Many people are going to shelters and pet rescue organizations to adopt a new family member. This can be a great way to add a pet to your home. Many of the pets are screened for health problems and have had vaccinations, heartworm testing and other wellness care. What can be difficult to know ahead of the adoption is how easily this pet will adjust to your home. There are steps you can take to help your new rescued pet adjust to your home.
Dogs and cats like to be able to predict or know when good things are going to happen. So feeding, walking, play, and greetings (when you come home from work) should be on a regular schedule. When walks or playtime are haphazard, or your times of coming and going vary frequently this can add anxiety to the pet adjusting to your home. If there are many different people coming and going at all hours or different days without much pattern, this too will make it hard for the pet to adjust. So, if your life is very unpredictable, make it more regular.
Have your pet's own bed, food bowls, leash and crate or area of happy confinement set up before they come to you. When they arrive show them these areas and reward them verbally or with a food item whenever they go there for the first few weeks. Do not assume they will figure it all out. They have had a lot of change and do not know what the rules are for this home. Also if you have another pet, make sure you follow the recommendations for introductions. You read about how to introduce new cats to cats, and dogs to dogs. Meetings at the shelter may have been fine, but in the new home things may be a little different.
If your new pet is not eating, hiding, or having trouble toileting in the right areas, they are very anxious about the transition. Contact the rescue to find out if there is anything in particular that this pet likes or needs to be happy. If that does not help, then seek the help of your veterinarian to find out ways to reduce this pet's anxiety. Often calming pheromones such as DAP or Feliway are recommended for the adjustment period.
Sadly, many dogs end up in rescues due to unruly or other undesired behaviors that only show up in a home setting. This can be very frustrating for the new owners. We do not know if there has been outright abuse, or escalating anxieties due to so much change for the pet. The good thing is that these pets can often times still be helped even if we do not know their whole history. When your new rescue is causing some kind of distress in your new home such as biting or housetraining problems, call a veterinarian. A complete examination may reveal a health problem that was not addressed or recognized at the rescue. These problems often worsen behavior. If there needs to be more complete behavioral management, your veterinarian is the best person to recommend a training or therapy plan through their office or referral to a veterinary behaviorist. Force, or traditional training techniques often worsen the fear based problems. These problems need to handled in the right way with the correct diagnosis. There are medications to help these pets learn, which only your veterinarian can prescribe and recommend for safe use.
Opening your home to a rescue pet can be a rewarding way to add to your family. Sometimes it can also be a challenge. If you are still having problems with your new pet, please give Dr. Foote a call.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote