Other Pet Issues

Selecting the Right Pet

Puppies and kittens are babies. All babies are cute, cuddly and fun to watch whether they’re playing or sleeping. It’s wonderful to watch a baby grow, explore and learn. However, we can’t predict what kind of personality that baby will have as an adult. It’s impossible to look at the rows of human babies in a hospital nursery and know who will be athletic or academic, quiet or talkative, high-or low-energy, artistically or mechanically gifted, sociable or a “loner.”

Many physical traits of certain types or breeds of dogs and cats can be fairly predictable. Some are good traits like size, coat and hair types, and some are bad, such as over-breeding, health problems and so forth. Some have general personality traits: retrievers like to have things in their mouths; terriers like to dig; and Siamese-type cats tend to be very talkative. These traits can be predicted to a limited degree, however, it’s hazardous to make too many assumptions about any infant’s individual personality based solely on what traits his or her “group” is expected to have.

Each baby, whether human, canine or feline, will develop into an individual with a unique personality and special characteristics all their own. Their personality will be based on some inherited and some learned traits, and that combination is what makes each individual unique. When we choose our friends, we look for certain characteristics that fit into our lives, traits we share, and attitudes that help us mesh. Physical characteristics may play a part in those choices, but the real “click” comes from those combined traits that are unique to each individual. The same is true when we choose pets to share our lives with us for ten to 20 years.

How do I decide what age pet is right for me? Many people assume that puppies or kittens are the only “right” age for a new pet to be introduced into the family, when in fact, an older pet is more suitable for many situations. There are important differences between the needs and abilities of adult dogs or cats and puppies or kittens. Puppies and kittens learn many of their most important skills, such as how to be a dog or a cat, from their mothers and littermates until they’re ten to twelve weeks old (see “Stages of Puppy Development” and “Stages of Kitten Development“). Baby animals taken from their families before that age need specialized lessons and care. Just because they can eat grown-up food doesn’t mean they have grown up. However, those first few weeks aren’t the only time for learning.

The first six months of life are vital to the development of puppies and kittens and require a lot of time, care and energy. Many households are not able to provide what is needed during this busy period of high-rate learning and growing. Baby animals that are not properly taught and cared for during this time find it difficult to develop the proper social skills. Depending on the type of cat or dog, most pets can be considered “teenagers” or young adults from six months to 16 months old. These puppies and kittens are still growing and developing through adolescence, but are beginning to show the direction that their individual personalities will probably take. They’re still high-energy “kids” at this stage and will test your patience at every turn.

Every pet has a history, no matter how young or how old. Some animals come with details about their backgrounds, and some have histories that remain mysterious. A pet of any age can bond with the people who love and care for him, giving as much to the relationship as he receives in return. Some animals may have very negative memories of humans who mistreated them, and need extra time to adjust and to learn to trust. The majority of adult cats and dogs, however, can bond with their new families as deeply as puppies or kittens raised from babyhood.

If you’re looking for a pet with certain personality traits, it’s more likely that you’ll find the right companion to fit your lifestyle if the candidate is at least six months old. If you don’t have the patience or energy for a teenager, you should consider an adult dog or cat that is at least one year to eighteen months old. Dogs and cats this age learn quickly, have more coordination and control over their physical functions, and have more predictable natures.

You must first decide if you have the time, energy, space and money for a pet – it’s a huge commitment. You then need to determine whether a baby animal or a mature pet is more appropriate for your lifestyle and your expectations for this new member of the family.

To help you weigh the “pros” and “cons” of adopting a dog or cat versus a puppy or kitten, ask yourself these important questions:

  • How much time do you spend at home on an average day? Puppies and kittens need more physical and emotional involvement with their people than you can give if you are away from home more than six hours a day (see “Housetraining Your Puppy,” “Chewing” and “The Educated Dog“). Most adult pets can easily adjust to your schedule, however, they also need time to learn what is expected of them. Some dogs never grow accustomed to being left alone. If all of your family members are away from home more than eight hours most days, a dog may not be the appropriate choice for your household, and you might want to consider adopting an adult cat (or two) instead.
  • Are there children in my home? How many? How old? While many families think they want “a pet for the children,” it actually takes a very special combination of parent/child/pet to have a successful relationship. If the child is under six years old, the pet should be over four months old. Puppies and kittens play roughly, and without careful supervision and training, both your child and your pet could have a bad experience with potentially serious consequences.

