Many of our wonderful patients have come from shelters and rescue organizations. KUDO’s to those folks who open up their hearts and homes. Following is some information regarding adopting shelter pets.

The team at Oakland Veterinary Referral Services wants to cover a few common challenges with shelter pets or rescues, in order to better prepare you for a successful and informed adoption process:

Behavioral Issues Among Rescue Pets
Behavioral issues are common among the homeless pet population. Many of these animals have faced traumatic and abusive backgrounds, or have experienced some degree of neglect. It will take extra care at first to help them adjust to family life.

Anxiety and Fear
Most pets will be apprehensive when you bring them home. Rescued animals often react more fearfully than a normal pet might. Much of this has to do with a lack of socialization or stress. Those who have been at the shelter longest usually have the most anxiety. As you might imagine, a shelter is loud, bright, noisy, and chaotic. 

It will take time to get your pet acclimated to their new home. Create a calm, quiet, secure place for them while they adjust to your home. Introduce other pets slowly, preferably after a week of adjustment, so that your new pet will be more laid back.

A big proponent of aggression is an underlying fear. If you introduce your pet to other animals in the home, there may be immediate conflict. Your resident cat or dog will try to protect their territory if a new pet suddenly is there, in “their space”. Reduce this reaction with how you introduce your new pet. We recommend a slow introduction, in a neutral spot like a park, when bringing in a new dog to meet other resident dogs.

Accidents and Marking
Not being litter box trained or housebroken is a big problem for shelter pets, and one that ends up landing them back in the shelter. Understand that your pet will be afraid and may not know where to “go” until you train them. They may even be afraid to go in certain places if another animal in the home is dominating them or marking territory.

Other issues that contribute to litter box or housebreaking problems:

Too young to have received house training or litter box training
Separation anxiety
Fear urination also called submission urination
Not enough litter boxes per cat (ideally should have two per cat)

Health problems
These are behaviors that you can address through proper training and socialization. It is highly recommended to work with a professional trainer or behaviorist if any of the problems worsen.

Common Health Challenges with Shelter Pets
As you might expect, shelter pets have been exposed to parasites and health issues out in the world. Some have been on the streets or in rural areas for some time before coming to the shelter. Most shelters and rescues do a great job of providing veterinary care and basic vaccinations to these pets. There are other issues, though, that could exist among a shelter pet population.

Kennel cough — Kennel cough and canine flu are highly contagious viruses that can spread quickly among animals, especially those that without increased resistance provided by flu or kennel cough vaccinations
Intestinal parasites — A shelter pet has likely encountered internal parasites from ingesting garbage, food, feces, etc.
Fleas, ticks, and ear mites — Most rescue animals will have these, though the shelter may have dealt with most of them already
Diarrhea and vomiting — Gastrointestinal problems sometimes occur from changes in diet, as well as the initial stress

These are the more common challenges with shelter pets, but they are all challenges that you can overcome with patience, proper intervention, and love. If the team at OVRS can help answer any of your questions about challenges with shelter pets, we are here to help. We also have veterinary behaviorists on staff for tough issues. We believe that with a little perseverance plus good at-home and veterinary care, your new pet will be on their way to an extraordinary life with you.