The holidays are a time of family, friends, togetherness, and giving. Sometimes those gifts turn into more of a commitment than originally thought — here is how that can be avoided. By educating yourself and those involved in the process of adopting a pet for the holidays you can set appropriate expectations that will still be around even after all the holiday craze has calmed down.

So, you want to adopt a new pet?
Did you know that animal shelters across the US see an influx of animals after December? When a pet is given as a gift to someone who is unable or unwilling to care for them they are likely to end up at a local shelter instead. Before committing to the idea of bringing a new furry family member into your home, consider the care that will be necessary for that animal throughout its life. The average dog lifespan is up to 13 years and a cat lifespan is up to 16 years; some even surpass those numbers! Those years should include annual veterinary wellness visits, basic comforts (beds, toys, bowls), food and grooming visits (depending on the type of pet). Not including the potential for an emergency visit when your regular vet office is closed. All of these factors are part of caring for a pet and should be considered when thinking of gifting to someone else or adopting a pet for yourself.

You’ve considered the commitment and you’re ready for it all! What next?
Here are five tips to help you when looking for a new four-legged family member.

1: Cat or Dog?
Cats and dogs are the most popular types of pets (with 73 million cats and 63 million dogs owned in North America alone), but how do you know which one is best for you? A dog will need to be walked or let outside in a fenced yard for potty breaks and daily exercise. While some dog breeds are more laid back than others, it is recommended that every dog gets at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. A cat, on the other hand, will need a litter box and plenty of engaging toys inside the home to keep them happy. A happy cat needs enrichment and its recommended that a cat is exercised through indoor play each day; this may be with a laser pointer, a dangling feather toy, or a felt toy stuffed with catnip.

2: Choosing the right breed for your lifestyle
Every pet is unique, but each breed is prone to certain traits. The talkative Siamese cat is very social and would not thrive in a home where the owner is not around often or works long hours. The bouncy and energetic Labradoodle needs plenty of exercise to keep it happy; more than the standard 30 minutes a day. However, some giant dog breeds can be quite the couch potato, such as the Great Pyrenees. Keep in mind that where you live also plays a big part in what type of pet you may want; a Siberian Husky wouldn’t tolerate the muggy heat of the south as well as it would with colder temperatures up north. With Huskies still on the mind, make sure that you’re prepared for any grooming requirements associated with the pet of your choice as well. Long haired pets need to be groomed more often than those with shorter hair. Also be sure to research the typical behavior and energy level of a breed that you are interested in. Even if it’s a mixed breed you can still get a good idea of what to expect by checking information on the breeds that the pet is mixed with.

3: Choosing between a young or mature pet
Adopting a puppy or kitten may seem like a good idea at the time because they are small and cute, but keep in mind all of the extra effort that comes with them once you’ve taken them home. Young animals typically need more attention, care, and training than adults. This includes crate training for puppies and litter box training for kittens. Puppies also need to go outside for potty breaks every couple of hours for a few months until they are completely trained. It’s also important to complete the entire series of vaccinations with both puppies and kittens. They will need vaccinations every few weeks until they are 16 weeks old, after that they will need to receive yearly vaccines. Adult pets can be a great addition to the family but, depending on the situation, they can come with their own set of challenges as well. Sometimes it may take longer for an adult pet to adjust to you and their new environment; this is something that can only be fixed with patience and time. In most cases, adult pets are already crate or litter box trained. Some adult dogs already know basic commands like sit, stay, and shake.

4: Foster before adopting
If you are still unsure about what type of pet you want to bring home most rescue organizations and animal shelters have the often to foster an animal for a period of time. You can choose which animal you would like to bring into your home to be fostered and assess whether it’s a good fit for you or your family. This gives you and the pet a “trial run” and helps you to make a well-informed decision when it comes down to deciding if you are ready for the commitment of adoption.

5: Make your home as pet-friendly as possible

  • Familiarize yourself and your family with how cats or dogs use body language to communicate with us. Making sure that everyone is on the same page helps when the pet is nervous about its new home and is trying to tell you.
  • Educate children on how to safely handle pets to prevent any accidental bites from rough handling.
  • Slowly introduce the new pet with any resident pets and keep them separated when not supervised.
  • Keep a calm environment. Smothering the new pet in attention may not always be the best when they are experiencing a big change like a new home.
  • If you live in a rented space make sure that pets are allowed and all fees (if necessary) are paid.

With these tips in mind bringing home a new furry family member should be a fun and easy process.

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