Pet ownership as a newcomer to the United States

Living in a new country can bring feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and homesickness as you adjust to your new life. These feelings of culture shock are quite normal and will subside as you become more comfortable in your environment. While you’re adapting to your new life and afterward, having a pet by your side can provide many mental health benefits, relaxing you from stress and anxiety, keeping you active, and enhancing your social life.

As a pet owner, you’ll be in good company in the United States. America is a nation of pet lovers as 70% of US households, or about 90.5 million families, own a pet, according to the 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Owning a pet can have as much positive impact on your new life in the United States as you will have on theirs. 

The mental and physical benefits of pets for newcomers

Studies show that caring for a pet can help lower the stress hormone cortisol and release oxytocin, the bonding hormone that produces a feeling of calmness, improved social interactions, trust, and decreased fear. Benefits of caring for a pet also include:

  • Opportunities to meet new people. Dog owners often stop and chat with others on walks or in dog parks. Other pet owners meet people in pet shops, training classes, or online groups. Having a pet provides an easy conversation starter topic when meeting new people. 
  • A boost for your self-confidence. Pets can be great listeners. They can help you practice your English by talking or reading to them. Many studies have shown that reading to pets is a great way to enhance public speaking skills because it provides an opportunity to speak out loud without feeling judged. 
  • Increased physical activity. Dog owners are more likely to take their pets out every day for a walk or run. 
  • Companionship and a decreased feeling of loneliness. Pets provide constant company and affection. 
  • Learn more about your new environment. Moving to a new country can feel challenging and isolating. Caring for a pet encourages you to get to know your surroundings when shopping for pet food, going for vet visits, or, for dog owners, getting exercise. 
  • Adding structure to your day. Having to feed, exercise and care for a pet can help you keep to a daily routine, which can help you feel more grounded and focused. It can give your day purpose and a sense of achievement.

How to bring your pet when you move to the United States

If you plan to bring your pet into the United States, you need to plan ahead. Each state may have its own requirements for importing your pet. Be sure to visit the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection website for state-specific conditions. 


The Centers and Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate the specific requirements for dogs entering the United States to help limit the transmission of infectious or contagious diseases. As such, it is required that you have records of your dog vaccination record and examination. In addition, some states and airlines require a health certificate which should include the breed, weight, and age, proof that the dog is healthy to travel, and proof of rabies vaccinations. 

As of July 14, 2021, there is a temporary suspension for dogs entering the United States from high-risk countries for dog rabies. This includes dogs arriving from countries not at high risk if the dogs have been in a high-risk country in the past six months. In addition, if your dog is also traveling from a region where screwworm is known to exist or not declared free of foot and mouth disease, additional requirements must be followed. 


The CDC and the USDA do not require rabies vaccinations or additional health requirements for cats to enter the United States. However, certain states may have specific import requirements. 

Other animals

Some animals aren’t regulated by CDC but are still subject to state or local regulations and may be prohibited in certain states. Additionally, not all animals qualify as pets. For example, USDA regulates some birds as poultry, which are subject to different travel requirements. For more information from USDA, check out their website and select an animal from the drop-down list.

It is recommended that you check if your animal is regulated by CDC and USDA before traveling. Then, confirm any additional requirements with your airline and local officials at your final destination.

Best places to get a new pet

Many great animal shelters and rescues in the United States can pair you with your ideal pet. But before you consider bringing your new friend home, be sure that you can afford the cost to care for the pet, including vet visits, food, and other necessities, and ensure that you are allowed to own a pet if you rent your living space. 

Pet stores and some breeders have many cute pets. However, you may run the risk of not being aware of your new pet’s health issues before bringing them home. Alternatives to pet stores and breeders can ensure your new pet is healthy, give you details and resources about any potential health concerns, and provide vaccinations and care until they are ready to go home with you. Examples include:

  • The Humane society 
  • Local animal rescues 
  • Local animal shelters
  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
  • – Petfinder is an online, searchable database of animals who need homes. It is also a directory of nearly 11,000 animal shelters and adoption organizations across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

In our hometown of Oklahoma City, there are several great resources for adopting your new pet:

Oklahoma Humane Society

The Oklahoma Humane Society works in close partnership with Oklahoma City Animal Welfare (OKC Animal Shelter) and other local shelters to place healthy, adoptable pets into good homes. 

All pets are microchipped, spayed, or neutered, treated with all age-appropriate vaccinations and flea, tick, and heartworm preventative before being cleared for adoption. 

Bella SPCA

Bella SPCA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Oklahoma City created to assist low-income, elderly, or terminally ill pet owners with the cost of veterinary care they might not be able to afford. The organization also helps to re-home stray or abandoned animals. 

Bella SPCA uses a foster-based system, so the pet you adopt has lived with a family and is learning socialization and basic training. All dogs and cats up for adoption are spayed/neutered, given age-appropriate vaccines, microchipped, heartworm tested, and go to their new homes with 30 days of pet insurance provided by 24 PetWatch. 

