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7 Tips for First-time Pet Owners

Adding a new pet to a household is exciting, but there’s also a lot that first-time dog and cat owners should consider before bringing a new furry friend home

A man and a young child playing with a beagle puppy

If you're bringing home a new pet dog or cat, here are some things to consider before welcoming your new four-legged family member.

1. Pet-proof your home

Before bringing a pet home, remove any unsafe items from their living space.

Dr. Jonathan Bloom, the medical director of the Willowdale Animal Hospital in Toronto, Ont., suggests crawling around on your hands and knees and seeing things from your pet’s perspective. “Identify hazards like electrical cords, small objects or plants that may prove problematic if consumed or if they tip over,” says Bloom, “and look for gaps and spaces where pets might get stuck.”

2. Allow your pet to adjust to its new home

It may take time for your pet to become accustomed to his or her new home. Anxiety can manifest itself in many ways, including poor appetite, upset tummy, lethargy, hiding and cowering, crying, lack of eye contact and stiff posture.

Some degree of nervousness is normal, and an animal may need a quiet place to adjust for the first 24 hours, says Ottawa Valley dog whisperer Karen Rosenfeld, who is a holistic dog behaviourist. Puppies may find a spot to observe the household for a week or two before coming out of their shell. You can restrict your pet’s activity to one room to help with their transition.

3. Familiarize your pet to the people and places around them

Help pets to acclimate to the people, animals, places and things they’ll regularly interact with. “Riding in the car, meeting new people on the street, having their nails trimmed, greeting and playing with another dog—these are all aspects of socialization that are key,” says Dr. Sharon Quinn of the Nelson Animal Hospital in Burlington, Ont.

Young puppies, kittens and new adoptees that haven’t had their full sets of vaccinations should socialize only with healthy pets whose shots are up to date.

4. Train your new pet

A puppy on a leash sitting at its owner's feet

Start with the basics. Dogs will need to learn where they’ll sleep, what the feeding routine will be and what toys they can chew and wrestle with, says Dr. Karyn Jones, owner of Ajax Animal Hospital.

To house-train your pooch, take them outside to the same spot or for a walk when they wake up and every few hours after that. After they have relieved themselves, praise them and reward them with a treat.

The next steps are helping a dog learn to walk safely on a leash and how to meet new people and other dogs politely when they’re outside or at the vet or groomer.

A new cat should be shown where her litter box is, where her food and water will be, and where her safe sleeping spots and scratching post are.

Veterinarians, as well as other pet owners, are good resources for finding reliable pet trainers and classes in your neighbourhood.

5. Find a good vet

A vet with gloves holding a grey kitten

Ask neighbours, friends and relatives who their veterinarian is and why they chose them. Veterinary designations or certifications may help you make a decision. For example, veterinary staff who are Fear Free certified have been trained in easing fear, anxiety and stress in pets.

6. What to expect when you go to the vet

Your new pet should see a vet within the first week of being home with you. At this first visit, the veterinarian can assess overall health, including looking for congenital problems, dental health and bite, and palpating the abdomen, Dr. Quinn says.

You may be asked to take a fecal sample to that first appointment so that it can be checked for parasites. Puppies and kittens are routinely dewormed every two weeks until 12 weeks of age. Puppies should receive monthly parasite prevention thereafter.

All pet dogs and cats in Canada are required to be vaccinated against rabies. Both dogs and cats require additional immunizations to protect them, and depending on lifestyle and exposure, there may be other necessary vaccinations that you’ll need to speak with your vet about.

A pet’s lifestyle, age and activities will determine how often they should see the veterinarian, with healthy pets visiting once or twice annually.

7. Get protected with pet insurance

“Emergencies, injuries and critical or severe illnesses unfortunately can happen and are not easy to predict or plan for,” Jones says.

Pets can suffer from many of the same injuries and medical conditions that afflict their human owners, including glaucoma, heart disease, dental disease and broken bones.

Pet insurance can do more than alleviate the cost of emergencies or expensive procedures that your cat or dog may require—it can also ease stress during an emotional time if your pet is ill or has had a serious accident.

With today’s advanced procedures—like ultrasounds, MRI, endoscopy and hip replacements—being commonplace in veterinary medicine, pet insurance is a necessity. As Bloom says, “At minimum, pet insurance allows owners to rest comfortably at night, knowing that they are at least financially prepared for the unexpected.” 

Protect your Pet

Ensure your pet is taken care of—and provide peace of mind for yourself—with CAA Pet Insurance to cover unexpected vet expenses. Speak with a licensed CAA Insurance Agent to discuss the right plan for your pet.

Plus, pick up new pet essentials like a crate, bed, food and water bowls and toys from Ren’s Pets, where CAA Members save 10% on select items when they shop in-store or online.

Image credit: iStock/bernardbodo, iStock/SbytovaMN, iStock/fotografixx