For many, a family isn't whole without a furry friend to complete it. According to The Humane Society of the United States, 39% of U.S. households own at least one dog and 33% own at least one cat. If you are thinking of adding a four-legged member to your family, consider the following six steps before welcoming Fido or Fluffy into your home.

1. Make Sure All Family Members Support the Decision

Having a pet is a big responsibility, and every family member should be on board with the idea. "Once we have a pet, you'll learn to love it" is an approach that doesn't work.

2. Take Your Lifestyle Into Consideration

Does your family spend a lot of time on the go or on the couch? Do you call an apartment in the city home, or reside in a house with acres of land? Do you and your spouse work long hours? Do you travel much? Answers to these and similar questions play a significant role in deciding whether or not getting a pet is right for your family. Additionally, the answers will help you decide the type of pet to get.

3. Do Your Research

It's easy to fall in love with the puppies and kittens at the local animal shelter's adoption event. features close up photos of adorable dogs and cats in need of homes. Animal shelters and online adoption sites can help you find your new best friend — and help them find the forever home they need.

But don't be swayed by heartbreaking stories and heart-tugging pictures before doing your homework. Narrow down the type of pet you want before you begin your actual search. Nothing says cute like a Golden Retriever puppy, but nothing spells trouble more than an adult Golden Retriever whose family is unprepared for the responsibility that comes with this large, high-energy dog.

4. Train Your Pet

Whether your new dog is six weeks or six years old, sign him up for obedience classes. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks! Even cats young and old can learn how to be on their best behavior. One of the biggest reasons pets are surrendered to animal shelters each year is because of behavioral problems, many of which can be corrected or prevented.

If you adopt from an animal shelter, be sure to inquire about obedience classes. Many shelters offer them at reduced rates. Some even include free classes in your adoption fee.

5. Train Your Kids

Teach your kids to treat animals with kindness and respect. Show them the appropriate way to approach, pet, and discipline a cat or dog. A dog trainer or animal behaviorist can show kids basic commands they can do with their pet.

6. Keep Your Pets Healthy

While pet owners spend billions of dollars each year on their animals, veterinarians are noticing a decline in the number of cats and dogs being vaccinated. The numbers are so alarming that Merck Animal Health, a leading supplier of canine and feline vaccines, has launched "Vote for Vaccination," a campaign to educate pet owners about the importance of regular visits to the veterinarian's office.

Cats and dogs can't tell their owners when they're sick. The only way to let them know is through changes in behavior, including anything from loss of appetite to sudden aggression. Additionally, rabies is a disease that can be fatal to both animals and humans, but completely preventable through regular pet vaccinations.

Ask neighbors, friends and others for recommendations of veterinarians in your area. Schedule a visit soon after welcoming your newest family member home. Follow yearly vaccination schedules.

Pets bring love, energy and life to a home. With the right preparation, it marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship for all family members to enjoy for a lifetime.