Have your new pets checked over by a vet, especially before bringing them into a home where you already have other animals, to quickly catch, treat and prevent the spread of any diseases that may have been contracted while in the pet shop or shelter. You wouldn't want a joyous moment to turn into a tragedy. It's also important to have the vet take care of any necessary shots and routine worming treatments and such.
Have your home all ready for your new arrivals before you actually bring them home. Buy pet beds and food bowls, toys and litter boxes, brushes and leashes. Have everything in place when you welcome your pets to their new home and, of course, lay in a good supply of pet food that will provide them with well balanced diets. Junk food is just as bad for pets as it is for people !
Before your pet arrives you and your children should give your home a good going over to remove anything that might be dangerous to pets. The image of a puppy chewing on a slipper is a familiar one, but that same puppy or a might also chew on electrical cords. Poinsettias are poisonous to cats, plus cats may swallow Christmas tinsel or pieces of string and yarn which can block their intestines. Go around your home and conceal wires, store medications and household cleaning products, and put sharp objects out of reach. Learn which house plants might be poisonous if ingested, and don't leave heavy objects where they might get knocked over. Make it into a game in which your children search for potential pet dangers and come up with ways to remove each one.
Puppies and kittens will invariably get into everything that they have access to, so be careful that they do not get closed into drawers or climb into kitchen appliances. Take the same kind of precautions that you'd take with very young children in the house. Teach your kids to keep your pet's safety in mind at all times. Animals have a tendency to be forever underfoot, so teach your children to move slowly and gently and to look before they take a step or sit down. Teach them to open doors slowly, in case a furry little someone is just behind that door.
When your new pets first come home, try to give them a quiet spot and plenty of time to acclimate to their new environment. Sights, sounds and smells will all play a role as your pets gradually learn their way around their new homes. Don't overstress new pets with too much noisy attention and fussing. Too many hands reaching out to pat them or pick them up may be frightening. Let pets gradually get accustomed to the children in the house. With lots of love and affection and socialization practice your new pet should soon find its place within the family. Supervise young children until they've learned how to be gentle and considerate of pets' needs and feelings: no sudden noises, no tail-pulling, no dressing pets up in human clothing, no teasing them. As your children come to understand why they should not do these things, they will learn to respect their fellow creatures as autonomous beings and they will grow up to be compassionate, caring adults.
Be cautious when introducing new pets to pets already living in the house, to avoid conflicts. Give your older pets plenty of attention and affection, so as to prevent jealousy and any resulting aggression. Take care not to ignore them in favor of the new arrival, just as you would be careful to not ignore your older children when a new baby is born into the family. For animals there may be territoriality issues to work out and strange new scents to decipher. You must also take precautions when introducing your new pet to his outdoor environment and new yard or neighborhood, to avoid undue disorientation and anxiety or worse.
As new pets settle into the routine of daily life at your house, you and your kids can put into practice all the pet care tips that you've read about: provide your pets with a healthy diet, always give them access to fresh, clean water, encourage plenty of exercise in a safe environment and keep up with all required vaccinations and other medical treatments. And never leave pets in hot parked cars in the summertime, as temperatures inside cars can quickly rise and threaten the lives of animals closed inside.
Take care of every one of your pet's needs, from daily brushings to periodic toenail trimmings to annual shots. Give pets toys that are safe to play with, with no pointy edges that could poke eyes or jab throats. Your pets use their mouths to play with objects, so no small parts that might be bitten off or swallowed. Respect an animal's need for privacy. When your pets need some quiet time alone, be sure that they get it. Give them nice soft beds, boxes to climb into and other safe hidey holes in out-of-the-way places. Teach your kids to respect your pet's moods and to not bother them when they're sleeping. The better your children know the animals who live in your house, and the more involved they are in your pet's care and daily routines, the closer they'll be to them and the more they'll love them.
The unquestioning love that animals, such as cats and dogs, can give to humans is one of the nicest gifts that you can give to your children, and the best gift that you can give to your pets is the unconditional love that you and your kids feel for them. The love that pets give to humans can also help kids through difficult times. Trusted dogs or cats will actively seek out attention, play and cuddling, and their companionship will be constant when friends and schools and other things may change. Pets are always there to listen to children's troubles, share their joys, and keep them company during times of loneliness, and children can confide their secrets to their pet with the absolute certainty that the animal will never betray their confidence.
That sort of absolute love and devotion can bring children and animals together in such a special way, and that inter-species bond can help your children grow up to be compassionate adults who feel more connected to the natural world. Pets give their best to us and, in return, we should do our best for them. They deserve all the love, time, attention, play, and affection that your children, and you, can give them.
Pets are not toys, they are members of the family. When new pets are added to a household, with proper care and with plenty of love, they will soon find their place within your hearts and your lives and you'll all wonder how you ever could have gotten along without them !
Barbara Freedman-De Vito has been involved with children and animals for many years. She's been a teacher, children's librarian, wildlife rehabilitator, artist and writer on topics related to both children and animals. Her husband, Bob, has also run an animal shelter and done animal rescue work. You can see I Love My Dog T-Shirts, Bumper Stickers, Mugs, Magnets and other dog gifts in her shop.