An adult pet is usually past the stage of becoming overly excited, and you can better gauge how hardy and tolerant he’ll be toward childish enthusiasm. It’s your responsibility, to your pet and to your child, to monitor their interaction. You can help to strengthen the relationship between your pet and child by showing your respect for your pet’s needs and feelings. Teach by example that your pet is an important family member, not a “plaything” to be neglected and tossed away when no longer new and exciting.

While a family pet offers children a wonderful opportunity to learn about caring and responsibility, regular pet-care duties need to be carefully supervised by an adult. A child should never be solely responsible for a pet. You also need to keep in mind that your child’s life and interests will change over the next ten to 15 years. The ultimate responsibility for a pet’s care and safety is that of the adults in the household.

  • Will this pet be a companion to another pet? It’s best to introduce a younger animal to an adult resident pet in your household, but not too young. Your resident cat or dog may respond to a very young kitten or puppy as prey to be hunted. In addition, the older pet may not like the constant bother and play. Very young pets lack the social graces to read your older pet’s irritation and the reflexes to escape if the situation becomes tense. From four to 14 months old is a good age range to introduce a puppy or kitten to your adult pet.

Most pets like to have at least one “buddy.” You might want to consider adopting a pair of adult pets that are already accustomed to and attached to each other. Many pets (especially cats) are surrendered to shelters in “pairs” because their human families are no longer able to care for them. There are many benefits to keeping a pair together.

  • Do I want a pet that will participate with me in outdoor activities? If you want a dog to take hiking and camping, to play ball or swim in the lake with, or to train to catch flying discs, you should consider a teenage or young adult dog. For major outdoor activities a dog should be a certain size and have natural hardiness. Not all dogs (even Retrievers) are naturally inclined toward catching things. This is an excellent example of finding the right combination of traits to fit your particular criteria.

In addition, dogs that are involved in these types of activities must have excellent manners, and you must be willing and able to build a strong relationship with your dog, including ongoing obedience training. Many pets, like many people, don’t travel well. Some reasons for chronic carsickness can be remedied, but if you specifically want a pet to travel with you to local activities or on short vacations, don’t expect miracles from a young animal. There is no way to tell which pet will have the stomach for it.

  • Do I want a “lap-pet” that will be physically affectionate and cuddly? Most puppies and kittens will accept some physical affection, but they don’t all grow up to be pets that like to be cuddled. This is another good example of a specific personality trait, which if it’s important to you, will be easier to find in an adult animal.
  • Do I prefer a certain physical appearance, coloring or coat? If you like big cats, shiny dogs or fluffy coats, you can do some “educated guessing” with a puppy or kitten, but you’ll still be guessing. By the time a cat or dog is about six months old, these physical traits will be clear, plus you’ll be able to see what kind of personality traits go along with the “package.”
  • How large is “too large” for my lifestyle? If you’re renting your “home,” you’ll want to check the pet policies in your rental contract or lease — especially regarding size limitations. Puppies and kittens grow up, and believe it or not, thousands of puppies and kittens lose their homes each year because someone didn’t think about what their adult size might be. If you have a specific size in mind for your ideal pet, it’s not a good idea to guess. By the time cats and most dogs are six or seven months old, you can usually tell what size they’ll be when they’re fully grown. Many large dogs are surrendered to animal shelters because they were cute, little, fluffy puppies one week and big, clumsy, enthusiastic teenagers the next. It takes time to teach any dog basic manners, like not to pull on the leash, not to jump on people and not to play too roughly, and even more time and patience with a puppy.

You can benefit from someone else’s poor planning if you adopt an adult or teenage dog, but only if you’re willing to do what they did not – teach him the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. This training may take weeks or months, but it can begin very simply with a dog over six months old that’s ready and able to learn quickly, and has good muscular coordination and some knowledge of social skills.

Preparing Your Pet For Baby’s Arrival

Helping your pet adjust to the arrival of a new baby is much like preparing a young child for the same event. Handling your pet’s curiosity, anxiety and increased insistence for attention may seem like an overwhelming task, in addition to preparing yourself and your household for the baby’s arrival. You can, however, help your pet adjust to the big changes ahead with minimal time and effort by making gradual adjustments to your lifestyle before the baby arrives.

Sounds and Smells

Your pet is very sensitive to sounds and smells and uses these special abilities to gather information. From your pet’s point of view, you and your home have specific identifying smells that are uniquely yours. There are also certain sounds that your pet considers “normal” for your household. Even the different tones of voice you use send important signals. Your baby won’t actually change those scents and sounds that are part of your identity, but the baby’s arrival will certainly add some new and very different ones. It’s important that you introduce these new smells and sounds to your pet gradually in a calm and pleasant atmosphere.

