More than 60 percent of American households count at least one pet as part of their population, and 95 percent of pet owners consider their animals part of the family. So selecting a pet is an important decision that, with luck and love, could impact you and those around you for years to come.

Given that, it’s important to consider what you’re looking for in an animal companion as a first-time pet owner. Do you want cuddly company when you’re cozying up on the couch, or are you looking for a partner on distance runs? Your answers will go a long way toward helping you find the right furry friend. You should also consider questions such as how much time and effort you can devote to an animal and whether your living arrangements, allergies, or other practical factors limit your options.

Once you’ve addressed those important questions, you should have a solid sense of the type of pet that’s right for you. And while millions of people share space with birds, fish, and many other kinds of critters, odds are you’ve decided on either a dog or a cat, the most popular pets by far.

Stock Up

But before bringing a new pet home, stock up on supplies such as food, bowls for food and water, treats, toys, and a safe method of transporting your furry friend.

For a cat, also invest in a litter box; all you’ll have to do is show him where it is as soon as he arrives at his new home. Many cats who have their front claws will also enjoy a scratching post  For dogs, you’ll also need a leash and collar and an indoor crate, if possible. According to the Humane Society of the United States, crates can make obedience and housetraining easier and help limit undesirable behaviors. Plus, if they are used appropriately, dogs often view crates as a safe space where they can retreat when they need a comfortable canine cave.

Start Slow

Once you’ve gotten all the gear, plan your pet’s arrival for a period when you will be home for a few days. This will give you an opportunity to get to know one another. Keep in mind that might take time for some animals, especially if they’ve been rescued from less-than-ideal environments.

For dogs, you’ll get a sense of what kind of training you might need to take on together — such as house-training, leash walking, and being on good behavior around other dogs. Devoting extra time and attention to bonding with your canine companion in those first days will also pay off because you’ll be able to dole out doggy treats for good behavior and correct undesirable actions consistently.

For cats, establish an enclosed, out-of-the-way area as your pet’s home base and let her explore at her own pace while spending plenty of time in her safe room, offering treats and other encouragements. You may also want to gently place your cat in her litter box from time to time, according to advice from Animal Planet. And be sure to keep the box clean as another encouragement for her to use it.

Be a Prepared Pet Owner

At the same time, you should be prepared for some trial and error from cats and dogs alike. So it might make sense to proactively purchase an enzyme-based pet odor remover from your pet supply store. These cleaners are composed of natural enzymes that combat the causes behind urine smells and can be a carpet saver in the event of an accident. Consider getting into the habit of sprinkling baking soda over high-traffic pet areas and letting it sit before your regular vacuuming sessions to stymie smells before they start.

You should also select a veterinarian and make an appointment within the first few weeks after you bring your pet home. A vet visit will help ensure your pet is healthy, has all his vaccinations, and is properly identified. Your veterinarian can also address any questions you may have as a first-time pet owner.

With some preparation, patience and proactive problem solving, you should be well on your way to years of happy cohabitation with your new furry family member.