Before You Bring Your New Pet Home

Are You a Dog Lover or a Cat Lover?

Both kinds of animals have great benefits. Dogs can be quite affectionate but are high maintenance. Cats may demand less attention and are more independent.

Regardless of which one you prefer, Dr. Goldstein, Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and owner of Mobile Vet Squad in Westchester County, NY, says that it's important to understand that when you take home a new pet, you're making a long-term commitment. That's why you should research breed types and personality traits in order to find the right animal for your living conditions and your lifestyle.

Once you have an idea of what type of pet you want, Dr. Goldstein recommends visiting a local shelter to rescue an abandoned pet. Another option is to buy a pet from a reputable and responsible breeder. He also stresses the need to steer clear of puppy mills, which are known for raising puppies under inhumane conditions.

Other Small Pets

Rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, and other small animals can be very lovable. Just keep in mind that their miniature size doesn't equal "low maintenance."

These miniature animals require significant time and a financial commitment. Pets of all sizes need daily feeding, water, and exercise. They also require some basic supplies:

  • A cage or hutch
  • Proper bedding
  • Litter
  • Toys
  • Food

Keep in mind that although some small pets may seem child-friendly, many aren't a good combination with young children. Do your research in advance and find a small animal that will be a good fit for your family and your lifestyle.

The Shopping List

Be sure to stock up on essential supplies. Once you invest in these basic pet supplies, many of these items can last for quite a while.

Dogs need a collar and leash. Cats need a litter box, cat litter, and a scoop. Both dogs and cats need feeding and water bowls, a crate and/or bedding, as well as grooming supplies such as:

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Hair brush
  • Nail trimmer
  • Flea comb

If these activities are too intolerable for your pet, use treats or rewards to reinforce good behavior. It's also a good idea to have some toys on hand to keep your pet active.

First-Aid Kit Essentials

Keep a home emergency first-aid kit for your animal. Here's what you'll want to include:

  • Bandage material
  • Topical antibiotic
  • Antiseptic
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Quick stop (to stop bleeding)
  • Gauze
  • First-aid tape
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Blanket
  • Muzzle (for dogs)
  • Sterile eye wash
  • Ear cleaner
  • Antihistamine*
  • Enteric-coated aspirin*
  • A back-up prescription if your pet is on medication
  • A picture of your pet (in case he gets lost)
  • Phone numbers for your vet, nearest emergency clinic, and Poison Control Center

*A word of caution: Never give your animal any medicine without getting the okay from your veterinarian first.

Pet Medical Savings Account

Aging pets have increasing medical needs that can add up quickly. Dr. Goldstein recommends that pet owners establish a medical savings account for their kitten or puppy and put aside a set amount every month. This will help you have a nest egg to fall back on when you need it.

You can also research pet health insurance plans, but be aware that many have restrictions on what they'll cover.

Health Care

Your veterinarian can help your pet stay well, which is why you'll need to schedule regular check-ups and get him treated when he's sick.

Regular wellness check-ups are essential for the optimal health of both dogs and cats. For puppies and kittens, these should include a series of vaccinations to help build a healthy immune system and to prevent disease, some of which can be passed on to humans.

Vaccinations can vary depending on your animal's breed and lifestyle, as well as where you live. After the initial series of vaccinations is completed, your pet will require periodic boosters.

Beware of Heartworm

In some parts of the country where heartworm exists, take steps to prevent this potentially life-threatening parasitic heart infection. While this condition poses more of a threat to dogs, cats increasingly are at risk, too. Most heartworm treatments will need to be administered throughout your pet's lifetime.

Physical Exams

Dr. Goldstein says to schedule a physical exam at least once a year until your pet is 6-years-old, then these visits should increase to every six months in order to stay on top of any health changes. In between visits, give your pet a head-to-tail checkup, either weekly or at least monthly. Search for any new lumps, bumps, or other changes for early detection. Keep in mind that cats in particular often hide signs of serious illness, so be vigilant about checking for any changes in her habits or behavior.