A black and white dog sitting between a couple on the couch.

The Complete Guide to Adopting a Pet

When you adopt a pet, you save a life. Often more than one, considering that when you give a rescue pet a home, you clear a space in a shelter for another pet in need. But adopting a pet benefits you, the pet and others in ways that simply buying a puppy might not.

But when you’re asking yourself “Should I adopt a pet,” consider all your options. If adopting an adult dog or cat seems a little…permanent, consider that you could foster a dog, foster a cat, look into senior dog or cat adoption…if you’re willing, there is a pet for you out there, on your terms.

No matter what kind of pet adoption you’re considering, the adoption process can be daunting. There’s so much to consider when rescuing a dog or adopting a cat! How do you prepare your home? What if you have small children? How do you know if you are adopting a pet from a reputable shelter? So many questions and ground to cover when you adopt a pet.

This is why we partnered with Samantha Randall, the editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips on our long-running Rescue Me series. Samantha’s monthly column covers everything from adopting shy dogs to cat rescue to being a good dog foster. If you have a question about any part of the pet adoption process, it’s likely answered here.

A French bulldog on a leash sitting on doorstep.

How to Be a Good Foster Parent

Being a foster parent for pets is a rewarding experience, but you need to be sure that you are ready to do it before jumping in. As someone who has had the pleasure of fostering several dogs, Samantha compiled a list of tips for aspiring foster dog parents.


Adopting a Shy Dog

When you adopt a pet, you might not know what kind of personality they have. However, if you do know that the dog you wish to adopt is shy and timid, then you can take certain steps to ensure that he or she will feel comfortable right from the start. Samantha has been in situations like this in the past, so here are some of her personal tips for how to adopt a pet who might be bashful.


A close-up of a young puppy behind a chain-link fence, chewing on the fence.

Avoiding Puppy Mills

There are many unwritten rules that all pet owners should be aware of when adopting dogs and cats, and making sure that the organization you’re adopting from is reputable is tops on many people’s lists. Here are 10 that will help you decide whether you’re making a responsible choice when adopting from a breeder or rescue organization.


Rescues and Small Children

You can never predict how a dog will react to a new environment. It’s not uncommon for some dogs to be content at the shelter and a little testy in their new home. If you have young children, a dog’s unexpected behavior switch can be a real concern. Bringing a rescue dog into a home with small kids means you have to take extra steps to ensure the safety of your children as well as your new pet.


An orange and white tabby cat sitting in a crate at a shelter.

Tips for Adopting a Rescue Cat

Adopting a rescue cat is a wonderful way to get a grateful and loving companion while also saving a life. Cats may seem to be easier to adopt than dogs, if only because they seem to be a little more self-sufficient. But before you impulsively run to the shelter or a rescue group to get a new cat, there are a few things to consider. Over the years, Samantha has rescued a few cats and offers some tips so you can make the right choice.


Adopting a High-Energy Dog

People surrender their dogs for many reasons. Often, dogs are surrendered because the owners cannot handle the animal. In these cases, it’s usually due to the pet being a very high-energy dog. There’s nothing wrong with a high-energy dog, but if you are thinking about adopting a hyper or high-energy rescue pooch, you must be prepared for the challenge. Here’s what you should know before you make your decision, including such basic things like “What do we mean by high-energy dogs?”


Tips for a Successful Pet Adoption

Ultimately, you want your adoption to be a success for everyone involved. To conclude our Complete Guide to Pet Adoption, we detail ten things that you can do to help ensure that your experience (and that of your new dog or cat) is a positive one.

1. Choose the right dog or cat for your family.

Don’t always go for the first pet you feel drawn to. Research breeds and spend a lot of time with your potential new family members before sealing the deal.

2. Have everything you need before you bring your new pet home.

Make sure you have a harness or collar, leash, food and water dishes, a bed and a kennel as well as some books or videos on crate training.

3. Put an exercise plan into place immediately.

Many pet owners surrender their pets because of behavior problems that can be traced back to inadequate exercise. Have a realistic exercise plan in place to get your cat or dog the physical and mental stimulation they need.

4. Transition your pet’s food slowly.

Digestive issues can make a time of change even more difficult on your pet. Find out what food the shelter fed your pet and either stick with that or follow suggested guidelines for changing formulas.

5. Give your pet a safe space.

Usually a kennel, sometimes their own bed or a room; all pets need a place where they know they can get some time alone. Creating this haven gives your pet a place to alleviate their anxiety or, at the very least, a simple place to call their own.

6. Give your pet enough room to adjust.

There may be times that your pet just wants to be alone. Hard to believe, we know.

7. Get into training ASAP.

Training is more valuable than you can imagine, and every pet could benefit from it.

8. Only discipline during the bad act.

If you come home and find your pet has had an accident in the house, bringing them to the accident and yelling is just confusing and scary. When this happens, a short “No” will stop it, and then you can take them outside.

9. Avoid overwhelming your pet with new places and new people.

Temporarily minimize your pet’s exposure to new people and places until they are well adjusted to you and your family.

10. Set clear boundaries.

Decide on boundaries and enforce them right away.

Read more about how to make your new pet adoption a successful one.

An interior graphic detailing 10 tips for a successful pet adoption.

Adopt pets, change lives

A lot goes into making a pet adoption successful. You need to do your homework. You need to prepare. You need to choose the right pet for your situation, which means you have to carefully consider your situation. You need to know what you don’t know, which means you have to ask questions that you’re not ever sure you need to ask. Adopting a new best friend, even if it’s just fostering a pet, takes dedication and work, from both you and the pet.

It’s not easy.

But it is rewarding, and we encourage anyone who is considering pet rescue to read as much as you can about the pet adoption process before diving in head-first. We hope our pet adoption guide is just the beginning of a beautiful relationship that enriches multiple lives.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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