We are happy to announce the newest member of our family! It’s a beautiful and healthy boy… with four legs, a tail, and pale beige fur.
Adding another member to our large household wasn’t a decision we made lightly. After all, we already have seven humans and one dog living under our roof. But given the state of the world and the news these days, we decided we needed a positive distraction. The time seemed right to add another four-legged friend to our family, and since we already had a dog, we decided to adopt a cat.
I’ve always been more of a cat person than a dog person, so I took the lead on finding our new pet. It’s been over a decade since we adopted our dog, and in that time I’d forgotten how much adopting a pet is similar to having a new baby.
Things to consider before adding a pet to your family:
What type of animal would be appropriate for your family’s lifestyle?
This should go without saying, but there are so many factors to consider here. It’s important to think about every aspect of your family’s situation before you adopt a pet. Are you gone for long periods of time, or do you travel a lot? Will you be moving anytime soon, and if so, are you able to take your pet with you? (This an especially big problem in Iowa City; many people adopt pets and can’t take them when they graduate and/or move.) Do you want a low-maintenance pet, or one who will thrive on activity and interaction? Does anyone in your family have allergies? It may take months of research and thought, but patience is worth it in order to ensure a perfect match for your family.
Be clear about your expectations.
It’s important to have a clear sense of what you want and expect of a pet with regard to behavior and temperament. Don’t be afraid to hold firm to those expectations and communicate them clearly to your kids. For instance, that adorable, energetic puppy they beg for at the shelter may be tempting, even though you had a mellow older dog in mind. But there’s probably a reason an older dog was your first choice; maybe you didn’t want your pet to chew, or you wanted a dog that was already housebroken. Whatever the reason, being realistic and holding to your expectations will ensure that you choose a pet that is truly right for your family.
Be understanding when there are bumps in the road.
Similar to having a new baby, bringing a pet into your home will change the household dynamic, and the adjustment period might not always be smooth. This doesn’t mean that your new pet isn’t right for your family. It can take time for your new friend to get acclimated to your home, and it can take time for you and your kids to adjust to a new routine as well. It can also take time for pets and humans to warm up to each other. Initially our kitten and our 3-year-old were very resentful of one another. They would squabble over time on my lap and would act up when my attention was divided. However, after a few days, the two of them became fast friends. They adore each other now (provided the 3-year-old is gentle in his handling of the cat!)
Younger pets require a lot more work.
This was something I didn’t anticipate when looking for our cat. Our dog was a year and a half old when we adopted her, but when we began looking for our cat, we felt a very young kitten would be better. The shelter staff confirmed our theory—with both kids and a dog already in the home, a young kitten would be more adaptable than an older cat. As such, we ended up choosing a kitten that was just three months old. I assumed that since cats tend to be more low maintenance, our cat’s age wouldn’t be as much of a factor.
I quickly learned that we would have to take similar precautions with our kitten as we did when our kids were babies and toddlers. We’ve had to “kitten proof” our house and focus on redirecting negative behavior. In some cases, this is more difficult than toddler proofing. For instance, have you ever seen a toddler find their way into the ceiling rafters, fall out of a hung ceiling panel, bounce off a washing machine and land on their feet unharmed? I haven’t. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!)
It’s important to keep cats and dogs out of dangerous household chemicals, but placing them on a high shelf doesn’t work with a kitten that has incredible leaping ability and agility. We’ve discovered certain rooms are off limits, and after two emergencies where we thought we had lost the cat completely, we’re viewing even the tiniest nook and cranny of our house as a potential hazard and/or hiding place. Our kitty needs to be monitored most of the time, and if we can’t keep track of his whereabouts we place him in his designated “safe room.”
Be realistic about how much kids can help with the pet.
Having a furry friend is a great way to teach a kid responsibility, but it’s important to make sure pet care chores are appropriate for a child’s age and maturity level. Younger kids should always be supervised with pet chores until they are old enough to do the job well by themselves. If you leave these tasks completely up to your kids, you might end up with a very hungry pet or an unpleasantly dirty cage or fish tank, etc. Litter box maintenance should be reserved for teenagers or adults since cat waste can contain bacteria and parasites that could be harmful to younger kids. (And remember, pregnant women should never clean the litter box.)
Welcoming a new pet into your home can be challenging, but in the end it’s very rewarding. With the right amount of patience and work you can have many years of joy with your furry family members.
We would like to say a special thank you to the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center for their help in adopting our new kitten!