Each time you introduce something new to your pet, make the experience positive. Stroke him, give him treats and praise him for his good behavior when he’s faced with a strange new sound or smell. Relax! If you act anxious, your pet will be anxious too.

In order to prepare your pet for the new baby, borrow some baby sounds and smells. Visit a friend’s baby or a nursery and make a tape recording of baby sounds like gurgling, laughing, screaming, crying and kicking. Handle a baby and absorb some of the smells of baby lotion, powder and food. Go directly home and spend some positive, relaxed time with your pet. Give him a massage or play with him while the baby smells mingle with your own odors and you introduce the recorded baby sounds.

Start out with the volume turned fairly low and if your pet doesn’t react strongly to the sounds, gradually increase the volume to a normal level. As you play the tape, look at your pet and speak calmly, using your pet’s name. Smile! It adds a special tone to your voice that helps your pet relax. Repeat these sessions daily until the baby’s arrival. After a week or so, add the actual sources of the odors to the sound-and-smell sessions with the supplies you’ll be using for your own baby. Think about your pet’s perspective. How does a baby bottle smell when it’s freshly sterilized? When it’s dirty? Borrow a dirty diaper and let your pet become accustomed to that smell, too.

After a few weeks, combine baby sounds and smells (which should be familiar to your pet by now) with the bustle and attention of a visiting baby. This is an excellent “dress rehearsal” for the extra visitors and attention you and your baby will receive during the first few weeks after delivery.

After you bring your baby home, be aware of the ways you use your voice. Do you only speak to your pet with negative tones when the baby’s in the room (“no,” “off,” “don’t,” “stop”)? If so, your pet will certainly connect unhappy feelings with the baby’s presence. While you hold your baby, smile at your pet and use his name. Give your pet a small treat when the baby is fed to distract your pet from the smell of the baby’s food. Make time with the baby a pleasant time for your pet as well.


If you’ll be redecorating or rearranging your home, do it long before the baby arrives. With your supervision, let your pet explore any off-limits areas, then exclude him from these areas before the baby arrives. Screen doors are excellent, inexpensive barriers for off-limits areas like the baby’s room. Your pet can still see, smell and hear all the action and so can you. If an off-limits room has been a favorite area for your pet, this will be a major change for him. Move his favorite things from that room into another area, if possible in the same arrangement.

To boost your pet’s confidence, establish a private, comfortable place that your pet can use as a safe retreat. Select an area you can close off, if necessary. The “safe-zone” should include a water bowl, a nest composed of a soft towel or your pet’s bed and some worn, unwashed clothing with your smell on it. If your pet is a cat, you should include a litter box in this area also.

Your pet can choose to retreat here, or you can choose to confine him to this “safe zone” when things get extra hectic. Spend some positive time with your pet in this area every day, and if he must be confined for an hour or so, it mustn’t seem like punishment. During the transition, respect your pet’s need for rest and privacy. This will become especially important when your baby reaches the crawling stage. In addition to a “safe-zone,” cats should also have access to plenty of escape routes, hiding places and perches.


Routine is important to pets because they need to know what to expect. Think ahead and gradually begin establishing new routines early on. Include in your adjusted schedule at least once a day, quality time for just you and your pet, with no competition for your attention. This “non-baby” time is very important for your pet and for you!

Some of the changes in your post-baby routine won’t be permanent, like getting up at all hours of the night. Help your pet handle temporary schedule adjustments by ignoring any extra attention-getting ploys used at those times. Try to get back to your normal routines as soon as possible.

Social Order

The first priority for an animal faced with a new family member is to determine who will be top dog (or cat) in the relationship. Dogs and cats live by an unwritten code of ranking in their relationships. For most dogs and cats, it isn’t really important which one comes out on top, only that the rank be decided.

Whether you have one pet or several, your own position in the family’s social order should be clear – you must always be the top-ranking animal in your family. This will be especially important as your baby’s arrival approaches. When your position as leader of the family is secure and it’s clear that the baby belongs to you, your pet should not challenge the baby’s important rank in your home.

If your pet is very protective of you or your home, is a little pushy about food and toys, has been known to behave aggressively toward other animals and/or challenges your rank as leader, then you probably have a dominant pet (see “Understanding Dominance in Dogs“). In this situation, it’s especially important that family rank and household rules be firmly established before your baby’s arrival.

