Bringing home a new pet

Welcoming a new pet into the family is an exciting time! When you take your new friend home you want to make sure they adjust well to their new surroundings and get the best start they can.


One way to ensure a smooth transition includes making sure the food they had been eating at the shelter is available to them at your home. Changing diets suddenly can set most dogs and cats up for GI upset with resulting diarrhea and vomiting. It is fine to change to a different food that you prefer, but this needs to be done slowly by mixing the old diet with the new gradually over the course of 7 to 10 days. Limit excessive amounts of wet food or other treats until your new friend is adjusted to their new home. Lots of canned food, or treats they are not used to, can loosen the stools and stress also has the same effect.


One of the most important considerations when bringing home a new pet is that they need their rest time. I have seen this happen again and again; a puppy or kitten that is fine at the Center goes home and the owners call the next day because the pet is having diarrhea or vomiting, or is lethargic. Of course they are concerned they adopted a sick pet, but what usually is the culprit is too much excitement and stimulation the first few days home in a new environment. (If you brought a new baby home from the hospital you would not take it on a shopping trip, to the zoo, fair and beach all in the same day.)

Puppies and kittens, just like small children, need love and food but also time to rest and relax. Even though they are in a home that loves them, they are still away from their littermates and their familiar surroundings and this can add to stress whether they are outwardly showing it or not. Additionally, even though they seem ready to go at all times, they can be overstimulated either by too many new situations at once or by too much playing and attention. Overstimulation is a form of stress which lowers the immune response, leaves them more prone to secondary infections or the effects of intestinal parasites, and again presents as diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, not eating, coughing, or in the case of kittens upper respiratory infections as well.

The younger the pet, the more rest time they need. As children get older they play longer and harder and need less rest and that is a good rule of thumb for our furry children as well.


No matter the age of the pet you are bringing home or if they are reported to be housebroken, do not assume that in your house they will go to the door or find the litter box without any help from you.

Cats and kittens will need you to show them where the litter box is. You may also consider limiting their access to a smaller area of your home with ready access to the litter box until they are using it well.

For dogs and puppies, take them out the door you want them to use and into the area of the yard that they will be using. Praise them while they’re in the act of eliminating where you want them to, so they know they are doing what you would like. If you live in a condo or apartment, make sure you take them out for frequent walks until you get to know their habits and the frequency of their need to eliminate.

Younger kittens and puppies can seem to be housebroken but, just like young children, they may not always give themselves time to get to the litter box or to the door. Accidents can occur. Getting upset or aggravated at them can often make things worse. Just remember a dog may not be 100% reliable until as much as 6 months of age and for kittens usually 5 months of age.


It is important to make sure new pets get all the initial series of vaccines they need as they are growing. The person or place from where you adopted your new pet should let you know what vaccines they have already had but I would recommend contacting your family veterinarian to discuss additional vaccine requirements and also recommendations for things like heartworm testing, fecal checks, deworming and spaying/neutering.

Categories: Pet Health Tips from the Helen Woodward Animal Center