New Pet Guide: Tips & Advice for New Pet Parents
By Julia Donovan
Bringing a new pet into your home is an exciting time, but it can also feel a bit overwhelming. From safety precautions to must-have supplies, there is a lot to learn when it comes to caring for your new dog or cat.
To help you prepare, bond, and enjoy your first days and weeks together, we’ve created a comprehensive New Pet Guide for new pet parents.
You’re a new pet parent. Now what?
According to the ASPCA, approximately 4.1 million shelter animals are adopted each year — 2 million of which are dogs, and 2.1 million are cats. During the pandemic, we saw a drastic increase in adoption rates with nearly 1 in 5 households welcoming a new pet into their homes.
And now, you’re a new pet parent too. Congratulations! Now you may be wondering if you have all that you need to help your pet adjust and thrive in their new environment.
You’ve already got ample amounts of love for your new pet, but in this dog parents’ guide and new cat guide, you’ll learn that you also need a few supplies and some safety precautions:
Your new pet is going to eat, sleep, play, and poop on repeat. So naturally you’ll need to invest in food, treats, bowls, a pet bed, crate/carrier, collar/harness, leash, poop bags/litter box, toys, and perhaps a baby gate for safe play and to restrict access to certain areas of your home.
These are the less-fun but super important considerations for your new pet. Pet-proofing your space means checking for gaps in fencing, broken gates, creating a pet emergency kit, and safely storing household hazards such as poisonous plants, cleaning chemicals, and removing items that pose a choking hazard for pets who like to chew.
Outfitting your new pet with safety gear is important too. Affixed to your pet’s collar should be an external ID tag with their new address and your contact information. And for the most comprehensive protection, microchipping your pet is strongly recommended, as it’s the only permanent, reliable way to identify them if they become lost. It also provides the best chances of being reunited with your pet if they ever go missing.
A bit more on microchipping:
You may be wondering what a microchip is and what it does.
A microchip is a rice-sized radio-frequency identification device (RFID) that is quickly and painlessly inserted under your pet's skin. It is a permanent form of ID which holds info about the pet and its owner. And, it’s the only permanent and reliable way to identify a lost pet and reunite them with their owner.
Preventing lost pets
When your pet arrives at their new home, they may feel a little disoriented. Their new surroundings are unfamiliar and it may take time for them to recognize your home as their own.
For this reason, it’s especially important in the early days to remain vigilant that they don’t mistakenly break free of their leash, outdoor enclosure, or door dash, as they may be unable to find their way back. It’s an unfortunate fact that 15% of households have lost a dog or cat — a terrifying ordeal for both pets and pet parents.
What to do if your new pet goes missing:
If you find yourself in this situation, don’t panic. Here is a step-by-step guide to find your missing pet, plus a summary of the critical first steps:
- Report your pet missing online, enabling a Lost Pet Recovery Specialist to run a real-time search of all animals reported found
- Call your local shelters and rescues to see if your pet has been turned in
- Put out a bed, litter box, blanket, or toys with a familiar scent to help attract your pet back home
- Patrol your neighborhood and let your neighbors know that your pet is missing so that they can keep a lookout
- Create a lost pet poster using this quick and easy online tool
- Leverage social media to get the word out and share photos of your lost pet
Training, socialization, and enrichment
Now that you have the essentials in place, you can start to think about training, socializing, and enriching your pet’s day-to-day life. If you’re a new cat parent, there are countless ways you can enrich their environment to provide mental stimulation, physical exercise, and help calm their new home nerves.
There are various ways in which dog parents can also help their pets adjust to their new home and surroundings.
- House training is essential. While some dogs (and cats, for that matter) pick up house training easily, some need a little extra help knowing when and where to go. And during your first day with a new puppy, you’ll definitely want to start them off on the right foot with a consistent and age-appropriate house training routine. Watch this video for suggestions on how to get started.
- Obedience training helps your dog build their confidence, establish and strengthen your bond, and prevent unwanted behaviors. It’s also something that many cat parents opt to do for added bonding and to introduce enrichment to their cat’s routine.
Knowing how to take care of a pet includes understanding the importance of obedience training and incorporating it into your daily routine with your new pet. Get started by reading about training techniques, watching videos, hiring a private trainer, or joining a group obedience class.
- Socializing your new dog or cat will help them to adjust and interact with the world around them without fear or anxiety. This can be started at any age, however older pets who have been poorly socialized will require a slow and steady approach with a lot of positive reinforcement and patience.
Socialization includes: acquainting them with their new home and neighborhood, introducing them to family and friends, creating comfort around children, and spending time with other pets (inside and outside of the home).
Tip: The dog park is a great place to socialize your new dog, but be aware of dog park etiquette and always watch your dog’s body language for cues as to their comfort level.
For some, the dog park is overwhelming and they’d rather watch the fun from a distance. For these pups, setting up a playdate with one other dog may be a better way to build their confidence through socialization.
