What to know before bringing home your first pet

by guest Blogger Brandon Butler

After falling in love at your local animal shelter, you’re thinking about adopting your first pet. Whether it has four legs or two, fur or feathers, a pet is a great addition to any home — but it’s not a decision to take lightly. Pet ownership is a big responsibility, so it’s important to prepare!

image via unsplash

How Do I Know If a Pet Is Right for Me?

Instead of paying attention to how a pet looks, think about how its needs fit into your lifestyle.

Small Mammals

Small pets such as hamsters and guinea pigs are a great choice for people with limited space. Since many small pets tend to get stressed if they live alone, it’s usually best to adopt small mammals in pairs. Keep in mind, however, that not all small mammals like to be handled — luckily, they’re very entertaining to watch!

Birds

Birds are beautiful, bright, and exotic. They’re also high maintenance.  Birds need a lot of interaction and some species live 20 to 30 years or more, making a pet bird a major commitment! Birds aren’t the best choice for first-time pet owners, but if you’re set on a feathered companion, consider a budgie or even backyard chickens.

Cats

Cats have a reputation as low-maintenance pets, but don’t be fooled: Cats like to exercise, play, and even go outdoors with a leash or catio! If you want a companion but can’t keep up with the exercise needs of a dog, a cat may be the right choice for you.

Dogs

Dogs are the most popular pet: 38 percent of all households in the US own a dog. However, dog ownership can be difficult for people with full-time jobs. If you do have the time and energy to devote to a dog, you’ll never have a more loyal companion!

What Does a Pet Cost? Do I Need Pet Insurance?

Between adoption fees, vaccinations, and spay or neuter, the first year of pet ownership is expensive. However, the costs don’t stop there. Cats cost $92.98 a month on average, while dogs run $139.80 monthly. Pet insurance defrays costs in veterinary emergencies, but most policies don’t cover routine care. For that reason, every pet owner should have a pet fund.

You should also factor the costs of pet sitting into your budget. A trusted sitter is a great resource when traveling, but the costs can be hard to swallow if you don’t budget for it. Research local pet sitters and learn their costs to estimate what you’ll pay for pet care.

What Type of Veterinary Care Does My New Pet Need?

New pet owners should schedule a vet appointment within a week of adoption. Your pet’s first vet visit is an opportunity to meet your vet, get vaccines, and make sure your pet is healthy. If your pet isn’t spayed or neutered and microchipped, schedule those services too. Spaying and neutering not only prevent unwanted puppies and kittens, but it’s also good for your pet’s health.

How Can I Protect My Home from Pet Damage?

Some first-time pet owners wonder if they should declaw their cat or keep their dog outdoors, but there are more humane ways to protect your home from damage.

  • Provide cats with some appropriate scratching surfaces such as cat trees, scratching posts, and cardboard scratches.
  • Clean furniture regularly to prevent fur and odor build-up. If you don’t want to tackle this job yourself, outsource to a professional upholstery cleaner who will typically charge  $150 to $200 for this service.
  • Groom pets regularly. A shedding brush is a dog owner’s best friend!
  • Keep cleaning supplies handy. Even well-trained pets have occasional house accidents. Keep pet stain remover on hand and always blot, don’t rub, when cleaning urine out of furniture and carpets.

These tips will help you be the best pet parent you can be, but there’s one more thing you can do to be a responsible pet owner: Adopt, don’t shop! Adopting a pet isn’t just cheaper than buying, it also saves lives, reduces pet overpopulation, and improves your local community. The Humane Society of Tampa Bay saves 87% of the more than 10,000 animals it intakes every year. By choosing to adopt love, you can help save even more!

NOTE: An excellent article, thank you Brandon. Before getting a dog, cat or bird, it is a good idea to locate a competent dog trainer and/or cat and bird behavior consultant in the event that you need help. You can find one at iaabc.org It is also important to select the veterinary hospital in your area and establish yourself with them. Various clinics handle a variety of pets from dogs, cats, birds and exotics.

Rehoming Laboratory Dogs in Finland

The Finland program to rehome laboratory Beagles has generally been a success. The program consisted of giving the dogs socialization and training for approximately six months. However, this was not enough time for some dogs who remained timid and suffered from separation anxiety.

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The dogs were used to study animal cognition and the basic workings of the canine mind. The dogs lived in packs of eight from two to eight years.

