Jason Parker

Clear The Shelters: Helping Your Shelter Pet Feel At Home

August 18th is right around the corner! If you’ve been thinking about adding a pet to your family, there’s no better time than next Saturday’s Clear The Shelters event. If you haven’t already done so, please take a few minutes to assess your lifestyle, and ask yourself if you are ready for the commitment of pet ownership.

Assuming you’ve done your homework, and decided what kind of pet is right for you, let’s focus on helping your shelter pet make a smooth transition into your home.

Before heading to the shelter, pick up a leash or carrier so you will have a way to safely transport your new pet. While some shelters supply them, it never hurts to be prepared.

Once your new pet is home, start establishing a routine. If you have school-aged children, the routine should be one that will easily gel with the new school year. The back-to-school transition can be jarring for pets, and your new friend has dealt with considerable change already. Schedule morning feedings and walks at times that will not interfere with the school year routine.

Since pets will naturally be excited when the kids get home from school, this is a great time to encourage play sessions. It also has the added benefit of allowing the kids to blow off steam before settling down to do homework. Both dogs and cats should be fed two meals per day in order to keep their metabolisms working efficiently, so work this into your new routine as well.

Should you decide to adopt a puppy or kitten, you may have to add a midday feeding. Be sure to ask the shelter staff how often your new pet eats, and stick to that routine for the time being. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you when it is time to change Fluffy’s chow times.

Many adoptive families wish to change their new pet’s diet. Since any change, even one that’s made to a better food, can cause gastrointestinal upset, it’s important to do this gradually. Find out what the shelter has been feeding and feed something similar, at least for now. After a couple of days, feed a 50/50 mix of the existing diet and the food you wish to start feeding.

Each day, take out a little more of the old food, and add a little more of the new food. After about a week, your pet should be completely transitioned to the new food. Resist the urge to spoil the new addition with treats and table foods. Many table foods are harmful to pets, and processed pet treats are loaded with calories, sugar, salt, and fat.

Dogs and puppies should be let outside for bathroom breaks using the same door every time. This will help them know where to go when they are trying to tell you nature is calling. Puppies who are still getting the hang of housebreaking will need to be let out often. Be patient, and reward successful outings with lots of praise and affection.

Cats and kittens will need litter boxes placed in quiet, low-traffic areas. Your home should contain one litter box for each cat or kitten, plus one extra box to spare. Be diligent about scooping boxes and changing litter - if it’s unpleasant for you, it’s unpleasant for your cat! I never recommend covered litter boxes as they trap odors inside. Cats are highly sensitive to odors, and if their box is off-putting, they may stop using it.

Giving your shelter pet a space of his own can go a long way towards helping him settle in quickly. A training crate for a dog or puppy acts as a cozy den for a dog who may be feeling overwhelmed. Teach young children this is Fluffy’s special house - they cannot be permitted to crawl in it or play in it, and must respect Fluffy’s decision to go there when she is tired of playing. When dogs know they can retreat from an exuberant child, they are far less likely to feel threatened and bite due to fear.

When raising a puppy, crates are a godsend. They can aid in the housebreaking process, as puppies tend to not soil their sleeping space. They also ensure your puppy - and your belongings! - are safe when you are away from home. Cats and kittens feel safest when perched up high, so a carpeted cat tree or kitty condo is bound to be appreciated. A rope scratching pad is also a must, as cats need a way to care for their claws. A designated area helps them do so in a way that protects your furniture.

Your new pet will also want to play, so provide him with toys before he makes toys of your belongings! Dogs and puppies love to chew, so don’t forget about chew toys. Stay away from rawhides, bones, and pig ears as these can cause dangerous intestinal blockages. Kong toys, NylaBones and bully sticks are safe, healthier alternatives to the old school favorites.

Again, teach children not to attempt to take these items away from the new puppy or dog. Toys that encourage pets to solve problems for a food or toy reward provide both cognitive enrichment, and an alternative to getting into mischief.

While it will be tempting to have lots of family and friends around to visit the new addition, remember your new pet is dealing with consecutive, and potentially stressful changes. Invite only one couple or family at a time, and monitor your pet’s body language for signs of anxiety.

If you feel as though Fluffy has had enough, encourage him to go to his safe space and reward him with a toy or small treat when he does. Synthetic pheromones and pet-specific CD’s can help more reticent newbies feel secure in their new surroundings.

Finally, be sure to schedule a post-adoption veterinary visit for your pet. This is a great time to address any questions you may have about caring for your new best friend. Many clinics - including ours! - offer free initial physical exams to pets who are adopted from shelters, so don’t be shy about asking shelter staff for a list of recommendations.

Remember, shelter pets are a bargain, so if you need to pick up some shampoo or ear cleaner, you’re still way ahead of the game. The rewards of adopting a shelter pet far outweigh the expenses. So what are you waiting for? We’ll see you at the shelter!

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.

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