Tiny Paws Kitten Rescue 

Tiny Paws focuses primarily on taking in orphaned newborn baby kittens that cannot survive on their own. Tiny Paws kittens also receive unparalleled intimate socialization with humans, creating lasting bonds and a natural predisposition for companionship. Once weaned, the kittens are readied for adoption and thoughtfully matched with their new family.

Tiny Paws kittens are adopted and taken home after spay/neuter at 12 weeks of age. The kittens receive all disease testing and vaccinations for their age, are spayed/neutered, and are given monthly flea/tick preventative. 

Pets and People

Pets and People is a volunteer-based group that focuses on rescuing dogs and cats from local municipal shelters. These pets are vet checked, given appropriate vaccinations, microchipped, tested for various diseases, given preventative medications, spayed or neutered, and then sheltered until responsible homes are found. 

How to choose a veterinarian in the United States

Being a pet owner is a big responsibility, and pet owners in the United States take this very seriously. For example, the APPA estimated that an American dog owner will spend an average of $1440 per year on basic expenses like routine vet visits, food, toys, and care. In comparison, a cat owner will spend about $800 per year. 

No matter what type of pet you have, providing regular, life-long veterinary care is essential for keeping your pet and family healthy. Making sure that your animal stays healthy requires annual visits to a veterinarian for vaccinations, check-ups, and routine care. A few tips when considering a vet:

  • Ask for recommendations – Ask your coworkers, neighbors, and friends about good veterinarians in the area and their experience with them.
  • Find a vet who has expertise in treating your pet – Veterinarians are not all created equal. There are different types of veterinarians specializing in working with different kinds of animals. Some of them may have more experience treating dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, or other types of animals. 
  • Look for licensed personnel – Make sure that the veterinarian is licensed in your state and ask if there are registered veterinary technicians on staff. You can ask to see their licenses or contact your state board of veterinary medicine for more information.
  • Consider cost and location – If an emergency occurs, you will need to be able to get to the vet’s office quickly. Try to find a veterinarian less than an hour away from you at the most. Costs can also vary depending on the vet, so see if their prices fit into your budget before you commit to them.
  • Look for a clean facility – Have a look around the facility and notice the level of cleanliness. If the place seems a little dingy or dirty, then that is also a sign to move on. Since it is a medical facility, it should be just as clean as a hospital for humans.

Veterinarians in Oklahoma City with high online reviews include:

Americans’ peculiar pet ownership habits

Once you become a pet owner in the United States, there is no doubt you’ll meet many other pet owners. Talking about your pet is a great way to start a conversation with new people, especially if they also have a pet. Don’t be surprised if the pet owners you meet in America show you professional pictures of their pets, have an Instagram account dedicated to their pet, admit to talking to them like a child, or dress them up in holiday costumes. 

A recent survey of 10,000 pet owners in 11 countries: the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Germany, Australia, and Japan found that Americans are particularly lenient when it comes to pets and the most likely to treat dogs and cats as members of the family. 

Allen R. McConnell, a professor at Miami University, who studies how pets affect human well-being and relationships, says, “Dogs sleeping on beds and people buying sweaters for cats is more of a US phenomenon, as Americans spend over $50 billion annually in this country on pet supplies and animal care.” McConnell also believes that the American pet-pampering culture has to do with the nation’s wealth, allowing people to spend more disposable income on pets. 

Some additional interesting stats on American pet ownership by Statista

  • Around 75 percent of Millennial respondents (born 1981-1996) stated that they considered their pet their ‘fur baby’ during a survey in the United States in 2020. That figure stood at around 80 percent for respondents classified as Generation X (born 1965-1980).
  • In 2021, just over one-fifth of survey respondents stated that they planned to dress their pet in a costume for Halloween in the United States.
  • Surveyed Millennials in the United States planned to spend $51 USD on their pets on average during the holiday season buying their pets gifts, according to a 2020 survey. The Gen Z age group (born 1997-2012) planned, on average, to spend $50 USD.

American sociologist Andrea Laurent-Simpson says, “American pet owners are transforming the cultural definition of family. Dogs and cats are treated like children, siblings, grandchildren.” Lauren-Simpson also finds that American families are increasingly considering their pets in decisions such as child-rearing, homebuying, job location, travel, and budgets. 

Alternatives if you can’t own a pet

If you’re unable to own a pet, some options allow you to still gain some of the positive benefits of caring for a pet. The easiest solution is to take advantage of your friends and family’s pets, whether that’s by offering to pet sit, taking a dog for a walk, or simply giving a few pets or belly rubs. 

If you’re missing having a dog in your life, you could sign up with Wag!, which connects dog owners with local dog walkers and pet sitters. You could also contact a rescue center near you to see what volunteering opportunities are available. They may need volunteers to exercise, care for and socialize their pets. If you can have a pet on a short-term basis, but can’t commit to a permanent stay, consider fostering an animal. Some shy or scared animals need the peace and quiet of home while waiting to be adopted.


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