While this program is to be commended for rehoming the dogs, the question that comes up in my mind is how can researchers study the workings of the canine mind when these dogs are not living in a normal environment without normal experiences? This is food for thought about the research that makes claims about what dogs feel and how they interpret their world.

Early childhood adversity lasts a lifetime

A study by scientists at theUniversity of Notre Dame on baboons has shown that early adverse conditions such as famine, abuse, neglect or the death of a parent in early childhood are not reversed by support in adulthood. They feel that things such as elevated stress hormones take a physiological toll on the body, and remain, even with a healthy, supportive relationships in adulthood.

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Because the subjects of the study were baboons, scientists measured life experience against levels of glucocorticoids (fGCs) — hormones that regulate physiological functions such as metabolism and immune function, and moderate the body’s response to stress. They found that the levels of fGC’s were 9% higher in subjects that had three or more adverse experiences and 21% higher than subjects that had no harsh experiences.

I have to wonder how this study relates to other animals. Does this mean that pets who are abused or experience harsh situations as youths, will not ever fully respond to kind treatment when they are adults? Will the stress always be with them? What comes to mind are children who are given up for adoption at birth and then suffer from attachment disorder. While further research is needed and on a wider subject base (other animals) this is important information to keep in mind when trying to rehabilitate abused pets. This may mean that failure is not the result of poor rehabilitation techniques, but is a result of the chemical changes in the subject.

Pets and autism

It has been fully documented that children who suffer from autism can benefit from living with a pet. However, a new study by Gretchen Carlisle, a research scientist with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine has found that the parents of autistic children also benefit from having a pet in the family. Having a pet reduces the stress in parents despite the extra responsibility of owning and caring for a pet.

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The study goes on to stress that the right type of pet should be selected that will help the autistic child. They suggest that in some cases a quieter cat may be better than an active dog. Certain types of birds or small animals might also qualify as a pet. They also suggest that the child be included in the selection of the type of pet.

As a certified animal behavior consultant, I want to add that if the family decides to adopt a pet, extra care must be taken to ensure that there are no behavioral issues with the pet that could cause an extra level of responsibility for the parents. For any child, being forced to rehome a pet due to behavioral issues after the child becomes attached to the pet is not a desirable situation.

This is why it is important to thoroughly research the types of pets as well as the individual animal to make sure it is suitable for the spectrum of autism the child has. One way to do this is to consult with a qualified dog, parrot or cat behavior consultant (iaabc.org) or an experienced dog trainer if a dog is a consideration.

A Dog’s personality can change

According to a study done by William Chopik a professor at Michigan State University a dog’s life changes can influence their personality. His study has confirmed that dogs have moods and personality traits that shape how they react to situations.

The way you treat your dog and the activities that you do with your dog can influence the dog’s personality. He found that the sweet spot for training and shaping a dog’s personality is around six months of age.

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Chopik plans to continue his study to see how the environment can change a dog’s personality. For example, a dog may behave one way in a shelter and if adopted into a loving home, may react differently. A previous study by Clive Wynne, professor of psychology and head of the Canine Science Collaboratory has demonstrated that letting shelter dogs do a sleepover in foster homes goes a long way to reduce their stress.

Therefore Chopik is on the right track with his planned study about how adopting a dog out of the shelter environment may change the way the dog reacts. However, canine behaviorists know that it can take three to six months for a dog to fully adjust to a new environment.

The bottom line is that this study shows that it is important to give your dog a loving home, train your dog, and properly socialize your dog to give your dog the best possible life.

Roaming cats worry their owners

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter, found that owners who allow their cats to roam freely outdoors worry about their cat’s safety. Why then do they let their cats roam? The study shows that many cat owners feel that their cats need to roam and hunt. They feel that a cat would not be happy or fulfilled if they are kept indoors.

 

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A feral kitten we rescued a few years ago. We found her in the road on a cold, snowy Christmas eve. She was adopted to a good home. 

Unfortunately these sentiments can be detrimental to a cat’s health and even it’s life. Cats do not need to be free outdoors to roam and hunt. Cats can and do live a happy and productive life indoors. It is up to the owner to provide interactive toys or play with their cat to satisfy the cat’s need to hunt and attack prey.

Cats also need companionship, either from another animal or their owners. Most cats are very social although not in the same way as dogs are.

