine vet visits, vaccines and preventive medication.

Accident only

Covers vet care related to accidents like broken bones or swallowing something that’s not edible.

Accident and illness

Covers vet care for accidents and illnesses like bloating, upset stomach, skin or ear infections.

Compare pet insurance

The best and cheapest time to buy pet insurance is when your pet is young and healthy. Get quotes from multiple companies to find the best deal for you.

Name Product Pets covered Seniors accepted Hereditary conditions Chronic illness
Pawp
Dogs, Cats
For $19/month, access 24/7 vet support and $3,000 for one pet emergency a year.
Petplan
Dogs, Cats
Cover unexpected vet bills from emergency exams, injuries, surgery and more.
Embrace
Dogs, Cats
Enjoy extra benefits with coverage for exam fees, curable conditions and wellness visit reimbursement.
Pet Assure
Dogs, Cats, Horses
Save up to 25% on all vet bills including wellness and dental visits for as little as $10/month.
Pets Best
Dogs, Cats
PetFirst
Dogs, Cats
Get coverage starting at $9 per month for cats and $15 for dogs. Talk to an agent at 888-738-0683.
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Compare up to 4 providers

What to do when common health problems pop up

Trust your instincts when you think something’s wrong with your beloved pet, or call your vet’s office for advice on the symptoms.

Keep in mind that this is general information for learning purposes and shouldn’t be taken as official vet care advice.

Health problem When to call the vet Pet insurance policy that covers it
Allergies If your pet goes days or weeks without getting better, or if they have a strong allergic reaction Accident and illness
Broken bone Go to the vet right away Accident
Ear infection Your pet seems tender around the ears, or has redness inside their ears Accident and illness
Gingivitis If your pet’s gums are
  • Dark or dusky red, not salmon pink
  • Bleeding
  • Swollen
  • Tender
Accident and illness
Swallowing a harmful object or food If your pet seems lethargic, doesn’t want to eat, heaves or vomits or you see your pet eat something bad, go to the vet or call for advice Accident
Upset stomach If your pet seems lethargic, doesn’t eat for several days, gets other symptoms or otherwise isn’t acting like themselves Accident and illness

How to travel with pets

Taking your pet on your holly jolly holiday or summer-bum vacation? Discover the rules and tips for taking your pet on different types of transportation.

If you’re road-tripping with your furry friend by your side or just want to change up your pet’s scenery with a car ride, know when your car could become a danger zone for pets.

Moving with man’s best friend

Set your pet at ease in the comfort of your new home by finding the best pet-friendly rental places available.

Are you flying your pet overseas? Whether you’re going on the trip of a lifetime or even moving overseas, know what to expect before heading to your gate.

Bottom line

Being a good pet owner isn’t always a walk in the dog park. But by taking the responsibility seriously and staying committed to being the best pet parent you can be, you’ll hopefully enjoy many happy years together with your best friend.

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