Whether your new pet is a holiday gift, or you decided it was time for another member of the family, there is a lot of work to be done. Before you introduce your new puppy or kitten to the rest of your pets, it is probably best to "quarantine" the youngster for a week.
A sick pet may incubate an infection and look healthy for up to a week before he starts to become ill -- and this is ample time for him to pass that infection on to the other pets in your household. A proper physical exam within the first week will help to determine if your new arrival has an infection that can be spread to the other pets.
If your pet was vaccinated or de-wormed before you adopted it, make sure you have proof of the type and manufacturer of the product used. There are a lot of vaccines and de-wormers available -- and many of them just aren't that good. It's very frustrating and disappointing when a new pet owner believes that his pet is "protected," only to find that the products used were not effective.
If possible, slowly introduce your new pet to the established household animals. Puppies tend to have no social skills, and they are likely to immediately jump on and attempt to play with your older dog. Older dogs are usually good about letting a puppy know when he's become a nuisance, but you should still supervise their play to make sure that the older dog isn't too rough disciplining the puppy.
Cats that are established in a household generally ignore kittens for awhile. I think they're hoping that the kitten will just go away. Only after they realize that the kitten is here to stay, will older cats start to interact with the newest and most energetic member of the family. Some cats will eventually become friends with the kitten, others won't. I can't explain why -- they are cats, after all.
A puppy should eat puppy food, and a kitten should eat kitten food. Adult pets should not eat food meant for youngsters -- it is too rich in calories and protein, and can cause a lot of health problems. Do not mix milk in with your new pet's food, and do not soak any dry food in water. These are common mistakes that can really upset your new pet's digestion. Ultimately, it is best for all pets to eat hard, crunchy food. A kitten or puppy may need a combination of canned food and dry food for a month or more as their digestive system matures.
It is important to treat your new pet for fleas. Fleas are relentless blood suckers, and puppies and kittens don't have a lot of extra blood to donate! Many of the over-the-counter flea treatments are too poisonous for puppies and kittens. There are some fantastic flea products available that are effective and safe, but you will need to get them from your veterinarian. This is not an area where you want to cut corners -- a flea product that is too strong can kill a puppy or kitten.
Pets are "creatures of habit." They quickly learn our routines and schedule. It is best to try and establish that schedule as soon as possible when you get your new puppy or kitten home. Don't let the puppy sleep in the bed with you for the first week, if you plan on having it sleep in a traveling crate later.
A final word of advice: Don't let your pet train you.
Even at a young age, puppies and kittens are very good at figuring out who in the household they can manipulate. They will have you jumping through hoops, feeding them lunch meat, picking them up whenever they cry, etc., if you let them. Set some rules and stick with them. Your reward -- a well-behaved and loving member of the family.
Dr. Jon Klingborg is a veterinarian associated with Valley Animal Hospital in Merced. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org