Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ADOPTION ACTION

CHOOSING A PET AT THE SHELTER DOESN'T HAVE TO BE OVERWHELMING. HERE ARE 8 TIPS TO HELP YOU MAKE THE DECISION

We are big fans of adopting from animal shelters. We each currently have two dogs acquired from shelters or rescue groups. They are all the absolute best -- not that we're biased or anything. But we know that the idea of going to a shelter to pick out a pet can seem like an intimidating prospect. Won't you want to take them all home? And how do you pick the right one?

To give you some top tips, we drew on our own experiences and spoke to experts on the subject: Elizabeth A. Berliner, DVM, a shelter medicine specialist at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and Aimee Gilbreath, executive director of Michelson Found Animals, a nonprofit organization that's dedicated to helping shelter pets find homes.

-- The first thing to think about, Gilbreath says, is energy level -- yours and the dog's. Your pet's energy level should complement your lifestyle. If you love spending time outdoors every day hiking, running or riding your bike, an active "teenage" or adult dog has reached physical maturity and is ready to be your workout buddy. Be realistic about your activity level and your willingness to exercise a dog.

"If your ideal weekend is curling up on the couch having a movie marathon, a low-energy cuddle buddy will be a better fit for you," Gilbreath says. Or even a cat.

-- Speaking of cats and lifestyle, it's true that in some respects, cats are less of a commitment than dogs: they don't need walks, for instance, and you don't have to take them to obedience class (they train you instead). But they do need and enjoy more attention and interaction than you might think. If you work crazy 12-hour days, your cat will be OK with that as long as she gets your attention when you're home.

-- If you think you'd like to have two cats so they can keep each other company, the best choice is a pair of kittens from the same litter or an already-bonded adult pair. Ask shelter employees for their recommendations.

-- Some shelters use the ASPCA's "Meet Your Match" program or their own systems to identify different pet personalities to help potential adopters make the best choice for them. When it comes right down to it, though, many of us go by looks.

"As in dating, this can be more or less effective," Dr. Berliner says. "However, there may be some surprises once you get home. Many shelters provide ongoing support to help nurture your new relationship if there are elements that are challenging at first."

-- Got kids? Keeping them safe is your No. 1 priority. If you're getting a shelter dog, how do you know which one is good with kids?

"When adopting from a rescue or smaller pet-adoption center, many of the available dogs will have spent time with a foster family, many in homes with children," Gilbreath says. "Talk to the adoption counselor about your concerns. They will be able to tell you which dogs play well with children. It's also a good idea to bring your children along to meet your potential new pet."

-- Tell the adoption counselor as well if you have other pets. She can suggest dogs or cats who are known to get along with other animals.

-- Take advantage of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to keep tabs on available pets. Many shelters have Facebook and Twitter accounts where they announce adoption events and post videos and photos of adoptable pets.

-- Be clear about what you are looking for in a pet. It can help to make a list of attributes such as weight, coat type and age before you go to the shelter so that it's easier to narrow your choices.

Q&A

How to choose the

right puppy food

Q: I see so many different puppy foods and claims about feeding puppies. How can I choose the best food for my new puppy? -- via email

A: We don't doubt that it can be confusing to know what and how to feed a puppy. There's no one-size-fits-all answer, though, because their needs vary. Factors that affect what a particular pup needs from a food include activity level, age, breed, gender and size at maturity.

A puppy's growth rate should be not too fast and not too slow. Puppies who grow too quickly and become overweight may develop bone and joint problems as they mature. Puppies who grow too slowly may not be getting enough nutrients. Growing at that "just right" pace ensures that they get the nutrition they need, but don't experience painful growth spurts or get too heavy at an age when their skeleton isn't developed enough to support their weight.

So what you feed depends a lot on your puppy's breed or mix. Toy-breed puppies, with their high metabolism, need a food that gives them a steady stream of energy. Really tiny puppies often need smaller, more frequent meals to make sure they don't develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Large-breed dogs grow more slowly than toy and small breeds. It can take two to three years for them to reach physical maturity. They need foods that provide less energy and calcium so they grow at a slow, steady rate. You can give a food that's specially formulated for large and giant breeds or provide the same effect by feeding smaller amounts of a regular puppy food.

To know if your puppy is in good shape, use your eyes and hands. He should have an hourglass figure when you look down at him, and when you put your hands on him, you should be able to feel the ribs beneath a light padding of fat. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

PET BUZZ

The Internet knows

where your cat lives

-- A data experiment launched by Owen Mundy at Florida State University -- "I Know Where Your Cat Lives" -- maps the whereabouts of a million cats worldwide, all from photos posted on the Internet. The cats' locations are based on their photos' latitude and longitude coordinates embedded in their metadata, information about an image such as its size and when and where it was created. On his blog, Mundy writes, "This project explores two uses of the Internet: the sociable and humorous appreciation of domesticated felines and the status quo of personal data usage." You might want to check your camera phone's privacy settings.

-- Charlie, a 2-year-old female Labrador, recently earned the title "Most Unusual Claim of the Month" from Veterinary Pet Insurance after she slipped beneath a piece of farm equipment. The injury didn't seem severe at first, but the next day she wasn't able to stand up. Her veterinarian recommended that her owner, Jessica Parsons of Indianapolis, Indiana, transfer her to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. There it was discovered that she had a spinal fracture and internal bleeding, requiring spinal surgery and removal of a damaged kidney. Charlie is recovering well with crate rest and limited activity.

-- A national homebuilder has gone to the dogs -- in a good way, reports AP's Sue Manning. In 27 developments across the country, Standard Pacific Homes is offering buyers the option of a 60- to 170-square-foot pet suite with such amenities as a step-in wash station, commercial-size pet dryer, water station and automated feeders, cabinets for toys, treats and food, a stackable washer and dryer, and a French door that opens to a dog run. Don't want to buy a new house? Ask a contractor about installing pet-friendly features such as a built-in bed, special shelves for pet bowls or a raised bathing area. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

CAPTIONS AND CREDITS

Caption 01: If you're looking for a new pet, see if your local shelter has any adoption events planned. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Caption: Charlie received two life-saving surgeries at one of the nation's top veterinary teaching hospitals, thanks to her pet insurance coverage. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2