- Enrichment activities like puzzle games or scent/sniff activities are a great way to engage your pup’s mind and soothe separation anxiety.
Beginning training and socialization right away is ideal but as they say, it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. For help, you may want to consult with a trainer in your area who has experience, particularly in working with newly adopted pets.
Another great resource is Petcademy, included with our Lifetime Protection Membership Plus. This online platform has customized training plans and behavioral support for new pet parents — over 15,000 of which have leveraged Petcademy to help their adopted animals settle into their new home.
Introducing your new pet to other pets in your home
While your excitement level is high, the pets currently living in your home may be less enthusiastic about welcoming a new member. To be fair, this is likely coming as a surprise (shock, even!) to them. One day it’s business as usual, the next there is a stranger living amongst them.
The good news is that pets can happily coexist if you oversee their introduction and support steady integration. Here are a few tips on how to introduce new pets:
- Take it slow and steady
While bringing home a new pet is exciting, resist the urge to surprise your existing pets with new companions. Building rapport will take some time, so be sure to plan ahead for their formal introduction with a few small steps.
- Neutral ground
Some pets are instinctively territorial at home, so whenever possible, introduce them to new pets in a neutral space — ideally outdoors. For instance, dogs introduced at the dog park have the chance to interact socially without the tension that may arise from an at-home introduction.
- Separate rooms
To give everyone a chance to adjust on their own time, plan to keep pets separated at first. If possible, during their first days in their new home, set up space in a different room for your pet outfitted with their bed, food, water, toys, and a litter box for new cats.
- Let them sniff
If your current pet is crate-trained, try keeping them in their crate and allowing the new dog or cat the opportunity to explore their new home and sniff out their new house mate. You can also try moving some of each pet's items into separate rooms so that they become acquainted with their scent.
- Maintain your routine
This will be a period of adjustment for everyone in your home. Keeping a consistent routine throughout the transition helps both your current and new pets adjust to each other, their space, and to you. And, it helps them feel at home in their new space.
- Stay vigilant and step in if needed
When your pets finally meet face-to-face, be aware that there may still be tension, even if you’ve slowly moved through steps 1-5. Be ready to step in and separate them if necessary. Watch for aggressive or stressed body language. If you see it, give your pets some space from each other and try again in a few hours or days. Be patient, it will get easier!
Introducing your new pet to children in your home
Safety in these situations is paramount. Many pets are fearful of children and may demonstrate their discomfort through avoidance or aggression.
Tip: Children should sit still when first being introduced to a new pet. They can then encourage the dog or cat to come to them by tossing treats in their direction as they approach. Ask the child to avoid staring (easier said than done!), as this can be perceived as threatening to pets. Above all, go slowly. As with all bonds, they take time and patience to grow.
How new pet parents can bond with their pet
You want your new pet to feel the love, and to hopefully reciprocate with affection. Establishing a bond takes time and is nurtured by trust. There is no substitute for quality time spent with your pet, helping them to become comfortable with you and learn that you’ve got their back.
Tips for bonding with your dog include: starting with short play sessions, offering lots of praise, positive reinforcement and treats, and giving them space to become comfortable with you and their new surroundings.
Keeping your new pet healthy
Just as with people, pets need routine medical and dental care. Budgeting for these regular expenses as well as for emergencies is a good idea. Typical medical expenses include:
- Annual check-ups
- Dental cleanings
- First-aid/emergency treatment
Find a veterinarian in your area to help you navigate the vaccination and treatment options that are best for your new pet. And, with our Lifetime Protection Membership, you get 24/7 access to a Vet Helpline where you can connect with veterinary professionals by phone, email, or live chat. If you don’t yet have a Lifetime Protection Membership, it’s easy to start protecting your pet. You’ll get unlimited access to: our 24/7 Lost Pet Recovery Specialists, DirectConnect (connect with your pet’s finder and arrange a quick, safe reunion), the 24/7 Vet Helpline, a $25 Petco coupon and more.
Grooming is another important factor when it comes to keeping your pet healthy and happy. Some breeds require professional dematting and regular hair cuts while others need only to be brushed regularly. Ask your veterinarian or local groomer about the routine and grooming regularity that’s right for your pet.
You’ll also need a few products and tools to keep your pet cute and coiffed at home:
- Conditioner or hair/skin moisturizer for pets with dry/irritated skin
- Pet-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste
- Nail clippers
Exercise is another crucial element of overall health. Exercise needs vary based on breed, age, and overall health of your pet. While some dogs need multiple long walks daily, others do well with indoor activities. As a general rule, dogs need at least 30-45 of exercise daily but this is a bare minimum. Similarly, cats need different degrees of activity and can be at greater risk of becoming sedentary if they spend all of their time indoors.
