Dreaming of the pitter-patter of four little feet? Adopting a pet from an animal shelter provides an animal a better life, and it’s the ideal way to do some good in the world while making yourself happy, too.

Before you rush into pet adoption, though, it’s important to remember that it’s a big responsibility — one that could last for decades if you’re blessed with a strong, healthy companion. To make sure bringing home a new pet is really right for your family, there are questions you should ask (and answer honestly!) before you take your new, furry friend home.

Here’s how to make sure your home and life are ready for a pet, and how to know that the rescue cat or pup you’re smitten with is a good fit for your family.

Questions About You

First thing’s first: Do you have what it takes to be a pet parent? It’s a big responsibility, and with it comes changes to your lifestyle. Ask yourself these important questions to gauge your willingness to do what it takes to provide a safe, loving home for an animal for the long haul.

1. Do All Members of Your Household Want a Pet?

If you’re a bona fide animal lover, it’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of looking for a pet that you might forget about everyone else you live with. Double check with your family —or roommates — to make sure everyone is truly on board. It’s also a good idea to check up on any suspected allergies or phobias to make sure you’re ready. If you have small children, ask them several times to be sure, and go on a few test runs to visit with your friends’ dogs and cats. If your child seems nervous, unhappy, or inappropriately rough with those animals, you may need to cool your heels on the adoption process until everyone is mature enough to handle an animal on a more permanent basis. If not everyone is as enthusiastic, can you reach an agreement about who will be the pet’s primary caregiver and how you’ll divide pet care responsibilities among family members?

2. Is Your Home Pet-Proof?

Take a good look around your home or apartment. Is it safe for a curious animal to come home to? A lot goes in to puppy-proofing your home: You’ll need to keep breakables out of the way of curious paws and wagging tails. It’s a good idea to secure cords and cover unused outlets, and you’ll also want to consider using baby gates to keep your new buddy out of dangerous places like the kitchen. For cat lovers, have you figured out where you’ll locate the litter box? You’ll also want to add protective coverings to furniture legs to avoid scratches, and you may even need to modify your property to include pet doors and/or secure fencing around at least a portion of your yard. If you live in a condo community, do you have permission for the type of pet you want? These are all important safety considerations that will protect both your pet and your possessions from accidents.

3. Can You Afford a Pet?

Owning a pet can be a surprisingly expensive endeavor, and few people are truly prepared for just how much their furry friends will cost them over the course of their lives. According to veterinary students at the University of Pennsylvania, the average annual cost of owning a dog for its first year is over $3,000 — and the price goes up the larger the dog is. These costs include food, supplies, preventive medications like heartworm pills and tick treatments, as well as routine medical care. The cost of cat care is similar to that of a small dog, but they tend to live longer, which means they could cost more over the long run. By some estimates the average annual cost of owning a single cat is $856, while overall Americans report spending over $500 on pets each year. If you haven’t worked out how this number will affect your budget and your lifestyle, it’s worth doing the hard math to make sure you can actually afford to take on a new animal.

Questions About Your Prospective Pet

Once you know you’re ready, what about that cute dog or cat? Before you get your heart set on a particular animal at the shelter, you need to know as much about it as you can to understand its needs, background and ability to adjust to life in your home.

4. Does the Shelter Have Records of the Animal’s History?

Ask for your prospective pet’s story. Sometimes there will be a whole dossier with lots of useful information provided by someone who had to give up a pet at the shelter because they were moving or could no longer take care of it. In other cases, the animal may have been a stray and all you’ll get are its latest medical checkup report and the story of where it was found and what condition it was in when it was picked up. Knowing as much as possible about an animal’s medical history will help you estimate future expenses and its needs, so get as much information as you can.

5. What’s the Animal’s Temperament?

Even without a clear history, the workers at the shelter should be able to tell you about a potential pet’s personality based on their breed and interactions with the other animals. These guys are pros that really understand animal minds, so ask all about how well the animal gets along with others — especially children. Take their observations and advice seriously and choose a personality that will be a good fit for your family. If you already have your heart set on a specific breed, look into breed-specific rescue groups.

6. What Medial Treatment Is Required?

Some shelter animals have ongoing medical needs. Be sure to ask about known medical conditions, dietary restrictions and required medications — including whether the pet has been spayed or neutered yet. The answers you get will help you figure out how much care your pet will need — and how much it’s likely to cost over the years.

7. Is the Animal House Trained?

In the excitement of choosing a new furry companion, it’s easy to forget this one! One of the benefits of rescuing an older animal is that it’s likely to be housebroken already — but never assume that this is the case! Consider how much effort and time you’ll need to spend training a pet before you decide.

Once you’ve thought long and hard about these questions, you’ll have the information you need to decide if a pet is right for you — and if you’re right for pet ownership. Take your time in thinking over your options, and don’t rush into adoption. There are many wonderful animals out there, but there’s no need to force the timing or the process. You’ll know when you find the perfect new companion to adopt!

Feeling Inspired?

Get our free recurring email with The Elements of Living's most inspiring
decor ideas, delicious recipes, and more.

Close