So you’ve decided to adopt a pet during COVID-19…

Have you welcomed a new cat or dog into your home during the COVID-19 pandemic? Follow these expert tips to help her thrive!

In the face of COVID-19, animal shelters are reporting critical needs, including food shortages, spikes in pet abandonment, and overcrowding. Animal welfare advocates are working hard to distribute reliable information and to prevent pet abandonments from spiking even further, and as a result many places around the US, pet foster and adoption rates currently continue to soar. More and more families and individuals are taking this opportunity to house companion animals as they endure stay-at-home orders and social distancing.

This is encouraging, to say the least. Animals force us to step outside ourselves and put another’s needs first—especially in these uncertain and challenging times. But it’s important that all these new pet parents have the right resources and practices at their fingertips. So, for first-time pet fosterers and adopters out there who have taken in a new friend for the duration of this pandemic – and beyond, here are ten tips you should know:

1. A new pet is a big commitment

If it’s your first time fostering or adopting, patience is the name of the game. It may be the first time this animal has lived in a home, or they may have lived in many different shelters and homes before yours. It can take some decompression time for an animal’s true personality to come out, and they may be shy or nervous at first. Don’t worry, and don’t get discouraged if they aren’t opening up to you right away. They are experiencing new sights, sounds, smells, and each experience can be overwhelming for them. They’ll be looking to you for their cues on how to react to each new sensation, so consistency and positive reinforcement will be vital.

2. Give them a spot in your home that is just theirs

Make sure they have a comfortable bed and place they can relax and go to, to feel safe.

3. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise

A vessel toy filled with peanut butter is one of the best ways to keep dogs minds occupied! To make this kind of toy last a little longer, you can place it in the freezer for a couple of hours before giving it to them. If you don’t already have a Kong or similar toy, and can’t get one delivered, you can give your dog a leftover peanut butter jar—just make sure it’s plastic only, and don’t let them chew it!

4. Get on a feeding/walking schedule

This is especially important if you are trying to housetrain a puppy or new dog. Feeding at the same time each day will regulate their digestive schedules and going for walks at regular times will help avoid accidents. If you need to change their food, do it slowly to avoid digestive issues.

5. Even novice dog trainers can train a dog to sit!

Training is a great way to reinforce positive interactions with your pet. Think of it as playing a game together. To train a dog to sit, stand in front of them with a treat in your hand. Hold it close to their nose and bring it back over their head until they eventually rock back on their hind legs. When they are in a seated position, give them the treat. Here’s a helpful video tutorial.

6. Remember that pets (especially cats) are creatures of habit

They may find a hiding spot and take a few days to come out. That’s ok, and you can let them adjust and explore at their own pace. Forcing an animal to do anything can lead to negative associations with that behavior.

7. Prioritize health

Make sure you have identified a vet in your neighborhood and find a good pet insurance option.

8. Create a long-term plan

Finally, as businesses in some areas begin to reopen, more of us will return to work and our kids will start returning to school. It’s crucially important to plan for how you’ll care for your animal when you’re no longer at home all day to stay with your new friend. Doggy daycare is a good solution, though not perfect for every animal, or every income. Walkers are a less expensive option, and pack walks or one on one may be a better choice for your animal depending on their comfort and ability to play well with others.

As communities continue to struggle with the economic fallout of COVID-19, many loving pet parents will sadly be unable to continue to afford caring for their animals. Taking in an animal who’s in need of a home through adoption or fostering in this crisis is a great way to make a positive impact. And you’ll find the benefits you gain will increase with every passing day!


Meredith Ayan is executive director of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International (SPCA International), a global animal welfare organization.