Caring for a companion animal goes far beyond providing food, water and shelter. It takes research and careful planning to bring the right pet into your home, and to make sure your lifestyle is the right one for your pet. Read on for tips to prepare yourself, as well as your home, for a new furry friend.
Are You Ready to Adopt?
When adopting, you are making a commitment to care for an animal for the rest of his life—that could mean 10 to 15 years for dogs and up to 20 years for cats. As you go through lifestyle changes such as moves, the birth of children and new jobs, your animal will remain a permanent part of your life. If circumstances change, will you still be able to care for your pet?
- Owning a dog or cat costs more than the initial adoption fee. Food, veterinary care, spaying or neutering and proper identification—that means a collar with tags and a more permanent form of ID such as microchipping—can add up.
- Time is also a factor. Dogs benefit from several hours of exercise and companionship every day. Cats are healthiest and happiest indoors and love to be treated to energetic play sessions. If your work demands that you travel often, or if you're out of the house most days and evenings, this may not be the right time to adopt.
- It is important to consider whether your children, along with your resident pets, are able to accommodate the addition of a cat or dog to your household.
Which Pet Is Right for You?
Your personality and lifestyle, along with challenges such as space restrictions and amount of time spent at home, should be explored to determine what pet is right for your household. Research different breeds and ask shelter staffers for guidance—they're experts at making perfect matches!
If You’re Considering Adopting a Dog:
Loyal and loving, dogs are social animals who thrive on being upstanding members of their families.
- If there are young children in your home, a puppy may not be your best bet. You may want to consider adopting a medium-sized dog over five months of age.
- It is a good idea to draw up a schedule of who in the family will help with the care of your new dog, including walking, playing, feeding and grooming.
- Don’t forget to have your new friend spayed or neutered. Socialization is the key to a happy and confident dog. All puppies should be enrolled in a puppy class where part of the time is devoted to monitored play with other dogs.
- Basic manners classes can also help adult dogs brush up on their skills or new learn ones.
- America’s shelters are filled with pit bull-type dogs. There are many misconceptions about these dogs, who can make amazing companions and loyal family pets.
- Before you adopt, be sure to call your local city hall or animal shelter to find out about your local breed laws. You may experience breed discrimination in some places. Legislation may prohibit you from living in certain communities, and homeowners insurance may be harder to find. However, that shouldn’t deter you from adopting a pit bull-type dog. Just make sure you know your rights and limitations before you adopt.
If You’re Considering Adopting a Cat:
Cats are known to be graceful, athletic, playful, sensitive and affectionate.
- Make sure everyone in the house is prepared to have a cat.
- Cats can be very independent. Make sure everyone knows that the fun begins only after the cat feels safe and her needs are met.
- Once you're sure everyone is ready for feeding, litter changing and grooming, you can divvy up chores among family members so everyone is prepared to care for kitty before she arrives.
- As with dogs, it’s important to have your new feline friend spayed or neutered.
Preparing Your Home for a New Cat or Dog
Whether it's tightly sealing your garbage cans or paying attention to dangerous decorations during the holidays, you'll need to make your home safe before adopting. That includes keeping toxic foods, pet-unfriendly plants and dangerous household items out of paw's reach. Here are some suggestions for preparing your home to welcome a new canine or feline companion.
- Put a cozy bed for your pet in every room. Pets are much more likely to keep off of furniture if they have attractive alternatives.
- If you have a cat, try putting double-sided sticky tape or upside-down carpet runners on furniture to discourage her from scratching.
- Avoid vertical blinds, pooling drapery, ornate tassels and long cords that can become strangulation hazards.
- If you have cats, be sure to install high-quality metal screens on all windows.
- It may be a good idea to roll up and store decorative rugs until your new dog is fully house-trained.
- Provide your new cat with a variety of scratching posts and perches.
- Use dog crates and gates to confine your new dog when home alone until his house manners earn him unsupervised freedom.
- Provide plenty of “legal” things for your dog to chew. If he has attractive toys and bones of his own, he’ll be much less likely to gnaw on your things!
- Check to make sure that plants in and around your home are not poisonous to pets.
Bringing Home a New Horse
Horses are very social animals who will group together and form herds if given the chance. Because of this, new horses are often integrated into existing groups of horses with relative ease.
You should consider the comfort of your new horse and your existing horses whenever you introduce someone new to your stable and herd. This comfort can be maximized—and problems minimized—by following a few guidelines when you bring home your new horse.
Preparing for Your New Arrival
- Inspect your barn. A horse new to an area will likely sniff every corner. He’ll also be less wary of potential hazards, particularly if he’s spooked. It’s up to you to check for loose nails, hooks and other sharp edges.
- Inspect walls and doors for spaces that might catch a hoof or head. Make sure your feed room door closes securely and that buckets are high enough that a hoof cannot reach them. Ensure barriers can be put in place to block face-to-face access to barn mates if needed.
- Inspect the paddock. A horse who’s unfamiliar with his surroundings is more likely to find a weak spot in the fencing or a hazard than a horse who’s spent months grazing in the area. Check for loose fencing and debris such as sharp fallen branches, old wire or trash. Check water sources for sharp edges. If your new horse will be turned out with other horses, be sure there are two water sources in case he’s herded away from one.
- Check your first aid kit. Have medical supplies on hand just in case your new horse encounters a hazard you didn’t anticipate.
Prepare the Area for Your New Occupant
- If your horse will be stalled, have clean shavings, a water bucket that’s three-quarters full and some fresh hay set up before you bring him into the stall for the first time. Your new horse will likely take less time to settle in if he’s aware of his food and water sources. If you have a choice of stalls, choose one that gives your horse the most visual access to other horses.