This will help you assess your pet’s needs:
Lastly, what your pet eats matters. Choose a pet food that is human-grade quality and formulated for their unique needs. And be wary of fad diets for pets. For instance, did you know that ‘grain-free’ isn’t recommended unless your pet has a diagnosed grain allergy? While it may be good for people, it can be damaging to your pet’s heart and kidneys. So before you switch your pet’s diet, be sure to speak with a veterinarian to be sure that what’s in their bowl is what they need.
Another thing to keep in mind is their caloric intake, which will depend upon their age and activity level so be sure to add that question to your list for your next veterinarian visit.
Easing the mind of a new pet parent
As a new pet parent, you want the best for your new cat or dog, but there may be times where you unintentionally give less focus to things like training, socializing, or feeding their pets an appropriate diet. By consulting this New Pet Guide, you’ll be well equipped to welcome your new family member into their forever home.
New pet parent FAQs
Becoming a new pet parent is a big responsibility and there is a lot to know. Here are some commonly asked questions from other pet parents that will help you prepare for, and welcome, your new pet.
Q: What are the main challenges with pet ownership?
A: Becoming a pet owner is a big commitment and responsibility, and one that should not be taken lightly. Dogs and cats are social animals and need companionship to thrive in addition to ongoing food, shelter, exercise, medical care, attention, and love. Certain breeds of dogs can live upwards of 17 years and cats up to 20 or more! So that length of commitment to caring and financially providing for a pet can be a challenge for some, and should be given serious consideration and thought before bringing a new pet into your home.
Some new pet owners find the change to their schedule, financial investment, and time commitments challenging at first. That said, in this dog parents’ guide and new cat guide, we review some of the most important ways you can help create a happy, nurturing home for you and your new pet.
Q: What are the benefits of having a pet?
A: It’s hard to quantify the many benefits of having a pet in your life. To so many, pets are the constant companion that enriches life in immeasurable ways. Most people find that having a cat or dog provides them with companionship and unconditional love, a sense of security, reduces their stress, and makes them feel more engaged in their everyday life. And, the feeling seems to be mutual! Our pets thrive on our love, attention, and care, and enjoy spending their time at our side.
Q: How often does my new pet need to go to the vet?
A: Most dogs and cats require at least an annual check-up as well as regular vaccinations to stay healthy. However, the frequency and need for your pet to see their veterinarian will vary depending on their age, breed and unique individual needs. Consult with your local veterinarian for a health plan that is tailored specifically for your pet.
Q: How much exercise does my dog need?
A: At minimum, your dog should get 30-45 minutes of exercise a day, ideally outdoors. The amount and type of exercise depends upon the age, breed, and health of your dog. We recommend discussing what’s right for your pet with your veterinarian.
Q: How much exercise does my cat need?
A: Contrary to popular belief, indoor cats need exercise too. We recommend engaging your cat in indoor play daily using a variety of toys that prompt them to chase, jump, and track. Experts agree that 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise is appropriate for most cats, however it’s best practice to speak with your veterinarian to decide what’s right for your pet.
Q: What is a microchip?
A: A microchip is the only permanent and reliable form of ID for a pet. It is a rice-sized radio frequency identification device (RFID) that can be registered in our recovery database (the largest lost pet database and microchip registry in North America), and holds pet and owner information. It is not a GPS. And, it’s important to understand that a microchip is only as useful as the information tied to it, so keeping your contact details up to date is essential in order to be reunited with your pet if they ever go missing.
Q: How do I microchip my pet?
A: You can microchip your pet at a shelter or vet clinic. Because microchipping is not painful, many vet clinics will complete the procedure while your pet is awake, unless it is done at the same time as other routine procedures, such as spaying or neutering, when pets are under a general anesthetic.
Before being adopted, many shelters will ensure that dogs and cats are microchipped, however you should contact them directly to confirm. Learn more about the benefits of microchipping your pet here.
Q: What happens after your pet is microchipped?
A: It’s important to keep the contact details that are registered to your pet’s microchip up-to-date. In the event that your pet becomes lost, this information will be used to contact you and help reunite you with them. You can update your pet’s microchip information at any time through your MyPethealth Portal here.
Q: What is a pet ID tag?
A: A pet ID tag is an external form of identification for your pet. It is usually worn on their collar and contains details such as their name and address. 24Petwatch has custom ID tags for your pet, including our Lifetime Warranty ID Tags. Our Lifetime Warranty ID Tags will be replaced if damaged or unreadable (not if lost), and contain your pet’s name, unique microchip and our Lost Pet Recovery Service toll-free number.
Home is where your pets are
Help keep your new pet safe with our Lost Pet Recovery and Pet Protection Services, including our Annual, Lifetime, and Lifetime Plus Memberships. Plan ahead to ensure that your new family member is reunited with you, should they ever become lost.
Keep your pet healthy from head to tail, all year long. Interested in learning more about cat and dog health? Check out these pet wellness blog posts: