If you’ve ever adopted a pet, you know you can be blinded by the excitement of your new furry friend before the reality of your new situation sets in. Sure you may have some idea that adopting a pet is a huge responsibility and undertaking, but actually bringing your pet home comes with an entirely new set of challenges. Despite how well you set up the food bowls and no matter how many new toys you bought your pet, adjusting to a new environment may not happen overnight.
But that doesn’t mean taking the chance on a rescue animal won’t come with a whole unexpected set of rewards, either.
“I tend to see pet ownership of rescue animals not as a luxury, a performative statement, or as a hobby, but as an act of humanity and compassion,” explains Yui Shapard, BVM&S, MRCVS, and medical director at Pawp. “These animals have been domesticated for our own selfish convenience and pleasure over thousands of years, then abandoned by us, and so the least we can do for them is to provide them with care, safety, and love throughout their life.”
If you’re adopting a rescue cat or dog, here’s what you can expect in terms of having your pet acclimate to their new home. Remember, just because you may get off to a slow start in the beginning doesn’t mean you and your pet won’t create a lifetime of bonds and memories after you get over the initial hump.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as every pet is different. Pets come with their own unique temperaments, just like people do. Their previous home or background could also influence the way they adapt to a new stable environment.
“Some rescue animals who have experienced abandonment several times or have moved from one place to the next may be more able to acclimate quickly, while others develop anxiety due to their ever-changing environment and may actually take more time to acclimate,” says Dr. Shapard.
In general, cats don’t do well in new environments and may take more time to adjust, but patience is key if you find yourself with an animal who is taking their time to feel at home.
Pets will tell you what they’re feeling through their behavior and body language. Retreating instead of socializing is one sign that your pet might not be feeling comfortable yet.
“House soiling and accidents are also common and it's important not to reprimand them when this happens,” says Dr. Shapard. “Decreased appetite or inappetence can also be apparent, as well as some other health concerns that may arise secondary to the stress of being in a new environment.”
Cats may be a bit more sensitive than dogs, and may experience a decreased immune system due to all of the cortisol (stress hormone) they’re releasing as they adjust to a new space.
“This will be evident by symptoms such as sneezing, nasal discharge, eye discharge, swelling around the eyes and squinting of the eyes,” says Dr. Shapard.
The most important thing you can do as a new pet parent is to prepare a dedicated space for your new pet. Adding in a synthetic pheromone diffuser (Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats) has been shown to help relax dogs and cats when they’re in unfamiliar environments, notes Dr. Shapard.
Here are a few more tips/ tricks for bringing your new pet home, according to Dr. Shapard:
Have high-reward treats ready
Have plenty of new toys
For cats, sprinkle catnip in their designated area
Separate your new pet from existing pets (ie. give them their own bed, toys, etc).
Bring home blankets or toys from the shelter that your pet was familiar with
Don’t force play; let them approach you on their own
Rest assured that by deciding to adopt a rescue animal, you’ve already taken a huge step towards changing the life of an animal. The rest will eventually fall into place.
“From working in both shelters and general practices and seeing the bond of pet parents and their rescued pets, I've found that the rescued animals become very devoted and loyal companions, as they have experienced the harsh reality of the world and have experienced what it feels like to be abandoned by the very people they loved,” says Dr. Shapard.
If you have any questions about your rescue pet's behavior, health, or nutrition, reach out to the Vet Pros at Pawp—we're here to help 24/7.