New Year, New Pet: Preparing for your new puppy or kitten By Dr. Emma Bush

It is the start of the New Year and we are all excited about what the coming months will bring. Many of us are considering welcoming new additions to the family, namely new puppies and kittens. Some may even have already had a new pet come to them, found underneath the Christmas tree.
In any of these cases, it is important to prepare yourself for having a new pet in your home. Whether it is your first puppy or kitten, or one to join your pets that you already have, certain considerations must be made as you ready yourself for your new addition. This blog post will aim to address some commonly asked questions about how to prepare yourself for a new puppy or kitten in your household.

Coming Home                

Puppies and kittens commonly are leave their mothers/their breeders and go to their new homes at around 8-10 weeks of age. At this point they should be fully weaned and should have had their first exam by a veterinarian and their first round of vaccinations. As per law in Nova Scotia, every puppy or kitten should be examined by a veterinarian prior to sale. This age is also important as it is a key time for socialization. Puppy’s key socialization period is from 3-14 weeks of age. A similar timeline is also applicable for kittens. In the first 8-10 weeks of their life they learn important socialization skills from their mother and their siblings, beyond that they start to learn about the larger world through you (their new owner) and what you introduce them to.

House Training for Puppies

 Some puppies will come to you already house-trained from their breeder. However, many puppies are still leaning to control their bathroom habits when they are brought to their new homes. Puppies often have both small bladders and small attention spans. It is important to recognize this and take them outside, and/or to their pee-pad if you are using this alternate method, multiple times a day; particularly after naps and/or eating in an effort to aid in them leaning appropriate housetraining and having the opportunities to relieve themselves as much as possible. Some people opt to crate train as well when house-training their dog. If your puppy has an accident in the house, do not punish them or take them to their accident. Instead, clean it up and move on. Focus on praising appropriate elimination behaviors and do not punish inappropriate elimination. Just like people, animals learn from positive affirmation and associations. This positive affirmation also applies to any behavior that you want to train your dog. Avoid aversive or punishing behaviors as these can cause your dog to be fearful; instead ignore and disengage from the unwanted behaviors; and reward the good ones. A key example of this that I like to mention is when your puppy is chewing on things (and they absolutely will as they are teething) or if they are playing rough. In these situations, dogs will take any engagement as play behavior which is actually a reward. Instead, I recommend disengaging from them and providing them with an appropriate outlet to chew on or play with.  

House Training for Kittens

Kittens are a bit of a different situation in terms of housetraining and will often come to their new homes already comfortable with using their litterbox. A general rule of thumb for how many litterboxes are recommended per household for cats is the total number of cats in the household and then add 1 (2 litterboxes for a 1 cat household; 3 for a 2 cat household, and so on). It is also recommended to have those litterboxes in different locations, even on different floors of your home if you have a multi-level house. Cats often prefer their litterboxes to be away from high traffic/high noise areas and also away from their food and water dishes. Cats and kittens also like to be clean, so cleaning litterboxes 1-2 times per day is recommended. There are various different sizes and shapes of litterboxes as well as different litter options – it can take some trial to see what your cat likes best. Similar to with puppies, if inappropriate elimination occurs outside of the litterbox, do not punish your kitten; clean it up and move on. However, if they continue to urinate or defecate outside of the litterbox, please contact your veterinarian as there may be a medical cause for inappropriate use or non-use of the litterbox.

Socialization and Handling for Puppies

 Appropriate socialization and meeting other dogs and people is very important for puppies – I will commonly say that “this is how they learn how to be a dog”. However, it important to do this in a safe manor. Dogs should not be coming into contact with many other dogs until they are at least part way through their vaccination series, ideally at least beyond their second round of boosters. However, dogs should not wait to meet other dogs until after this time, due to their socialization window as noted above. Because of this, I recommend having a couple dogs that you know are healthy and up to date on their vaccines (either belonging to family or friends – or even your own dogs if you have other pets at home) that can interact and play with your new puppy in a safe space for their important socialization milestones as they are growing. It is recommended to avoid busy, high-dog-traffic areas like dog parts, doggy day care and off-leash dog-parks during this stage of life to reduce risk of contracting a possible pathogen. Meeting other people and exploring new situations are important as well so that your dog recognizes that the world is bigger than your home. Do not push your puppy to interact if they are stressed or fearful; allow them to observe and take themselves to the new person or place, rather than forcing them into an interaction that they may be unsure of.

 As puppies age, further socialization is recommended. Puppies (and kittens) get vaccinated 3-4 times every 4 weeks until they are over 16 weeks of age for appropriate coverage for key pathogens. Stay tuned, more information on vaccines will be covered in future blogs posts.  Once puppies are up to date on vaccines, I recommend a puppy socialization/behavior class for continued socialization and gaining some key training tools, both for you and for your new puppy. If puppies do not get appropriate socialization by a young age, their risk of anxiety in unfamiliar interactions and situations becomes much higher.                

Some other things that I recommend with new puppies are getting them used to thorough handling and meeting new people. Thorough handling includes around their paws, ears and teeth. The earlier you start this, the easier this will make future nail trims, ear cleanings (if applicable) and tooth brushing easier to accomplish.

Socialization and Handling for Kittens

Kitten socialization looks different depending on whether your kitten will be an Indoor-only cat, or if they will go outside. Indoor only cats are at lower risk of infectious diseases, fights with other animals, getting lost, and/or being hit by a motor vehicle and as such this is what is commonly recommended. That being said, these cats will require more stimulation through toys, cat trees (multiple levels that they can go on), scratching posts, and/or interaction with other cats or people. Playing with your kitten is a vital part of enriching your kitten’s life and building a bond between yourself and your pet. However, it is important to not instill unwanted behaviors in your new kitten at a young age. Things like biting and scratching should be discouraged by disengaging from play if your kitten attempts this. Use a toy for them to play with as opposed to your hand.

 If you already have cats at home, a slow introduction to your new kitten is recommended. First, have your new kitten in a separate room and let them smell/hear each other through a closed door. Over time, you can move items that the kitten sleeps on or plays with out into the general area with your other cats for them to smell to get used to. You can then slowly introduce them to one-another in a monitored environment. Do not be discouraged if they do not get along right away as cats can have a delicate social hierarchy and it can take time for a newcomer to be welcomed. If your cats are having a very difficult time adjusting to one another and/or if they are fighting with one another, please contact your veterinarian for advice.

Similar to puppies, careful handling is recommended from a young age with kittens – allowing them to approach new situations and not forcing them; as well as careful handling of paws, ears and teeth is important to start early.

This is nowhere near a complete list of considerations and recommendations when adding a puppy or kitten to your household, but is instead a brief summary with key focus on introduction to the home, house training and socialization. If you have any questions about bringing a new puppy or kitten into your home, please contact your veterinarian to discuss. Regular vet visits once you get your new puppy or kitten are recommended with vaccination at 4 week intervals. Please contact your veterinarian about exam and vaccine protocols for your new pet.

Stay tuned as more information on spay and neuter will be coming soon via our next blog post!

References used:

What first time puppy owners should know:

What first time kitten owner should know:

Importance of socializing puppies and kittens:

AAHA New Kitten Checklist: