If you already love having animals, adopting a rescue pet might be one of the best decisions you ever make. In the UK alone, there are an estimated 100,000 dogs and countless cats in need of a home at any time. Giving these animals a new home and a second chance is an act of great kindness, and it can be enormously rewarding. However, rescuing a pet can be challenging too. Your new pet may have had a difficult life or have been badly treated by humans in the past. Helping them to settle in will require a lot of time, love and patience. It’s demanding – but you can do it as long as you know what to expect and take the time to prepare. Here’s what you need to know when you’re welcoming a rescue pet into your life.
Prepare your home
Any pet owner will know the importance of pet-proofing their home, but this is especially important if you’re adopting a rescue animal who might be coming from a strange or upsetting environment. Even if there’s something in your home that doesn’t represent an obvious hazard, don’t assume that your new pet won’t work out a way of jumping up on it, chewing through it, or eating it. Tape any dangling electrical cords to the floor, put cleaning fluids and any other chemicals in high cupboards, and use pet gates to make sure that your new friend can’t get to any rooms where they might cause mischief.
Introduce new sensations slowly
A vacuum cleaner, a toilet flushing, or even a running tap might alarm your new pet, depending on their previous life experiences. It’s important to be aware of the fact that they are especially sensitive even if they haven’t been abandoned or abused, and they might react dramatically to unexpected sights, sounds and smells. If your pet becomes alarmed by new sensations, keep calm, and speak to them in soothing, steady tones. Try to keep introducing them to the source, gently. For example, if the doorbell bothers them, practise ringing the doorbell for a moment every day, while encouraging them to sit or lie down. Give them plenty of treats when they do well!
Give your new pet space and time
The key is to provide them with consistency, and to make sure you’re available to them when they need you, while ensuring they don’t feel overwhelmed and overcrowded. Be gentle and observe their behaviour – if they seem slow or uncertain, or aggressive and overwhelmed, make sure they have time to use all of their senses and independently explore their new environment. Rescue pets are especially prone to experiencing separation anxiety. If you stay in the room with them while they get to know their new space, you can build a bond of trust. Toys can help them to adjust to extreme separation anxiety too. If your rescue pet is an adult, try to select an animal which is – to the best of your knowledge – accustomed to other pets. Adding a towel or t-shirt which has your new animal’s smell to your current pet’s bed will help them socialise. They’ll be the best of friends in no time.
Reward, don’t punish
Most new pets need to be disciplined, in order to learn from their mistakes. Nevertheless, because of some rescues’ background, verbal correction might confuse them. This is because they’ll tend to associate it with an earlier period of their life, not understanding what they’re being disciplined for. Instead, focus on giving your pet treats and attention in order to celebrate their good behaviour. They’ll learn more quickly from consistent rewards than from punishment. Remember that rescue animals are never purposefully naughty. If they act up, it’s because they are frightened. Be as loving and patient as possible.
Go back to school
Looking after your new companion will be hard work, and you don’t have to do it alone. Any animal charity near you will be able to recommend good training courses, where you and your new pet can learn to bond with each other and behave well in a supportive environment. It’s also a great place to meet other pet owners, share experiences and ask for advice.
Make some play dates
One way to help them to relax is to introduce them to other animals. Whether it’s a local walking group, a trip to see a friend with pets or even a Skype chat with animal loving relatives, other animals can introduce your new friend to new experiences and encourage some fun interactions. However, make sure that you don’t overwhelm your pet. It’s best if these experiences are short and frequent. Watch out for any signs of anxiety or them being overwhelmed such as excessive grooming or stomach upset in cats or trembling or a tucked tail in dogs.
Don’t give up
When you rescue a pet, every single day is different, but making your new friend feel safe is the most important thing of all. This means showing them that you’ll take care of them and, before long, they’ll be as much part of your family as your other animals.
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