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How to choose a pet

Author Michael Fletcher

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How to choose a pet

There are a lot of things to consider before choosing a family pet. This article provides some basic questions to ask before you make that visit to the pet store or animal shelter.

“Happiness is a warm puppy.” At least that’s what we were told in an old Peanuts cartoon. It made us laugh, it made us feel good. It made us all want a dog like Snoopy. More than half of American households have a pet, and spend more than $20 billion annually on their non-human companions. Having a pet can be a wonderful experience, but it’s not all warm and fuzzy. Pet ownership comes with a significant amount of responsibility. Invest in a pet and you can typically expect to care for your new friend for up to ten years, sometimes longer. Never decide to get a pet on an impulse. It’s a commitment and you need to realize what you’ re signing on for.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you bring home that little bundle of fur. 
1. Do I have the time to take care of a pet?

Acquiring a pet can be a big commitment. Some pets, like goldfish, are certainly less demanding than puppies, but still need care and attention. If you must have that cute little puppy, remember that your biggest investment will be time. Puppies can’t be left alone and need to be trained and monitored.

Older dogs can take time as well. They need to adapt to their surroundings and, depending on the breed, will need daily exercise.

You need to remember that it doesn’t matter that it’s the bottom of the ninth, your team is behind by two, with two outs and the bases loaded. It doesn’t matter that your chocolate soufflé will be done in precisely thirteen seconds. It doesn’t matter that the cute guy or gal from purchasing decided to give you a call at that precise moment. All the puppy knows is that it is time to “go” and he’ll do it in the yard or on your new carpet. It’s your choice.

2. Do I Have Room for a Pet?

Cats can adapt to any size living quarters. The same can be said for birds, fish and small mammals that live in a contained environment. Smaller dogs may also be able to get the necessary exercise inside, but larger, active dogs need more space and more daily exercise.

Make sure you have a safe place for your pet during the day. Unless you live on a farm, don’t let your cats and dogs run free. Keep them on a leash or in an enclosed area.

If you rent, you need to be aware of any no pet clause. This usually applies to cats and dogs which means the fish and the parakeet can stay. Some no-pet clauses will allow for pets if you leave a security deposit or a small monthly surcharge, used for cleaning if necessary when you vacate.

3. What kind of pet do I want?

Think about your lifestyle and the type of things you enjoy. Research the types of pets available at your local library or on the internet. Talk to your veterinarian and other people who own the type of animal you are considering. Learn about the temperament and the behavior patterns, how much activity the pet needs and the animal’s dietary and housing needs.

A pet will affect your entire lifestyle. If you travel frequently, you need to consider the practicality and affordability of paying someone to care for your pet or putting the pet in a kennel.

Dogs need daily care and attention, while cats are more independent. Dogs will love you no matter what. Cats will too, but they only tell you about it when they want to. But cats are much more self sufficient and will survive quite well with fresh food and water and a frequent change of the litter box.

If you’re considering the pet for a child, the ideal choice is probably a dog. A dog, especially a puppy, will delight in the child. A cat may or may not even notice the child is around.

4. Can I afford to acquire a pet?

Unfortunately, we too often see notices for “Kittens. Free to a good home.” from an owner who didn’t spay or neuter their animal. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first you need to consider there is no such thing as a “free” animal.

While you may indeed acquire an animal from someone with an unexpected litter of kittens or puppies, you need to consider the costs of food, veterinary care, grooming, toys, pet license and more.

The cost for a pet varies with the type of animal and your location. All pets require the basic food and shelter. They should also have regular visits to a veterinarian for health checkups and vaccinations.

Other costs could include boarding and obedience training. In some cases, pet health insurance is now available and may be something you wish to consider.

If you acquire your animal from a local shelter or human society, you will most often be asked to pay a fee. Often this will include or at least provide a discount to a cooperating veterinarian for the purposes of having your animal spayed or neutered. Unless you’re purchasing a purebred animal for the purposes of breeding, then the only responsible action is to have your pet spayed or neutered. In addition to making you a responsible pet owner, it helps the animal to calm down, protects your furniture and carpet from being “marked.”

5. What type of extra housing or equipment will I need for a pet?

Will you need to purchase a doghouse? Fence in your backyard? Buy a pet bed? By an indoor kennel? Animals, especially dogs, need toys. Providing your puppy with appropriate chew toys may save your favorite shoes.

6. Will my children adapt well to a new pet?

Children naturally love animals. But, you need to consider the maturity level of your children. Toddlers can pull on a dog’s tail, or carry Fluffy around by the neck. Adult animals tend to be a little more tolerant of children. And certainly you want to investigate the breeds that mix well with children. But, children, while acting in total love and devotion to an animal can unintentionally be cruel. Instinctively a dog might snap at a little hand or a cat might wield some sharp claws across a cheek.

Whatever you do, never leave babies and small children alone with animals. Even the most docile pet can turn when they feel threatened. Never forget that this is an animal.

7. Will my other pets tolerate a new pet?

It’s no secret that cats and dogs don’t get along. If the cat has been with you for a number of years, think long and hard about bringing in a new dog. Introduce them slowly and be patient. Older animals of the same breed might also be jealous of a new animal on the scene.

8. Does anyone in my family household have allergies?

As much as possible, ask that question before bringing home the animal. Finding out that your wife gets hives and can’t breathe when a cat is in the room is not something you wish to discover by accident. Ask her first.
Talk to your children’s doctor and observe how they do around other animals.

These are just a few things to think about when you consider adding a pet to your family. Think these things through. Once you have, you’ll be able to make a much more informed decision about pet ownership.