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Pets 101

Homeward Bound

What you should know before adopting a puppy or kitten

By Sarah Dahnke

The wide-eyed stares of cute puppies and kittens may stir up all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings when you see them at your local shelter, especially in the springtime when new litters are abundant. But it’s important to factor in all the responsibilities associated with caring for a newborn pet. Here are a few tips to consider before coming home with a new family member.

Puppies

Puppy-proof your house

Puppies are curious animals who are also teething—a dangerous combination. Anything within a puppy’s reach could potentially end up in his mouth, which could mean damage to some of your favorite household goods or even worse, cause the puppy to ingest something hazardous. “Put the trash out of reach—inside a cabinet or outside on the porch—or buy containers with locking lids,” the Arizona Humane Society says. “Encourage children to pick up their toys, and don’t leave socks, shoes, eyeglasses, briefcases, or TV remote controls lying around within your puppy’s reach.”

Get help with housebreaking

If you’re adopting a puppy from a shelter, there’s a chance he is already housebroken. Even if your new canine companion hasn’t quite mastered the potty routine, shelter staff members are probably quite familiar with his habits. “Our shelter keeps our dogs on a schedule of walks to help with their housebreaking,” says Eliza Fried, director of marketing at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California. “If your new friend isn’t yet housebroken, ask the shelter staff to help you establish a routine based on the age of the dog you’re bringing into the family.” Keep in mind that crated puppies should not be left alone for more than three or four hours at a time because they cannot hold their bladders that long.

Reinforce the rules with lots of attention

Puppies naturally have lots of energy and need to be occupied both physically and mentally. Allow plenty of time for walks and games, such as fetch. Also make sure your family is ready to give the new puppy plenty of “people time.” Dogs only learn the rules of your home if someone is available to reinforce them.

Teething is typical

Puppies feel the need to chew until they are about 6 months old because they are teething, and the chewing soothes sore gums. The AHS advises interrupting any inappropriate chewing and immediately presenting the dog with a chew toy. Furniture and other tempting items can be coated with at taste deterrent, such as Bitter Apple, to discourage chewing.

Stay up-to-date on shots and licenses

At the time of adoption, it’s likely that your puppy will have received his first round of shots, but he’ll need more. “Make sure to get your new dog’s shot records, and ask when the next set of vaccinations [is] due,” Fried says. It’s also important to find out how and where to obtain a license as soon as possible.

Kittens

Introduce kitty to an enclosed area

Because entering a new home can often be a frightening experience for a cat, Fried says it is best to introduce the cat to a small area of the home, such as a bedroom, to allow him to get used to the new surroundings. Once he is comfortable, you can slowly allow the kitty to explore the rest of the house.

Nipping is normal

Aggressive behavior that is play-motivated is normal in kittens, as they are natural hunters. Kittens are likely to investigate anything that moves and may attempt to “kill” anything that resembles potential prey. The AHS recommends redirecting aggression with toys. Dragging the toy or throwing it will encourage pouncing and chasing, and some kittens enjoy wrestling with a full-sized stuffed animal. Try to set up around three or four times to initiate play with the new kitten, to positively channel his instincts.

Scratching posts are sublime

All cats have the desire to scratch, so it’s best to redirect this behavior to a scratching post at an early age, according to Fried. If kitty attempts to scratch your furniture, quickly move him to the scratching post to teach that scratching on this surface is acceptable. You will need to repeat this over and over, but it does work.

Kittens are forever young

Cats may exhibit kitten-like behavior for the first two years of their lives, so they will need constant reinforcement of the rules, according to the AHS. They will also continue to be receptive to new experiences and lessons well past kittenhood. Cats begin to understand their rank with everyone in the household around 3 to 6 months old, and they may challenge this rank at around 6 to 8 months old.

Adopt a duo

Kittens are playful creatures who require a lot of attention and may get bored if they have to spend the day alone. For this reason, many experts recommend adopting two kittens together. “Kittens enjoy playing together, and this can be wonderful for cats who live with family members who work,” Fried says. Many shelters have followed suit with this trend and will only adopt out kittens in pairs.

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