Beware of This Surprise Cost When You Adopt a Pet From a Shelter

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  • There's a lot to do ahead of bringing a new pet home, like shopping for supplies.
  • It's a good idea to get a pet insurance policy sooner rather than later, as pets adopted from animal shelters are kept in close quarters and more susceptible to getting sick.
  • Seymour the cat is fine, but he cost me $600 in vet care and medication during his first week with me.

Animal shelters are like Petri dishes.

In fall 2021, I decided I was ready to add a kitten to my household. I had moved into a larger rental apartment a few months prior, and was hoping that my next move would be to a home I bought. I had also changed careers and was working remotely, meaning that I would be able to supervise a kitten as he got used to his new family (I already had two adult cats who had been with me for several years). I took to Petfinder to search local shelters and rescue groups for the right candidate.

I found a listing for a 5-month-old tuxedo kitten being held at a rural animal shelter about 50 miles away from where I live, and after filling out a detailed adoption application, arranged to meet the kitten. Long story short, I adopted him and went to pick him up the following weekend, giving me time to prepare for his arrival by buying the necessary supplies. I wish I had thought of getting a pet insurance policy, however. Here's why.

Things went sideways fast

I brought the little guy home, having named him Seymour, and for the first few days of his life with me, everything was great. Seymour got very comfortable in his new home fast, and jumped right into engaging with my two adult cats (who didn't quite know what to make of this bold newcomer). Then, he started showing signs of being sick, including lethargy and sneezing (thankfully, my older two cats didn't get sick, and I quarantined Seymour until he was well). I was so worried, I called veterinary offices frantically, and since I was unable to get him in to see a local vet in a timely manner, I took him to an emergency vet in a nearby city.

Seymour was diagnosed with feline URI (upper respiratory infection), which is a common affliction among cats. Cornell Feline Health Center notes that it's especially prevalent in high-density cat populations, such as animal shelters. Seymour was held in a cage in a fairly small room at the shelter, sharing space and breathing room with multiple other cats who had come from a variety of situations. It was basically a giant Petri dish for germs. And the stress of leaving the shelter with a strange human and having to make sense of his new life was enough to make Seymour susceptible to illness.

If you adopt a pet from a shelter, keep in mind that he or she will be under a lot of stress in the course of coming to your home, and may have been exposed to a variety of illnesses along the way.

Seymour is fine -- but I paid a lot for his treatment

This story has a happy ending for Seymour, if not for my bank account. I'm grateful to the staff at the emergency vet clinic, as they were wonderful to my cat (to whom I was already incredibly attached and deeply worried about). My bill for this misadventure came to $450 for the emergency vet visit and medication he was given there, plus another $150 to a veterinary pharmacy for additional medication he had to take during his recovery. Ouch.

If I had thought to put a pet insurance policy in place before bringing Seymour home officially, I would have been reimbursed for at least some of the money I spent to get him healthy again. I definitely learned my lesson from this situation, and while Seymour is fine (and almost two years old now), I will seek out a pet insurance policy as soon as I decide to add a new furry family member to my household to avoid this again in the future.

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