There are videos made for cats to watch. If a cat owner feels strongly that their cat should spend time outdoors there are cat containment systems that allow a cat to go outdoors and be safe. You only need to google “cat outdoor yards” or “cat containment systems” to find a wide variety to meet your cat’s needs.

There are a number of reasons why a cat should not be allowed to freely roam outdoors. Being outdoors, even in a city or urban environment subjects the cat to predators which can range from dogs, other cats, hawks, foxes, coyotes and other wild animals that will attack a cat either aggressively or defensively. There are also evil people who make it a sport to trap and torture or kill cats.

If a cat kills wildlife, they are exposed to various parasites and diseases. If they come in contact with other outdoor cats, they can be exposed to various cat borne diseases which could be fatal. If a cat kills and ingests some of the blood of a rodent that has eaten rodent poison, the poison in the rodent’s blood can kill the cat.

Being exposed to injury, diseases and parasites, can make the cat sick and cost the owner multiple veterinarian bills. Not to mention subject the cat to preventable suffering and death.

If the cat is not spayed or neutered, letting it roam freely will cause pregnancy and add to the feral cat population. Contrary to what many people think, feral cats do not live a good life. They are subjected to all the above-mentioned diseases and death. Most feral cats do not live past kittenhood and if they do, only live about two very harsh years, struggling to find food, water, warmth and to fend off predators.

In conclusion, there is no positive reason to let a cat roam freely outdoors. There is every reason to trap, spay, neuter and adopt feral cats.

The Child’s Role in Picking Out a New Dog

Over the years when I have helped families find and select the right dog/puppy, I have seen the frustration, heartache and pressure that allowing children to be part of the process at the wrong time has caused. In some cases even disagreements within the family. As a result I have developed a system that works 100% of the time if followed. In this article I mention my brochure about how to find the right dog and breeder. If you would like the brochure email me with brochure in the subject line. (sbulanda@gmail.com)

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The Child’s Role

Parents often want their children to be involved in picking out the family dog.

While this is a sweet thought, it must be done in a positive way for the benefit of the family, child and dog. First read my brochure, Selecting the Right Dog, Finding the Right Breeder that I offer at no cost.

Once the parents have followed these instructions, they can start the process that will include the children. It is important that only adults select the type, breed and age of the dog for the family. The reasons why are:

A. Children are not educated enough to know what will work for the entire family.

B. They do not understand the cost and care of a given type of dog. They often pick a dog that looks nice to them with no thought to the grooming requirements or costs to pay a groomer to maintain your dog’s coat.

C. If you bring a child with you to evaluate a breeder and/or a litter, and you find that the situation is not one you want to get a dog from, the child may not understand why you are not going to buy or adopt that cute puppy or dog. It can be traumatic for the child to walk away. It can also be impossible for some parents to walk away in that situation. For example, we all know that we should never buy a puppy from a puppy mill breeder. But picture a child who does not understand this and falls in love with a puppy in that situation. Try walking away with a child who is crying and begging you to bring home a puppy. It can be embarrassing for the parent to justify the decision in front of an unethical breeder.

Once you find the right breeder and litter, only the adults should pick which puppy is a candidate. If it is a good litter, then there should be more than one puppy that meets your needs.

Preselect the puppies that are candidates. Come to terms with the breeder about payment and paperwork. Once that is accomplished, then arrange for another visit to the litter. At that time you can bring the children and the breeder can introduce them to the preselected puppies. Now the children can pick which puppy they like.

By handling the puppy selection in this manner it will be a 100% happy experience for the whole family, as well as the breeder.

If you are going to adopt an older dog it is essential to have the dog evaluated by a professional, preferably a certified canine behavior consultant to be sure that the adult dog will be safe around children and safe in your home environment. This includes an evaluation to determine if the adult dog is safe around other animals. Even if you do not own other animals, the chances are that you and your dog will encounter them. It saves everyone heartache and disappointment if you carefully evaluate the new member of your family before you bring him home.

I would also like to mention that it is never a good idea to surprise an adult family member with a puppy as a present. Because of the unique bond that develops between people and their dogs, it is essential that the family member pick their own puppy/dog. If you want to give a dog as a gift, you can give the recipient a stuffed dog with a note that when they are ready, they can pick out the puppy/dog that they want. This way they can choose the breed, breeder and puppy. In many cases people have told me that they really did not want another dog or that they would have rather gotten a different breed even though the family thought they would want a dog like they had before. In some cases if the family member is elderly, they may want a smaller breed or even a cat instead of a dog.

