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As any cat or dog adopter will tell you, rescuing a pet from a shelter is an incredibly rewarding experience.

It’s also a disrupting one. That’s because a rescue animal will bring old habits into your home and take time to adapt to the new environment while acclimating to your family.

Or, as Dr. Thomas Edling — Vice President of Veterinary Medicine at Petco  — puts it, “The job description for a dog or cat is to come into your house and tear things up. It’s what they do. You just have to embrace it.”

And the best way to embrace this wonderful new cuddly ball of chaos is to be prepared before your new four-legged friend’s arrival. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to optimize their health and happiness while preserving your sanity.

To help you get started we spoke with Dr. Edling, whose most recent rescue dog is Luke—a two-year old pitbull mix. Here are Dr. Edling’s top six tips to help your pet fit in with the new family. 

1. Make Sure The Whole Family is on Board
Pet adoption should never be done on impulse. That means before you decide to adopt a cat or dog, it’s critical that you first get the entire family to be on board with the long-term commitment.

“Everybody has to be on board,” says Dr. Edling. “I’ve been working with shelters for years and years. We find that the families that have really been looking forward to adoption, have thought deeply about the commitment in terms of time, money and energy, are the most successful.”

Part of assessing if everyone is on board is having the tough and honest conversations first. That means discussing and anticipating the realities of pet adoption and parenting. 

“Bringing a new pet home is going to be a major disruption,” says Dr. Edling. “There are several behavior and socialization issues that can arise with a new dog or a cat that you don’t know about that happen prior to it going to the shelter. So all these things need to be understood. That’s not to discourage anyone, it’s just an understanding.”

2. Understand the Energy Needs
That includes understanding the type of breed you’re adopting and assessing if you can handle that breed’s energy needs. While a cat’s general personality and needs are fairly consistent across breeds, dogs’ can vary wildly. For example, pugs and bulldogs require a lot less energy-expending activities than bigger breeds like Australian Shepherds, Mastiffs, Rottweilers and other working dogs that really need a purpose.

“Be sure you can handle a dog’s energy needs, whether it’s a couch potato or a cattle dog,” says Dr. Edling. “Different energy needs are built into them — you’re not going to change it. And if you don’t let them have that energy and get that out, then you can run into more behavioral problems because, like anything, if something is bottled up, it can turn into some kind of concern.”

3. Create Safe Spaces and Start Crate Training
Like humans, pets need to adapt to their new surroundings before they can feel at home. That means you should designate a room that feels like it’s their spot. Choose a room you spend a lot of time in so they can feel like part of the family. When it comes to dogs, you’ll also want to crate train them soon after they arrive so that when they’re home alone or going to bed they’ve got a designated area that is safe and comfortable. 

“Dogs respond very well to crate training,” says Dr. Edling. “It’s really good to have crate-trained them until they can stay inside their crate. Some dogs you can train to go in and out of their crate when you are gone, you don’t have to keep them in there, it just depends on how well they do outside the crate environment. When you first get them, they need to be crated when you’re not there — that’s for their safety and comfort too, so they don’t get into any trouble. And most dogs will also sleep in their crates.”

4. Stock Up
A new pet means it’s time to play Santa Claus. Before they arrive, stock up on cat and dog specific toys. When you get your dog a chew toy, make sure it's age appropriate and good for the size of their mouth. If the dog has bad teeth, opt for a softer toy it can actually chew. Cats, on the other hand, love interactive toys that keep them entertained. Finally, invest in a good bed so that when your pet is tuckered out he or she can get in a good nap.

“You need a nice bed,” says Dr. Edling. “If it’s an older pet, you may need an orthopedic bed because they do get arthritis just like older people do. Just be cognizant of your pet’s specific needs.”

5. Outsource
While we all want to be a good pet mom or dad, it’s important to build a network of professional caregivers. Get a good groomer and even consider arranging a meet and greet so that your pet can have a sniff around and establish a relationship. Ditto when it comes to a trainer. All adoption animals have history (digging, barking etc.), and with history comes habits. A trainer will teach your pet how to be a good citizen so they don’t do things like jump on people. And, finally, establish a relationship with a veterinarian to ensure you can get your new pet vaccinated right away.

“Having professionals like your vet or your groomer or your trainer to ask questions is a really smart idea,” says Dr. Edling. “It’s much better to ask someone who you know and you trust. That’s why you try to develop that relationship because you will have questions come up and if you get on Dr. Google, chances are you’re going to get a wrong answer, or you’re going to get an answer that’s not right for your pet.”

6. Meal Plan
With so much change occurring in your new pet’s life, the last thing you want to do after taking them home is alter their diet. As long as your pet is eating good quality food he or she will do fine. Otherwise you risk giving them something their body will be unable to break down, which will cause them to be sick. So stick with what the shelter was supplying, and if you do need to make a change do so gradually and under the guidance of your veterinarian.

“If you do want to make a change, make sure they don’t have an allergy, a food allergy, or a food sensitivity,” says Dr. Edling. “If they do, then you need to go work with your veterinary dermatologist. They’re the ones who are allergists in the pet world. They can help you work through whether your pet needs a change of diet based on the food itself.”

With more than 50 years of service to pet parents, Petco is a leading pet specialty retailer that focuses on nurturing powerful relationships between people and pets. Visit your local Petco for the best products, services, advice and experiences that will keep your new pet physically fit, mentally alert, socially engaged and emotionally happy.

With more than 50 years of service to pet parents, Petco is a leading pet specialty retailer that focuses on nurturing powerful relationships between people and pets. Visit your local Petco for the best products, services, advice and experiences that will keep your new pet physically fit, mentally alert, socially engaged and emotionally happy.
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