Dr. Pawz: Welcoming an adopted pet in your home

Dr. Katy Nelson adopted Eddie last month from a local animal shelter. (WTOP/Katie Nelson)

Katy Nelson, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – You’ve gone to the shelters or you’ve looked at all the pictures, and after reading last week’s Ask Dr. Pawz post, you’ve asked all the right questions. You’ve chosen the pet for you, and you’ve decided to make that little creature a part of your household. What now? What can you do to help smooth the transition from the shelter into your home?

First things are first: You’ve got to have the right gear.

If you’re adopting a kitty, make sure you have plenty of toys, scratchers, bedding, food and water bowls (try to avoid plastic for cats) and the proper number of litter boxes. A simple equation for the number of litter boxes you’ll need is to take the number of levels of your house and multiply that by the number of cats in the home. For example, if you live in a three-level home with two kitties, you’ll require a minimum of six litter boxes — one for each cat for each level of the home, plus an extra never hurts.

If you’re adopting a dog, make sure you have a good leash (stay away from retractable leashes because they give you zero control), a proper harness or collar, chew toys, a bed, a crate and a feeding station.

You should have already found out about what diet the new pet has been eating and if there are any specific dietary requirements that you need to address. If you plan to keep feeding that food when the pet arrives home, then go ahead and buy the big bag. However, if you plan to transition the pet to a new diet, buy enough of the old diet to gradually make the transition over a two-week period.

Now comes the fun part and the most challenging part — bringing the pet home. When the new pet is the only pet in the household, things are much simpler. You bring it home, you walk it through the house and you start establishing house rules and boundaries. However, when the new pet is coming into an already pet-occupied home, it gets a little more difficult.

The initial greeting must be tightly controlled, as should the interactions for the first few days or weeks, depending on the personalities you are working with. The more dominant the personalities are, the more time must be given and the more patience will need to be exercised. For dogs, I recommend introducing them outside the home first, each on a leash, so that the “sniff-fest” can commence on neutral ground. Doing this first introduction in the home can cause territory issues, and this could lead to a squabble.

For cats, it is often recommended to do the first introductions through a barrier. Whether you choose to keep the new kitty in the carrier for the first introductions, or use the old tried and true technique of putting them each in separate rooms with connecting doors, give them a few days to get used to each other’s scent before you allow them free roam of the home with each other.

Trainer Jenn Guerriero, owner of dog training company Big City Dogs advises that no matter the pet’s history, instituting training immediately upon entering the household is the best way to establish house rules.

Jenn’s motto is “bad dogs need training, good dogs deserve training.” Especially with rescue dogs, she says it’s important to “change your dog’s thinking patterns to be mindful of you and your space, and teach him to control his impulses.” By doing this promptly, you are better able to integrate the new pet into the household, rather than allowing the new pet to dictate how everyone around him or her behaves.

Finally, remember to give yourself and your new addition a little room for error. Many rescued pets come with dramatic histories, and they will require some time to adjust. Don’t expect perfection out of them or out of yourself. Frustration can be a big part of any adoption, but don’t lose hope, and you can truly be a match made in heaven.

Tune in to “The Pet Show” with Dr. Katy every Saturday at 11 a.m. on Washington D.C.’s News Channel 8, and listen on WTOP for her Dr. Pawz segments every two weeks. Have questions for Dr. Katy? You can follow her on Twitter @drkatynelson, on Facebook or email her at askdrkaty@wtop.com. Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

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