New pets should not be given during the holidays and good breeders will not allow a puppy or kitten to be purchased as a holiday gift. This is a dangerous time to bring a new pet into the home. Often there are many guests coming and going that can frighten a dog or cat, or the pet can bolt out of an open door. It is frightening enough for them to be taken to a strange home. Remember, the pet has no idea why it was taken from its mother, litter mates and put in an unfamiliar environment.

The new pet needs a quiet environment to adjust and feel safe. There are also decorations and typically, an abundance of food available that the new pet might be able to get a hold of, so extra monitoring is needed.

Guests will want to see and perhaps play with the new pet. This can be traumatic for the pet who does not feel safe to begin with.  The new owners may be too busy with guests and even family celebrating the holidays to give the new pet the care and attention that he needs. This is especially true if the family does any visiting and must leave the pet alone.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to email me. I am always glad to help. When picking a dog for work, it is essential that the right breeder, breed and line are up to standards. We put too much effort and time into training a working dog to find out after a year or more of training that the dog cannot work up to the requirements. If children are part of the family, it is likely that you will keep the dog and try to find another. Keep in mind that genetics are not an exact science and even the best breeder can produce a “lemon.”

 

Canine genetics and behavior

Dog owners and breeders know that certain behaviors dominate certain breeds. For example herding dogs have the instinct to herd. Hounds have the instinct to hunt with their nose, some breeds are better guard dogs and the list goes on. This is what makes breed traits what they are. But it has been somewhat of a mystery about how this happens genetically because not all dogs in a particular breed have the same strength of the trait for that breed and some lack it entirely.

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In a new study, James A Serpell of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues Evan L. MacLean of the University of Arizona, Noah Snyder-Mackler of the University of Washington, and Bridgett M. vonHoldt of Princeton University conducted a study to try to unravel how genetics affect breed trait behavior.

Their study concluded that genes do play a large part in breed behavior, and those gene most affect the brain rather than other bodily tissues. However, they stressed that there is a large margin to allow for the differences between individual animals.

What this means to the dog owner, and especially the potential dog owner, is that getting a dog from a reliable, ethical and trusted breeder is critical to your dog’s behavior. The genetic tendencies can and do vary from line to line. It also means that if you adopt a mixed breed or purebred dog, you will have no idea what it’s genetically controlled behavior will be.

This is important to understand because if behavior issues arise, you will have to allow for the possibility that it is genetically influenced. The method that you use to alter any unwanted behavior that is genetically influence will be different than simple training methods. Always consult a certified behavior consultant. You can find one at www.iaabc.org.

Also keep in mind that genetically influenced behavior is not limited to dogs but is a part of the makeup of all living beings. Yes, environment and learning also comes into play.

Cats do bond to humans

A recent study by Kristyn Vitale of Oregon State University showed that cats’ bond to their human caretakers the same as dogs and human infants (attachment security). In this study cats were put in a novel room with their caretakers for two minutes, then they were left there for two minutes alone. After that the caretaker returned and the cat’s reaction was observed.

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The findings show that a cat’s attachments to humans are stable, and present in adulthood. As a result of this finding, the researchers are currently looking into how this impacts the many cats and kittens that are in shelters. They want to see how socialization and fostering influence a cat’s ability to have attachment security.

I am personally glad to see that researchers are finally exploring this aspect of a cat’s personality. Those of us who own cats know how attached they can be to us. For years people have misunderstood cats, labeling them as aloof because they show their affection differently than dogs.

Sleepovers for shelter dogs

A team of researchers from the Canine Science Collaboratory have determined that if volunteers take shelter dogs home for a few days, it reduces their stress level. The benefits of this mini-vacation last for a while after they are brought back to the shelter.

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The researchers found that the sleepovers provided a break for the dogs from the stress of the shelter. The team found that dogs in a shelter cannot get the sleep that they need because of how busy and noisy it is in a typical shelter.

The team is also looking into other programs that allow dogs to leave shelters, such as field trips and long-term foster care. With a grant from Maddie’s Fund, they are enrolling 100 animal shelters across the country in a study to understand how foster care impacts the dogs in shelters.