- If you’ll keep your new horse in a paddock with shelter, prepare the paddock. Have the water source full and some fresh hay available before you bring the new horse into the paddock for the first time. If you have a choice of paddocks, choose the paddock that gives him the best visibility of other horses but doesn’t allow him to touch another horse.
- Prepare and place enrichment options in the area where you’ll house your horse. Enrichment is the process of creating a challenging environment to satisfy an animal's social, psychological and physical needs, enhancing your horse’s activities and providing mental stimulation. It can decrease the likelihood of unwanted behaviors, and can help you shape his behavior in his new environment. Provide mental stimulation by using various feeding options, such as treat-dispensing devices, an apple or carrot pieces bobbing in his drinking water and even something as simple as four to five small hay piles instead of one. Or, provide him with a wall-mounted scratch brush to rub against.
Introducing Your Horse to His New Space
To minimize the stress your horse might feel upon arriving at his new home, follow these steps:
- Slowly walk your horse around as soon as he comes off the trailer. Allow him to sniff and watch whatever interests him. Then give him at least 15 minutes to walk around the area close to the stall or sheltered paddock where he’ll be staying.
- When you’ve finished letting him explore outside of his new space, take your horse into the stall or paddock and walk him around, stopping at water, food and enrichment sources.
- Leave him in the stall or paddock, and observe his behavior for at least one hour before leaving him unattended. During this time, look for signs of his settling in, such as shaking his body as if he were shaking off water, eating hay, holding his ears in a relaxed position and breathing normally.
- Your new horse should take at least two walks with you around the property after his first night. This will give him an opportunity to learn about his new space and become comfortable. Strategically place treats where your other horses have been known to investigate or become aroused. Allow him to discover the treats, and make a game out of exploring the space.
Introducing Your New Horse to the Herd
Whether you have just one other horse or a herd, it pays to take the time to introduce your new horse to the herd in a systematic way. The process, often called a “howdy” process, gives the horses time to slowly introduce themselves to one another before sharing the same space. Think of the howdy process as a series of stages in which you gradually increase the contact your horses have with each other. Increase the amount of contact your new horse has with the others when you no longer notice arousal when contact occurs at the current stage. Sometimes the process can take just 24 hours, while at other times it can be a week or two before the horses can safely be together in a paddock.
Here are the stages of the howdy process:
- Visual access. Begin all introductions for horses with visual contact. Horses are quite social and naturally form herds in the wild. They’re a prey species, and they have increased safety in a herd. Giving your new horse the ability to see other horses decreases his fear response and helps him to settle in more quickly. Visual contact should begin as soon as your horse enters his new space.
- Minimal tactile access. Once the horses accept visual access without arousal, let them sniff each other and blow into one another’s nostrils (a social greeting behavior). Don’t allow them to intertwine heads or necks, however. You can prevent this from happening by using fence paneling or stall doors with guards at this stage of the howdy process. Watch for pinned ears, bite attempts, squealing and hoof strikes. Don’t reprimand your horses for these behaviors. Simply observe. These behaviors are normal and should decrease each time the horses have access to each other.
- Increased tactile access. Once the horses stop reacting, you can increase the amount of contact they have with each other. If you’re introducing your new horse to a large herd, begin the process with the dominant herd member. Use a tall barn door or non-slatted fence to avoid having horses tangle their hooves and legs in a slatted fence, as forward hoof strikes are common during introductions. Place one horse on one side of the partition, and the other on the other side. The horses should have the choice to approach or not approach each other, and they should have only enough access to reach in with their head and neck. If the initial tactile process was conducted correctly, there will be little contact at this stage, as the horses have already become familiar with each other. The horses might sniff and blow into one another’s nostrils, touch heads, touch necks or groom or nip each other. As before, make note of squealing, pinned ears, bite attempts and hoof strikes. Unless an injury is imminent, don’t interfere with these behaviors—just observe. Aggressive behaviors should decrease each time the horses have access to each other.
- If you have multiple horses, complete this stage with the dominant horse before giving the rest of the herd access to the new horse. .
- In-paddock access (full access). For this final stage, a bit of preparation is needed. Be sure you’ve inspected the paddock. Place several piles of hay around the paddock, and load up the area with enrichment devices so that several activities are available for the horses. If possible, have the horses wear paddock boots, polo wraps or other leg protection. (If your horses never wear these items, don’t attempt to use them for the first time during this stage). In addition, if your stable setup allows, begin full-access introductions in a paddock adjacent to the area you’ve been using for increased tactile access.
Follow These Guidelines When Allowing the Horses to Have Full Access to Each Other:
- Train your new horse to come when called before you turn him out with the group.
- Conduct your full-access introductions immediately after an increased tactile access session. Your new horse should be able to just walk through a door to gain access to the paddock. This reduces change and helps the process go more smoothly.
- It’s normal for your new horse to be chased and pushed from the herd for the first few days. These behaviors should decrease rapidly, particularly if the other stages were conducted correctly.
- Eating and drinking in the presence of the other horses indicates that your new horse is feeling more comfortable in the group.
- Although there’s always a risk of injury, it’s less likely to occur when your horses are no longer pushing the new horse out of the herd while they’re eating and drinking together. The risk of injury also lessens when your new horse shows signs of comfort such as lying down, relaxing his ears, breathing normally and grooming other horses. At that point, you can consider leaving your new horse unattended in the pasture.