Puppy sleeping in party decorations

Martin Poole

Bringing home a new pet is fun and exciting, but before you welcome a new member into your family, lots of preparations need to be made.

The first key to making your new pet’s home a happy one is to do your homework, says Linda Campbell, dog training manager and behavior specialist at Humane Society of Missouri. “Examine your lifestyle so that you know what type of pet would fit best into your home. If you’re always working or gone all the time, a puppy might not be a great fit—and even an adult dog might not be perfect for you, especially if you travel a lot. You might want to consider a cat or even a guinea pig. Be honest with yourself, how much time do you have?” Making sure that the entire family is in agreement is another key step, she adds. “Some people want a lap dog to cuddle with; others, a jogging partner; while the kids might just want a dog they can romp around with. Make sure everybody has realistic expectations.”

Once you’ve determined what kind of pet you want, the next step is to look for a reputable breeder, rescue organization or shelter. “If you choose a breeder, go to see the parents, as well as any other dogs they have,” says Dr. Stacey Wallach of Town & Country Veterinary Hospital. “If you choose a rescue group, it should be a nonprofit, and the animals should be spayed or neutered and micro-chipped.”

No matter what route you go, look for things like the cleanliness and size of the kennels, and make sure all of the animals there appear to be healthy and friendly, and that the organization can provide medical records and vaccination history, Campbell notes.

Prepare your home for the new pet before he or she arrives, Wallach suggests. You should purchase a leash, collar, food, crate or baby gate, and make sure you’ve set up a confined area where the pet can stay when you’re not home. Within the first 24 hours, you should make a trip to the vet, she adds. Also, immediately ensure that your dog or cat has proper tags and microchip identification.

Be prepared to spend time acclimating your pet to the new environment, Campbell adds. “You shouldn’t bring it home and leave for five or eight hours. Do it over a weekend when the family will be there,” she says, adding that you should leave the house for short periods during the first couple of days as a trial run. This helps you avoid overwhelming the pet when you leave for work on Monday.

“If it’s a puppy, remember the socialization period is from eight to 16 weeks,” Wallach says. During this period, you should expose the dog to as many different things as possible—from different types of people and animals to surfaces. However, since the dog is not fully vaccinated yet, avoid places like dog parks until your vet says it’s all right, she notes.

As the holidays approach, family gatherings become more frequent. Campbell reminds, “Give the animal a chance to settle in before you go showing it off. It’s a stressful time for them, so avoid smothering them with attention.” This is especially true for rescued dogs, which are more likely to be suspicious of strangers. “Build trust with them slowly, and let them come to you,” she says. If you have a large party, even the friendliest pet can be stressed by a house full of people. “Provide them with a place where they have their favorite blanket and put on some music to mute the outside noises.” Also watch what the pet eats: Ham, in particular, can cause an upset stomach, Wallach notes, and even seasonal plants, decorations and tinsel can be ingested and cause problems.

Campbell sums it up: “It’s fun to have a new pet, but you’re stressing them by moving them to a new place, and when you add in the company, it can be overwhelming. Just be prepared and remember animals get stressed just like people do. Go easy on them during the holidays.”

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