15 Questions to Ask Before You Adopt a Shelter Pet

Adopting a dog from a shelter doesn’t just do good – it feels good. Plus, there are lots of great animals in shelters through no fault of their own. Their owners may have died, moved away, had a baby, or just decided they didn’t want a pet anymore. As Inga Fricke, director of pet retention programs for the Humane Society of the United States, puts it: “Typically, animals don’t end up in shelters or homeless because they have severe medical or behavioral issues. The overwhelming majority of pets in shelters are there because of people problems, not problems they themselves have.”

Thinking of doing a good deed and adopting a shelter pet? These are some of the most important questions to ask before bringing one of these animals home to live with you.

1. Am I ready to take on the responsibility?

Happy pit bull

Happy pit bull | sanjagrujic/iStock/Getty Images

Adopting a pet is a lot of work regardless of whether you get him from the shelter or from a breeder or pet store. Before you commit to taking on the responsibility, ask yourself if you’re ready for the added time and expense for walks, food, play, vet bills, and other things that may come up along the way. The worst thing you can do is bring home a shelter pet and then have to send him back because you weren’t ready yet.

Next: You need to ask your family this question before adopting a pet.

2. Does everyone in the family think it’s a good idea?


Man with dog | Chalabala/iStock/Getty Images

Even if one member of the household agrees to take on most of the responsibility for owning your new pet, inevitably everyone will have to pitch in. Make sure that all family members understand their roles in the care of your new pet and no one has reservations before bringing your pet home. Assume it will be harder than you think it will be, not easier.

Next: This fee is often negotiable.

3. How much will the adoption cost?

Young White Dogo Argentino Dog laying On Wooden Floor

Dog | bruev/Getty Images

Different dogs and shelters have varying adoption fees. If you’re on a tight budget, ask about upcoming events such as free or reduced fee adoption days. You may also let the shelter know about your budget ahead of time so you aren’t introduced to any dogs you can’t afford.

Next: This little detail matters.

4. What kind of dog is it?

Cute pomeranian dog sleeping on pillow on bed

A dog relaxes on the couch. | beer5020/iStock/Getty Images

Different dog breeds have naturally different personalities, and some are more likely to behave a certain way based on their breed (though there are always exceptions). Do some research on the dog breed you intend to adopt and find out about natural tendencies beforehand. Then decide if those traits will work well in your family.

Next: This is one of the most important aspects of adoption.

5. How does the pet behave?

Puppy and a boy indoor

Baby with dog | Brickrena/iStock/Getty Images

A shelter pet is typically a little older than a young puppy you’d get from a pet store or breeder, so he may already have certain behaviors and mannerisms. It’s important to get this information from the shelter before you submit your adoption application. Is he very active? Nervous around kids? Afraid of strangers? You may be able to work with certain behavioral issues so long as you know what they are.

Next: Think about all members of your family – even the four-legged variety.

6. Will the new pet get along with other pets in our home?

Corgi and puppies

Corgis | Alona Rjabceva/iStock/Getty Images

Adding a new pet to your family when you already have animals at home can be tricky, especially if your new pet had a difficult life before you adopted him. Find out how the pet you want to adopt interacts with other animals in the shelter before bringing him home.

You may also ask the shelter if you can set up a playdate between your pet and the one you want to adopt. Then you can see how they interact before you make a decision.

Next: Finding out the answer to this question can help you figure out if the animal is the right fit.

7. Why is the animal in the shelter?

Puppy hiding under a cabinet

Puppy| Hidako/iStock/Getty Images

Finding out why an animal is in the shelter can help you determine if you’re the best person to adopt that animal. Did his or her owner pass away or move? Was the animal found on the street? Or was there indications of abuse? Some animals naturally need more care and patience, and if you aren’t equipped to provide it, that’s perfectly fine. Finding the right pet means knowing your limitations and only committing to what you can handle.

Next: This detail can be expensive – don’t overlook it.

8. Does the animal have medical problems?

sick dog wearing plastic collar

Sick dog | Fly_dragonfly/iStock/Getty Images

Adopting an animal with medical issues is certainly noble, but it’s not for everyone. Any reputable animal shelter will be able to provide a basic medical history for the pet you adopt. This can help you decide if the animal is a good fit for your home and whether you can handle the issues he or she has.

Next: This person can provide insight into the pet’s behavior.

9. Was the pet in a foster home first?

Man holding dog

Man holding dog | JamesYetMingAu-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

Pets who spent time in foster homes may be better trained than animals who came directly to the animal shelter, but that’s not always the case. One thing that you can get from foster families? More information. Fostering a pet allows the person to see how they’ll behave in a home setting, which is typically different than how they are in a shelter environment.

Next: Doing this for the animal takes a lot of time.

10. Is the dog housebroken?

puppy accident urine

Accident | Cunaplus_M Faba/iStock/Getty Images

Housetraining an animal takes a lot of time and patience. One benefit to adopting an older animal from a shelter is that they’re typically housebroken already – though that’s not guaranteed. Find out if the animal you want to adopt is already trained and be realistic about whether you’re willing or able to take on the task.

Next: Choose a dog that has a matching activity level.

11. Is the dog very active?

Dog playing with toy

Dog having fun | Alexei_tm/iStock/Getty Images

Certain dog breeds are naturally more energetic than others. But all dogs, regardless of breed, require some amount of exercise to stay healthy. Choose a dog that has an activity level similar to your own or at least commit to being more active once you bring the animal home. Adopting a high energy dog could work to your benefit!

Next: Often the animal shelter will pay for this.

12. Is the animal up to date on shots?

Veterinarian giving injection to a dog

Dog getting vaccines | didesign021/iStock/Getty Images

Getting shots is pricey, but it’s often required by law and will always help keep your new pet healthy. Find out if the pet you wish to adopt is up to date on his or her shots and if not, find out if there are any low-cost vaccination events taking place in your area. The same goes for getting your new pet spayed or neutered.

Next: This helps animal shelters figure out the animal’s temperament.

13. Was the pet part of any programs at the shelter?

girl spending time with lovely jack Russel Terrier dog

Dog play | Artem Tryhub/iStock/Getty Images

Larger shelters may have behavioral or social programs that the pet you wish to adopt might have participated in. Finding out how the shelter was helping the pet and most importantly, how the animal responded can help you figure out how he or she will behave at your house.

Next: Finding out about this can help you after the adoption.

14. Does the shelter offer post-adoption support?

Sad Lovely Dog French Bulldog

Dog | bruev/iStock/Getty Images

Inevitably there will be some kind of adjustment period after you adopt a new pet. Find out if there are any follow up services such as home visits, veterinary care, or programs for adoptive parents. It’s also important to find out exactly what will happen if the adoption doesn’t work out.

Next: Finally, if you can’t adopt, you can always do this thing.

15. If I don’t adopt, are there other ways to help out?

Morning walk with dog (black labrador retriever)

Walking a black lab | Chalabala/iStock/Getty Images

Even if you decide against adopting a new pet, it doesn’t mean you can’t help the animal shelter in other ways. Shelters are always looking for donations like pet supplies, towels and blankets, pet food, cleaning supplies, and other items. Ask what they need and then organize a drive in your community.

You can also volunteer your time walking or playing with the dogs at the shelter, which is therapeutic for both of you.