Be sure to ask questions before adopting a pet

Published1/28/2009 12:02 AM

Q. I have been visiting animal shelters and they recommended I isolate my new pet because of health concerns to the pets I already own. How concerned should I be?

- Victoria Lankty, Downers Grove


A. The scenario you describe is typical, and an educated adopter is a happy adopter. Understanding the potential risks is key to success. Having information upfront will help you decide the best pick for your family.

Known risks when adopting a pet include the likelihood it may have come in contact with an illness while at the shelter. The most common are upper respiratory infections in cats and kennel cough in dogs. These are easily treated.

Often an animal will be given preventive bordatella (a vaccine that helps prevent the condition) at the shelter, but immunity is not immediate so symptoms may occur. If the case is minor (similar to the common cold) the illness can run its course and the pet's own immune system will fight off the illness. In more severe cases they must be treated with antibiotics because, as with humans, a minor illness can sometimes lead to more severe issues.

Stress is another factor that hinders the immune system in many shelter animals. Even presumably healthy animals may begin to show symptoms when arriving at your home due to the stress of the transition. For healthy animals at home the risk is minimal, but the isolation recommended should be taken seriously as it will provide you with an opportunity to spot signs of illness and seek veterinary care before there is any opportunity for an illness to be transferred to your existing pets. Please note: the risk to elderly or young animals is greater than that to vibrant adult animals in your household.

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As an adopter, asking questions is key. Ask if the pet you are choosing has displayed symptoms of upper respiratory. Ask what kinds of vaccinations your new pet received while in the care of the shelter. Most shelters recommend you take your new pet to the vet within a few days to assure your pet is in good health as well as to establish a relationship with a veterinarian.

Other shelters may offer the appropriate medication if the pet is displaying symptoms when going home.

Ask questions and be wary if there isn't any health information available when adopting. Ask about the vaccinations the pet has been given and how long the pet has been at the shelter. There are more serious diseases that can be deadly to your pets if the shelter has not had adequate time to evaluate the pets in their care.

Also realize these illnesses are not exclusive to shelters and exist anywhere animals are grouped, including pet stores, breeders and foster homes.

• Kelly Vinkler is director of DuPage Animal Care and Control. To submit a question, e-mail "Ask the Director" at or visit

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