10 Things to Consider When Choosing a Pet
Opening your home to a new animal can be a wonderful experience. Pets offer unconditional love and acceptance and are a fantastic way to teach children responsibility, accountability, and to appreciate nature and living things. However, there are a few very crucial things to consider as you decide if you're ready to accept an animal into your home and all the subsequent responsibilities that follow. No animal should ever have to enter a shelter (or worse) because his or her owner wasn't fully informed of what they were getting into, and found themselves unprepared to care for their pet. Puppies and kittens are so cute, it's virtually impossible to not fall in love with them immediately, but eventually they grow into dogs and cats and it's important to be informed of what to expect. First homes should always be forever homes.
- Pet ownership is expensive. An article on peteducation.com estimates that over the course of a dog's lifetime (14 year average) it could cost anywhere from $12,500- $39,000 depending on the level of care you desire for your pet. Estimates for cats (over an average 14 year lifespan) range from approximately $7,800-$18,500. These estimates are for healthy pets, if your pet has allergies or a medical condition like hip dysplasia it could cost far more over the course of your pet's lifetime.
- The size of your pet does matter. I don't think there is any puppy cuter than a Newfoundland. Who at two months weighs approximately 22 lbs and can grow to an astounding 140 lbs as an adult. It's important to be informed of a dog's size when full grown and what that means in relation to your home.
- Know what to expect from the breed of dog you choose. If you're a laid back kind of person, a high-strung, high-energy dog would most likely be your worst nightmare. Good dogs do bad things when they're not getting enough exercise. Different breeds require different levels of activity, and it's oh so important to match your lifestyle to the needs of your pet.
- Know what breed stigmas are out there and be prepared to adjust your housing options accordingly. Many communities and home owner's associations will not allow certain kinds of dogs such as pitbulls, akitas, doberman pinschers, and rottweilers. Also, some home owners insurance companies will raise your rates if you own particular breeds of dogs considered to be potentially dangerous. This kind of breed stereotyping is an unfortunate reality and must be factored in as you choose a new pet.
- Do not buy puppies from pet stores! These animals are often purchased from puppy mills which attempt to maximize profits by over-breeding and cut costs often at the animals' expense where ever possible. Puppy mill parent animals suffer their whole lives and are not viewed as anything but a commodity to churn out litter after litter. Puppy mill owners do not care about carefully selecting mates to pass on the best genetic traits and temperaments which make for healthy and happy puppies, and as a result, many of the puppies have genetic conditions and hereditary defects which can be life threatening. Along the same line, the internet is a dangerous place to purchase animals. Many internet adds come from puppy mill-type operations and very few are legitimate. Popular breeds such as English bulldogs are a common dogs exploited in scams. Particularly those involving Western Union transactions and airport pickups. Be careful!
- Always meet the breeder, the dam, and the father if possible, when choosing a puppy to bring home. Responsible breeders will want to meet you and make sure that their dog is headed to a good home and that any potential owners are prepared to take care of the puppy. Often, most litters are virtually spoken for prior to the mother going into heat. You want to select a puppy from a breeder who cares about preserving the best traits of the breed they love.
- From a study conducted in 1997 an estimated 64% of animals that entered shelters were euthanized. This study surveyed only 1,000 of the 3,500 shelters nationwide and found that 2.7 million animals were euthanized in one year. It is estimated that as many as 9.6 million animals are euthanized annually in the United States. The Humane Society website has some startling figures which truly drive home how serious a problem shelter over-crowding is in our nation. Bob Barker was right. Spay and neuter your pets. This simple procedure helps to prevent unwanted and unplanned animal pregnancies which contribute to animal over-population and shelter overcrowding. Also spaying female dogs drastically reduces their chance of developing certain reproductive cancers. Many local SPCAs offer spay and neuter clinics in which veterinarians donate their time and service to cut costs for pet owners.
- If you plan on getting a new pet please consider trying your local animal shelter or, if you're particularly breed specific, contact a rescue group. Shelter dogs and cats have just as much love to give as those purchased from a breeder and come with the benefit of being spayed or neutered and up to date on vaccinations. Opening your home to an animal from a shelter is the greatest gift of life, love, and a second chance that you can give. An added bonus of adopting a mixed breed is hybrid vigor. Often animals that have a wide gene pool are hardier and not as prone to disease as those who have a small genetic pool to draw from. Mutts are pretty great and may cut veterinary costs for your family.
- Heartworm medication is absolutely crucial for your pet. It is a little costly. but nonnegotiable. Heartworm infection is a horrible, common, expensive, and life-threatening condition when animals are not given preventative medication properly. Cats present with cases of heartworm infection so our feline buddies require anti-heartworm medications as well. Heartworms are a gross and nasty parasite which replicate in an infected animal's blood stream and spend their adult phase destroying heart tissue. They are spread by mosquitos and it's gambling with your pet's life (and your wallet) to assume that in cooler temperatures your pet will not need medication. Mosquitos are sneaky critters and are quite efficient at reproducing. A reality of responsible pet ownership is to take proactive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of your pet.
- The last thing to consider when deciding to bring a new animal home is a tough subject to talk about. The loss of a pet is something incredibly painful. Opting to put an elderly or very sick and suffering animal to sleep is the hardest decision you'll ever make. It is very difficult to make the such a painful decision when facing such a huge loss for your family, but you must keep in mind the animal's quality of life and honor it's unconditional love and companionship, by not allowing it to continue to suffer and live in pain. You will know when the time is right and your veterinarian will assist you, but it doesn't make the decision any easier. Fear of eventual loss is no ultimate reason not to get a pet, but it's a very hard reality of pet ownership. It's a life-lesson and a law of nature, but it just sucks. Memories will always stay in your heart and love doesn't go away with death, but losing a pet is brutal.
I hope this rundown of things to consider when adopting or purchasing a pet helps you make an informed decision. Pet ownership is a fantastically rewarding thing and also a huge responsibility that must be taken seriously. It's very easy to fall in love with a puppy or a kitten and make an impulsive decision to bring him or her home with you, but once the reality sets in, and perhaps the novelty wears off, and you're faced with a dog who chews up your favorite pair of shoes, or a cat that tore your fantastic sofa to shreds, the reality of your decision sets in. Pets ownership is hard work and not for sissies. The joys of pet ownership far outweigh the frustrations if you're truly ready and prepared to accept a pet into your home. Rest assured, you're going to get dirty, you're going to lose some things that are very valuable to you to curiosity driven chewing, you're going to clean up vomit in the middle of the night, and if you're really lucky you will get a full 14 to 15 years of unapologetic love and companionship.