Bringing Home Fur Baby: What Does a First-Time Pet Parent Need to Know?

By Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM//January 1, 2024//

Bringing Home Fur Baby: What Does a First-Time Pet Parent Need to Know?

By: Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM//January 1, 2024//

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A customer walks into your store really excited about having made the decision to get their first pet, but they want to go through every option, and hear your expertise. They’ve done research, read all about different animal species, and talked to numerous knowledgeable pet parents, but your industry knowledge will help them review the essentials different animals need to be healthy and happy. What are the right questions to ask and options to walk through so that you can ensure you’re making the most of their experience and help them find the perfect situation for them?

If they get a dog or a cat, the animal will need food and water bowls and an age-appropriate pelleted or canned diet. For training purposes, dogs generally do best with a size-matched crate in which they can feel safe, a dog bed, some starter toys, a leash and collar or harness, and a few treats essential for training. Cats need a litter box, litter (generally the kind they are already using), a litter scoop, litter liners (if the cat is using them already), and some safe toys to keep them entertained. Depending on the cat or dog breed and the level of grooming they require, they’ll also need a brush or comb to eliminate mats and reduce shedding, plus a nail trimmer to keep nails from overgrowing. Cats often develop hairballs, so recommending a cat laxative can help new pet parents get ahead of these. Finally, since pet parents typically want to monitor their new pet when they’re at work, they might also be interested in a smart camera.

Perhaps they want a cuddly pet, but want to consider a small mammal like a rabbit, guinea pig, or ferret. All these pets need a chew-proof cage with levels inside for climbing, food and water bowls and a water bottle (as some small mammals prefer bottles over bowls), plus paper-based bedding that’s digestible if eaten inadvertently. As herbivores, rabbits and guinea pigs need species-specific pelleted food, Timothy hay, fresh veggies, and vegetable-based treats. Similarly, as carnivores, ferrets require high-protein ferret kibble and low-carb treats. Since both bunnies’ and guinea pigs’ teeth grow continuously, these animals need wooden chew toys for their small mouths to gnaw on to keep teeth worn down. All small mammals also require regular brushing and nail clipping, just like dogs and cats, with size-appropriate nail trimmers and a coat brush to reduce shedding and hair ingestion. Like cats, ferrets commonly develop hairballs, so they benefit from an occasional dose of ferret laxative. Also, guinea pigs can’t make vitamin C on their own, so you can recommend a daily supplementation with a vitamin C tablet or liquid.

Now that the customer knows about cuddly pets, let’s not forget to showcase everything birds have to offer. Since birds range in size from tiny finches to large macaws, their needs vary based on the breed. In general, all birds require an escape-proof cage (with bar spacing appropriate to their size) outfitted with size-matched perches and food, water, and treat bowls, plus paper-based cage liner for the cage bottom. They should be fed a nutritionally complete pelleted diet with low-fat treats, a cuttle bone to provide calcium (especially important for egg-laying females), and an ultraviolet light to help them make vitamin D indoors in their skin. Finally, since most birds love to chew, this is a good opportunity to showcase a variety of bird-safe toys without pieces they can easily break off and swallow.

Finally, you’ve arrived at reptiles. Of course, reptiles’ needs are also species-specific, but in general, your customer needs to know that reptiles need a size-matched tank, species-appropriate bedding that does not cause gastrointestinal tract obstruction if swallowed, thermometers to monitor tank temperatures, and hygrometers to follow humidity levels. Some require heat sources to maintain appropriate tank temperature ranges, plus ultraviolet lights to ensure they make adequate vitamin D in their skin for proper calcium metabolism. Other reptiles also need water misters and drippers to help keep them hydrated. Finally, depending on their species and whether they are carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores, they require species-specific pelleted diets, fresh produce, and live or canned insects. Customers may not know that reptiles also generally need calcium supplements (with and without vitamin D) plus multi-vitamins.

For any customer who enters your store, either online or in-person, educating yourself in the essentials is the best way to make the most of their experience and set them up for success with a new pet. You can also rely on Chewy to have your back with new pet consultations in the form of Chewy’s Connect with a Vet, free New Pet Consultation to ensure every new pet starts out on the right foot. Something I love about Chewy is that you have access to hundreds of thousands of products and essentials available via Autoship so you can set and forget frequent purchases like food, litter and favorite treats. Plus, helpful features like free chat with a veterinary professional and a trove of advice on PetMD mean anxious pet parents have plenty of resources at their fingertips before booking a trip to the veterinary office. If they do need in-person care, there are plenty of options for pet insurance through CarePlus by Chewy and getting medications via Chewy Pharmacy is a breeze. By keeping yourself abreast of the latest needs of pets and the services available to meet those needs, you’ll set yourself apart as an invaluable resource to every existing and potential pet parent who comes your way.


Dr. Laurie Hess, one of approximately 100 board-certified avian (bird) specialists worldwide, currently serves as the lead specialty pet veterinarian for Chewy, where she provides expert counsel on pets for Chewy’s merchandising and healthcare teams.  She owns the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in Westchester County, New York, where she provides specialized medical and surgical care to domesticated exotic pets, such as birds, rabbits, ferrets, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, sugar gliders, hedgehogs and mini pigs.



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