No matter how prepared you think you are, it's best to expect the unexpected.

Share story

If there’s a new pet in your family, you may enjoy certain benefits. After all, pet owners of all ages may enjoy less stress, healthier hearts and enhanced well-being, according to the nonprofit National Center for Health Research, a think tank focused on adult and child health research. In fact, just stroking a pet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, some studies say.

But when it comes to new pets, no matter how prepared you think you are – perhaps you’ve researched breeds, temperaments, and training techniques – you’ll still be surprised by something.

That’s the message from Julie Cortino, customer care director at Seattle Humane, an animal shelter promoting the human-animal bond. During the adoption experience, Cortino imagined a pleasant stroll alongside her current canine and new companion. The reality? A tangled mess of leashes and barks. “Expect the unexpected,” she says.

While the following tips can’t prevent mishaps, they might reduce risks and boost everyone’s chances of success.

Adoption options

While a free kitten or puppy may sound tempting, you won’t know the animal’s personality, and may need to invest up to $1000 in initial costs. Shelters spay, neuter and vaccinate animals, and adopters can visit and consider personalities before adoption.

“There’s also the larger benefit,” Cortino says. “You’re not just adopting this cat or dog, but saving a life, because you’ve made space for a new animal coming in.”

Pet picks

Select your pet based on your existing lifestyle, not your aspirational goals.

Maybe right now, you’re a homebody who likes to craft. But you aspire to be a marathon runner, with a million followers of your adorable Instagram pup-and-girl photos. It’s tempting to pick out a high-energy pooch, but that dog could quickly develop behavioral issues if you’re not really ready to accommodate his need for speed.

Instead, find a companion who wants to accompany you in your current lifestyle. And besides, cats can be IG-famous, too.

Bonding basics

“This is one time in your life to be completely selfish,” Cortino says, as far as bonding with your new pet. Think of it much like maternity-style leave – spend time together becoming acquainted with your animal. Don’t rush to visit the dog park or invite family over to your house.

When introducing the newest four-legged family member to existing pets, go slow. Keep pets separated for a day or two, and prevent spats by giving everyone their own space. Giving each pet a small towel to scent – then trading towels – can help form an awareness, if not immediate friendship.

Use leashes or crates to contain effusive pets meeting for the first time, and multiple short interactions are preferable to longer visits. Starting out, it’s better to be overprotective than underprotective, Cortino says. That’s right, there’s no shame in being a helicopter dog-parent, right now.

Space secrets

Your cat’s new home – for a few days at least – should be the bathroom or other very small room, where you’ll place the litter box, scratching post, food and other supplies. An entire home (and all of its inhabitants) can feel overwhelming to a cat, so a small space minimizes stress.

Cats will let you know when they’re ready to exit and explore, Cortino says. But for the first few weeks, create a temporary “feline escape room” or area. Leave the kitty crate open, or purchase a cat tree with a high perch, providing a feeling of safety from young children and other pets (not to mention a sense of superiority). Ever the introverted busybody, a cat also enjoys window views of streets and greenery.

(Seattle Humane)
(Seattle Humane)

Plan for play

Dogs gotta chew, and cats gonna scratch. They may chew your prized Italian-leather loafers, or scratch your new Ikea sofa, if not given alternatives. Invest in playful options. Dogs can gnaw on a peanut-butter-stuffed Kong toy or other fun-food puzzles, while cats can bat at catnip-stuffed plush birds.

But toy preferences can be as individual as personalities, so have a few chew-toy options at the ready. Cats – known for their particular personalities – may want a plush, clawable cat tree, slanted cardboard scratchpad or tough rope-wrapped post. Perhaps all three.

Treat friends right

Treats in your pocket are like tiny tickets to gaining MFH (most favored human) status. Praise and reward every good action with a treat, even if Max or Cooper is sitting quietly at your feet. Other “treats” include Feliway pheromone diffusers for cats and Adaptil diffusers for dogs, which can calm nerves.

If you spot naughty behavior, ignore as much as possible and attempt to “reset” the situation. Cortino suggests the book “Catification” by cat-behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, star of TV series, “My Cat From Hell.” Dog owners can pick up books by Pat Miller and Karen Pryor, globally recognized behaviorists and trainers.

(Seattle Humane)
(Seattle Humane)

Vet visits

Let your pet settle in for a few weeks, then get a vet checkup, at around two weeks. Cats can catch upper-respiratory infections while in a shelter, but it’s a good idea for all companion animals to become acquainted with a doctor. Check with your shelter – some offer adoption support; Seattle Humane offers a free first vet visit with VCA Animal Hospitals.

By showing care, responsiveness and love, you’ll soon discover a new best friend.  “Animals are with us for such a short time, and they make a big impact on people,” Cortino says. “But you become that animal’s whole world. You can be the coolest person in the world, and give them the best life ever.”

Seattle Humane is the Puget Sound’s leader in animal adoption, education and welfare. Our top priority is to connect animals in need of rescue with the people who will love them.  We strive to make animal companionship accessible to all.