7 Things To Consider Before You Get a Pet
According to a survey by the American Pet Product Association, in 2020, pet ownership rose from 67% of households to an all-time high of 70%. If you haven’t taken the pet plunge yet, here are a few things to consider before bringing a furry friend home:
- The Responsibility
There are so many reasons why having a pet can be great for families. It’s easy to make an impulsive, emotionally driven decision to get a pet. “Many people bring pets into their home without much thought,” says Kayla Block, owner of Understanding Dog Training. “Sometimes that works out, but sometimes it’s not a happy situation for the animal or the humans.”
“Becoming a pet owner is a huge decision that requires anyone to be very mindful and prepare thoroughly,” adds Nora Glover, a cat care and training expert. “Pets have both psychological and physical demands. Caring for a pet, who’s not independent and self-sustaining at all, requires you to be ready to take care not only of yourself (your partner and children) but for one more living creature.”
- The Reality
Regardless of what kind of pet you are considering, do a lot of research. “The only way to be a responsible pet parent is to know everything about it and be able to provide it with everything it might need and even more,” Glover says. “Love is good, but not enough for health and long, happy life.”
Talk with other pet owners about their own experiences, good and bad. According to Kevin Cook, founder of Love of Paws, Facebook is a great resource. “Don’t doubt the power of the internet,” he says. “Chances are, there’s a very active pet community in your area that has tons of knowledge to offer as well as a willingness to help out.”
- The Timing
The first few weeks with a new pet can be incredibly time-consuming so routine is critical. If you or anyone in the family is going through other transitions (new job, moving, divorce, etc.), it might be best to wait. If your current lifestyle doesn’t meet the needs of the type of pet you are considering, ask yourself if you are willing to make the necessary adjustments or if you should think about a different pet (see sidebar.)
- The Cost
“The cost really adds up even for small animals such as hamsters, “ says Eddie Chevrel, founder of The Pet Savvy. “Initial costs (cage, toys, etc.) and food costs are often all that the would-be owners think about, but there are also some unforeseen events such as veterinary costs and pet sitters.”
- The Mess
Pets can be messy. Dogs, especially new puppies, have accidents, chew shoes, and need to be walked, even in a snowstorm. Cats scratch furniture and need their litter boxes cleaned. Be honest about what stresses you out, and be realistic that regardless of how much your kids say they are going to help, the responsibility for a family pet will fall on the adults.
Also, consider the ages and personalities of your kids. “A dog that is aloof and disinterested in people, maybe a good hiking companion, but it’s not what you want in a family dog,” Block explains. Big, jumpy dogs or puppies that need a lot of attention may not be the best options for families with small children.
- The Commitment
We have heard that it takes a village to raise a child. The same is true for being a pet owner. “It’s a good idea to think about what friends, family, or neighbors could be kind enough to feed and spend some time with your pet if you are away,” Chevrel says.
- The Emotional Attachment
“Before taking a pet, nobody tells you how strongly you’ll feel their pain and how much you’ll worry about them,” says Dr. Sabrina King, DVM, veterinary writer at We Love Doodles. “Animals cannot tell us what’s wrong and what hurts them, and the inability to talk to them through their pain and sickness, having to guess what’s wrong and how to help them is sometimes incapacitating for pet owners. Over the years, through my practice, I’ve seen numerous owners being worried and stressed about their pets’ condition. I could compare it to a parent worrying about the child—but the worry pays off when you know you have somebody to love who loves you.”
Ultimately, pets are great for many reasons, especially the unconditional love they offer. But pet ownership is a long-term commitment to a living creature. It is critical to make sure your family is ready before you agree to welcome a new pet into your home.
BEYOND A DOG OR A CAT
While dogs and cats are the most popular family pets, other animals may be a better fit for some families. If you want a furry pet, consider a hamster, chinchilla, or rabbit. Other not quite as cuddly, but still great pets, are fish and birds.
RANDI MAZZELLA is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, teen issues, mental health, and wellness. She is a wife and mother of three children. To read more of her work, visit www.randimazella.com.