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The Biggest Mistake New Pet Owners Make, Vets Say

There are many basic preparations you need to make before bringing your new pet home.

When you get a new pet, chances are you've done your research–finding out what Fido or Fluffy's diet should be (and having plenty of this food on hand), deciding where they'll live and sleep, and learning what health and behavior issues are common, to name a few topics. But there are certain things you may not be able to garner from a Google search. Read on to hear from veterinarians and pet experts about the common things new pet parents forget—and the biggest mistake of them all. These preparations aren't difficult, and as long as you stay organized, your new best friend will be happy and healthy for years to come.

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Get your house ready.

A jack Russell dog waiting on his home's welcome mat with his leash in his mouth.
Javier Brosch / Shutterstock

The last thing you'll want to do when you get your new pet home is leave them alone while you run out for supplies. That's why Shannon Griffin, dog groomer and owner of Hound Therapy, says it's so important to get your home ready for the animal's arrival—much like how expecting parents will baby-proof their living spaces. "As a responsible new parent, you need to have the essentials for not only caring for your pet but training them, too. You'll need a collar, food, leash, and crate if it's a puppy and a litter box if it's a cat, bowls, toys, and whatever treats you want to feed them."

Book your appointments in advance.

Person About to Write in a Calendar
Pra Chid / Shutterstock

Unless you have many other pets at home, you'll want to "socialize your pet as early as possible," says Daniel Caughill, a co-founder of The Dog Tale. "Early and frequent socialization is foundational for a well-behaved pet. Puppies and kittens that never interact with other animals, strangers, or children may turn into hostile adults. This can be a lifelong nuisance since you won't be able to visit dog parks or let your pet mingle with company." Professional dog trainer Corrine Gearhart recommends finding a socialization class and scheduling the first session for about a week after your pet's arrival.

Gearhart says that grooming appointments are also important to have in place if you're bringing home a high-grooming-need dog such as a doodle. If you're worried about their vaccinations not being complete, she suggests booking a mobile groomer.

And, most importantly, vet appointments often need to be scheduled weeks in advance, especially if it's your pet's first visit. Gearhart advises new pet parents to find a good vet (online reviews are always helpful) and have a first checkup appointment scheduled for the next business day after you bring your new pet home. If you adopted a pet from a shelter, viruses like upper respiratory infections are common, so it's a good idea to have a vet screening right away.

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Be aware of medical care.

A tiny orange kitten being examined at the vet.
FamVeld / Shutterstock

One thing people worry about is the expense of a pet's medical care. You've likely heard scary stories about emergencies and even routine pet care draining bank accounts. Pet insurance is a good way to offset these costs, but just as with human insurance, it isn't something you should rush into.

"Getting pet insurance can wait until you are more experienced with caring for your pup. This is because some of the conditions that you can be covered for might not have shown up yet," explains Jen Jones, professional dog trainer, behavior specialist, and founder of Your Dog Advisor. This is why that first vet appointment is so important. "If you are a new fur parent, the best thing you can initially do is to be able to identify your [pet's] needs quickly… during the first week (or even months) of owning a pet, we don't know what our pet needs as far as care and attention," says Jones.

But never skip pet insurance.

Close up of a person paying for pet insurance on their laptop with their credit card. / Shutterstock

Just because experts say it's fine not to have pet insurance immediately, neglecting it in the long term is a major mistake. And one of the most important things to pay attention to is the price of the plan. "I wouldn't look for the most affordable, I would look for the most reliable," a veterinarian tells Best Life. "Pet insurance covers unexpected accidents and illnesses. Depending on the plan you choose, you can also opt to add Routine Care, which provides coverage for preventative health care items such as teeth cleaning, vaccinations, and worming up to a limit."

To help with choosing an insurance provider and plan, a veterinarian says new pet parents should do their research on "the kind of pet, its basic needs, the projected financials it needs, the food, the nearest vet, the common behavioral issues, common diseases, psychological needs of the animal, and so on."

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Do your homework on coverage options.

A young couple sitting at the table checking their finances, while the man holds a small white dog.
urbazon / iStock

It can be quite confusing trying to decide which type of plan to go with, especially if money is an object for you. Accident and illness plans are the most common options, covering accidents plus illnesses such as digestive issues, allergies, cancer, and infections. Like any insurance, premiums depend on many factors, including the age of the pet, pre-existing conditions being excluded, and the deductible.

"Many pet insurance companies offer quotes and tools to find what best meets your needs. You should check them out and do your homework about their coverage. It does not cover routine things like shots and exams. Know what you are buying," advises a veterinarian.

Also consider the age of your pet, as puppies and kittens have different insurance needs than adult animals. "Look for an insurance policy that offers a puppy package," Caughill says. "Puppies and kittens come with considerable vet expenses during their first few months."

Griffin adds that you may want to "pass on a wellness plan since the premiums and routine care appointments wind up being about the same cost." She also notes that if your pet has a pre-existing condition (they've fallen ill or been injured) it could be best to hold off on insurance altogether. "Pet insurance will only cover new ailments, so you would be wasting your money if you're buying it for a current condition."

If your new pet does have an existing condition, Caughill notes that there are certain insurance plans available that "will cover issues unrelated to the pre-existing situation." He adds that it's important to be proactive about your pet's care, and be warned that if your pet becomes ill because they weren't vaccinated according to your vet's advice, many insurances will reject a claim.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers a good list of guidelines to follow when selecting pet insurance.

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