Reinforce house rules and manners to remind your pet that you are the leader in your family. If your pet hasn’t learned basic manners or obedience commands, now is the time to start. Train your dog to sit and lie down on command. This physical control will be especially important when your arms are filled with your baby and various baby paraphernalia.

Be sure that your pet understands when (if ever) jumping onto people or things is appropriate. If cats have always had access to any surface in your home (counters, tables and so forth) you need to decide which places will be off-limits after the baby’s arrival. Start training your pet now to discourage him from jumping onto those places. Be considerate, though, and be sure to allow your cat access to some high-up places in your home. Dogs should only be allowed to jump when specific permission is given.

If your pet likes to spend time in your lap, teach him to ask permission before jumping up. You don’t have to eliminate lap-time completely, just limit access to those times when you can give him your full attention and an entire lap. Teach your pet that your voice, your look and your presence are also positive forms of attention — that you don’t always need to touch him to show affection. You can do this simply by talking calmly and pleasantly to your pet as he lies or sits nicely at your feet. Use his name, smile and make eye contact with him.

Insist on good manners from the beginning. Don’t accept any whining, growling or pushy behavior in an attempt to gain attention. Give your pet plenty of time and attention whenever you can, but not when he’s demanded it!

Plan short periods of play time, treat time and snuggle time with your pet – with and without your baby in the room. Meals should be eaten in the same room and at the same time whenever possible. Whenever anything inappropriate is in your pet’s mouth, offer him a treat in trade for the object, say “drop it” and when he takes the treat praise him enthusiastically and offer him a toy that he’s allowed to have. As a “rule of thumb,” if you don’t want it in your pet’s mouth, don’t leave it on the floor.

Encourage a positive relationship between your baby and your “furry child” by involving them in activities you can all enjoy. Settle into your favorite chair by a sunny window, with your baby in your lap and your cat on a table beside you, so you can stroke them both at the same time! Walk with your baby in a stroller and your dog on leash, just like you did before the baby came, but with this nice addition. Share mealtimes, and when your baby gets a treat or a toy, be sure your pet has something nice to hold, too.

Successful Cleaning to Remove Pet Odors and Stains

Has your pet left “scent marks” of urination and/or defecation on your floor or furniture? To successfully re-train your pet to avoid those areas, follow these basic steps:

  • Find all soiled areas using your nose and eyes. A black-light bulb will usually show even old urine stains. Turn out all lights in the room; use the black-light to identify soiled areas and lightly outline the areas with chalk.
  • Clean the soiled areas appropriately to remove the odors (see below).
  • Make the areas unattractive and/or unavailable (see dog or cat aversives).
  • Make the appropriate “bathroom” area attractive (see positive reinforcement, house soiling and/or litter box issues).
  • Teach your pet the appropriate place to eliminate by using positive reinforcement.

These steps work as a team! In order for your efforts to be successful, you need to follow all of these steps. If you fail to completely clean the area, your other re-training efforts will be useless. As long as your pet can smell that personal scent, he’ll continue to return to the “accident zone.” Even if you can’t smell traces of urine, your pet can. Your most important chore is to remove (neutralize) that odor.

Methods to Avoid

You should avoid using steam cleaners to clean urine odors from carpet or upholstery. The heat will permanently set the odor and the stain by bonding the protein into any man-made fibers. You should also avoid using cleaning chemicals, especially those with strong odors, such as ammonia or vinegar. From your pet’s perspective, these don’t effectively eliminate or cover the urine odor and may actually encourage your pet’s inclination to reinforce the urine scent mark in that area.

To Clean Washable Items

  • Machine wash as usual, adding a one pound box of baking soda to your regular detergent. If possible, it’s best to air dry these items.
  • If you can still see the stain or smell the urine, machine wash the item again and add an enzymatic cleaner. Be sure to follow the directions carefully.
  • During the re-training period, a good way to discourage your pet from using the bedding is to cover the bed with a vinyl, flannel-backed tablecloth. They’re machine washable, inexpensive and unattractive to your pet.

