How to Prepare Your Family for a New Pet
Getting a new pet for your family can be exciting, but it also takes careful consideration, planning, budgeting and serious family discussions. Teach your children that owning a pet includes a lot of responsibility and accountability — a significant lesson for them to learn sooner than later.
If you have already determined that getting a new pet is the right move for your family, here are some crucial steps to help prepare your family:
1. Get educated.
It’s important to learn as much as you can about the particular type of animal and breed before you adopt or purchase a pet, to make sure that it’s the right type of pet for your family. There are many books and online resources about different types of domesticated animals, so there isn’t any excuse for not knowing what to expect from the pet. Factors such as diet, size, common illnesses and energy level vary from specific breed to breed, whether your new pet is a dog, bird or lizard.
If you have existing pets at home, it is critical that you make sure that there is a chance for the animals to be able to live in harmony (as opposed to one animal ending up as another animal’s dinner). It would also be a good idea to meet with other neighbors, friends or family members who already have that type of pet to interact with the animal, watch it in its environment and to ask questions. Another great source of information is an adoption organization for the breed of animal you’re looking to take home. Make sure your children understand that owning a pet is not all fun and games – it requires a lot of responsibility, accountability, cleaning and performing scheduled tasks.
2. Iron out the details.
Everyone living in the home should be on the same page in regards to how to care for, play with, feed, train and discipline the new pet. It’s similar to the conversation you would have with your spouse before planning to have children. This discussion should answer questions, such as: Where will the new pet live, eat, sleep and potty? What rooms can the pet venture into and what specific pieces of furniture is the animal not allowed to touch? Develop a monthly budget for pet food, grooming, accessories and vet appointments. Create a schedule (for activities such as feeding, playtime, outdoor time, training and sleeping) and assign tasks (such as cleaning the animal’s cage, taking the dog on walks, etc.) to appropriate family members based on age, competence and skill. When all family members are on board with the details and schedule, it will be easier to adhere to the plan, as well as hold someone responsible if something doesn’t get done.
Buy the new pet’s supplies as a family – Shopping for the new pet’s supplies will help the family members get ready for the responsibility of taking care of the animal. This will also help kids learn what certain items are and why they are important for the animal’s health or wellbeing. Supplies include bedding, a cage or crate, pins or fences, food and water bowls, healthy food, treats, toys, cleaning liquids and grooming/hygiene equipment.
3. Pet-proof your home.
If you’re buying a fish or another animal that will live its entire life in a cage or tank, then you won’t have to do much to prepare your home. However, most animals will be allowed to roam in a bedroom, throughout the house or in the back yard. Before the animal arrives at your home – just as you would baby-proof your home – move or hide visible cords, make sure there aren’t any easily-accessible bottles of liquids at floor-level, pick up all small objects off the floor, move any expensive rugs or furniture to a safe part of the home, away from where the pet will be allowed to roam, etc.
4. Make a vet appointment.
Find an established, widely trusted veterinarian with plenty of experience taking care of your animal. Ask the vet (or the breeder, shelter or adoption organization) what types of shots and medical procedures the animal should have and by what dates. This often includes being spayed or neutered and a list of vaccinations. If you can get the animal microchipped (especially if it’s a dog or cat), this is highly recommended to greatly reduce the risk of physically losing your beloved pet.
5. Introduce the pet to your family
Once you bring the new animal home, place it in its cage/tank/crate and let it find a sense of security and comfort. With adult supervision, teach your kids to approach the new pet calmly, quietly and slowly. Make sure your family begins with gentle pets of the animal. Most animals feel more confident and safe while being allowed to stand, as opposed to being picked up. Do not let your family engage the new pet if the animal seems stressed, frustrated or angry. Meals and treats will allow the animal to recognize that your family does not intend to harm the animal.
Provide a safe area for the pet if it feels overwhelmed by your young children. Your kids will watch how you treat the animal and try to match your actions, so lead by example. Be an assertive, compassionate and responsible pet owner. Slowly, but surely, your pet will warm up to the family. Again, consult your veterinarian, books, online resources or from whom you got the animal for more specific help.
6. Introduce the pet to your other pets.
If the animal will sometimes be out of its cage or tank, it would be a good idea to introduce it to existing pets in the home. However, this should be done extremely cautiously and while using your best judgment. Ask your veterinarian how to best introduce the new pet to your other pets. Often times, this introduction process is slow-paced and heavily observed by an adult. Separate the animals with a fence/pin, cage or crate, allowing for the animals to move close to each other, but still remain safely apart. It’s also important that all animals feel as comfortable and safe as possible. If the animals include cats or dogs, let the hierarchy naturally occur or change on its own.
7. Train soon and often.
If your new family pet is a dog, take the dog to puppy classes as soon as the dog is old enough and caught up on its shots. If your new pet is not a dog, you will have to rely on yourself and family to teach the pet right from wrong, certain commands and other things, such as its designated sleeping, playing, potty or eating spots. The most important thing with training is to stay consistent and not bend the rules. Also, don’t be overly aggressive when disciplining – use a water spray bottle to squirt the animal if it’s misbehaved or use a loud grunt or firm “no” if the animal will be able to learn commands. If it’s an intelligent animal, set expectations about appropriate or inappropriate behavior immediately.
Benefits of having a family pet:
- Pets of all types may decrease depression, loneliness and anxiety
- Pets keep us active
- Pets provide companionship
- Taking care of an animal encourages stability and routine
- When a family pet is around a newborn baby, research shows it decreases the likelihood that the baby will have allergies
If your family desires a new pet but you’re unsure of what animal to get, there are plenty of online resources that help associate certain personalities and skill levels with certain animals.
Pets provide many mental health and physiological health benefits for families. For more information and tips about pets, check out Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups’ articles.