To Clean Carpeted Areas and Upholstery

  • Soak up as much of the urine as possible with a combination of newspaper and paper towels. The more fresh urine you can remove before it dries, especially from carpet, the simpler it will be to remove the odor. Place a thick layer of paper towels on the wet spot and cover that with a thick layer of newspaper. Stand on this padding for about a minute. Remove the padding and repeat the process until the area is barely damp.
  • If possible, take the fresh, urine-soaked paper towel to the area where it belongs — your cat’s litterbox or your dog’s designated outdoor “bathroom area” — and let your pet see you do it. Don’t act angry when you do this, but try to project a “happy” attitude to your pet. This will help to remind your pet that eliminating isn’t a “bad” behavior as long as it’s done in the right place.
  • Rinse the “accident zone” thoroughly with clean, cool water. After rinsing, remove as much of the water as possible by blotting or by using a “wet-vac,” “shop-vac” or “extractor.”
  • If you’ve previously used cleaners or chemicals of any kind on the area, then neutralizing cleaners won’t be effective until you’ve rinsed every trace of the old cleaner from the carpet. Even if you haven’t used chemicals recently, any trace of a non-protein-based substance will weaken the effect of the enzymatic cleaner. The cleaner will use up its “energy” on the old cleaners instead of on the protein stains you want removed.
  • To remove all traces of old chemicals and clean old or heavy stains in carpeting, consider renting an extractor or wet-vac from a local hardware store. This machine operates much like a vacuum cleaner and is efficient and economical. Extracting/wet-vac machines do the best job of forcing clean water through your carpet and then forcing the dirty water back out again. When using these machines or cleaners, be sure to follow the instructions carefully. Don’t use any chemicals with these machines – they work much more effectively with plain water.
  • Once the area is really clean, you should use a high-quality pet odor neutralizer available at pet supply stores. Test the affected surface for staining first, and read and follow the instructions.
  • If the area still looks stained after it’s completely dry from extracting and neutralizing, try any good carpet stain remover.
  • If urine has soaked down into the padding underneath your carpet, your job will be more difficult. You may need to remove and replace that portion of the carpet and padding.
  • Using the suggestions in our aversives, positive reinforcement and housetraining handouts, make the “accident zone” unattractive, the appropriate “bathroom” area attractive, and teach your pet where you want him to eliminate, instead. The re-training period may take a week or more. Remember, it took time to build the bad habit, and it will take time to replace that habit with a new, more acceptable behavior. Treat your pet with patience and give him a lot of encouragement!

To Clean Floors and Walls

If the wood on your furniture, walls, baseboard or floor is discolored, the varnish or paint has been affected by the acid in the urine. You may need to remove and replace the layer of varnish or paint. Employees at your local hardware or building supply store can help you identify and match your needs with appropriate removers and replacements. Washable enamel paints and some washable wallpapers, may respond favorably to enzymatic cleaners. Read the instructions carefully before using these products and test them in an invisible area.

Moving with Pets

Moving to a new home can be just as stressful on your pet as it is on you. Following are some tips to help you help your pet through this change of address.

  • Talk to your veterinarian at least three weeks before the move to determine if your pet will need medication for nervousness or car sickness.
  • Gather the supplies your pet will need during the move – food, water, medications, medical records, bedding and toys. It also helps to bring along some of your dirty laundry because the familiar scent of these belongings is comforting to your pet.
  • Keep your pet away from the moving-day activity by confining him to a room where he feels safe, otherwise, your pet could become frightened and bolt out the door unnoticed. It’s difficult to pack, move furniture, and keep an eye on your pet at the same time. Maybe you have a friendly place where your pet can stay during the packing and moving, like a neighbor, friend or boarding kennel. As much as possible, try not to disrupt his daily routine.
  • Be sure your dog or cat has a tag with your new phone number or the number of a friend so there will be someone to contact if your pet gets lost during the move. Visit our Soffer and Fine Adoption Center to purchase an ID tag for your pet.
  • Move small animals, like birds and hamsters, in their cages, covered with a lightweight fabric. Remove water and any other objects that might loosen and injure them. You must keep the temperature constant for these small friends to survive.
  • Unpack and settle in a bit before turning your pet loose in the house. Keep the doors to your extra rooms closed and slowly give your pet access to them as they become accustomed to their new home.
  • Orient your dog or cat to the new surroundings. If possible, try to place their favorite resting place (dog bed, chair or cushion) in the same position or area, as it was in your old home. Put their food and water bowls and toys in familiar places as well.
  • If you have a dog, walk him around the house, yard and block. If you have a cat, sit quietly and pet her, preferably while sitting in a familiar chair. Provide a place for your cat to hide (she’ll do this anyway). Make sure she’s eating, drinking and using her litter box.
  • Be patient, loving and reassuring with your pet, and they’ll adjust quickly to their new home.
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