With spring only a month or two away, pet stores and animal shelters will soon begin to see more young animals be put up for adoption. Seeing those cute little faces of puppies, kittens, bunnies, hamsters, guinea pigs, turtles, and budgies online or in pet store windows is an incredible draw for many people. Who doesn’t want to bring home a new little friend?
Pet ownership, however, is a lot more than just bringing home something cute. Seasoned pet owners may be well aware of this, but those who are in the market for their first pet—either the first of their very own, or their first ever—may not be quite up to speed on all the different things that go into pet ownership. So for those who are new to the pet owning arena, here are some things to keep in mind when you’re searching for your new forever friend.
It’s important to remember, first and foremost, that getting a pet isn’t like getting a new toy. It won’t just exist to play when you want to play or to cuddle when you want to cuddle. It isn’t just for cute selfies and YouTube videos. A pet, no matter what kind of animal you’re getting, is a living being—and it’s one that depends on you to care for it. Your pet will look to you every day for all of its needs: to be fed and watered, to be kept clean, to be exercised, to be played with, and to be loved. When it gets sick, it’s up to you to care for it—whatever that entails. Many people believe that they understand all this responsibility, but once a pet finally arrives in their home and the excitement wears off, not everyone is capable of proper pet care.
Having a pet is having a dependent, for better or for worse. If it gets sick, you may have to deal with medications and your pet’s bodily fluids. If it has behavioral problems, you may have to spend extra time and money helping to teach the animal new habits. Even outside the norm, there are animal quirks that require adjustment. You’ll have to take your dog for walks, even in terrible weather. Your cat may wake you up at three in the morning by meowing for food. You might not be able to take long vacations or even weekend trips without preparation and lots of pre-planning. Not everyone is cut out for pet ownership, even though they may love to have a cute and cuddly friend around. Admitting that is okay. What isn’t okay is to go into pet ownership unprepared.
Whether you’re hoping to bring home a dog, a cat, a small mammal, a bird, a rabbit, or a reptile, the number one thing to do is to do your research beforehand. No one should be stopping into a pet store or an animal shelter on a whim and bringing a new friend home with them that day. A pet isn’t an impulse buy; it’s a commitment. When doing your research, factor in things like your lifestyle, your available time, the living space you’re in, and the lifespan of the animal. Cats and dogs typically live anywhere from 12 to 20 years, which is a long time if you aren’t willing to care for an adult animal and are only drawn in by cute puppies and kittens. Birds will often live anywhere from 10 to 20 years, with some living 30 or 40! And reptiles can live 20+ years, depending on the type you select. These are all things you’ll have to factor into your decision. Also, if you’re looking into a more exotic pet, be sure to check the legalities of owning one in your area! Not every area allows every pet.
You also have to take into account the cost of having a pet. I can speak from experience that my one cat costs me roughly $85.00 a month, between food, litter, treats, and a new toy or so. A yearly checkup at the vet’s costs us $120.00—and that number will go up if my cat needs vaccinations, medication, or any other kind of treatment. I love my cat, but she is an expense. If you’re looking to take home an animal, talk to others you know who already own that same animal. Find out what they pay every month for food and other care supplies. Find out what vets in your area charge for a routine visit. Factor those amounts into your monthly budget and see if you can afford pet care comfortably. If it’s going to stretch your finances too thin, it isn’t the right time to get a pet. Once you have one, you can’t scrimp on their care the way you can cut back on lattes from Starbucks.
Once you’ve done your research and have decided that a pet will work will your lifestyle, selecting the type or breed of animal is important as well. Certain animals are known for specific traits, and selecting one that doesn’t match what you’re looking for will cause miserable experiences for both you and your pet. Want a small mammal that stays awake during the day and sleeps at night? A hamster is likely not for you. Want a cat that doesn’t shed? Do not purchase a Norwegian Forest Cat. Want a relaxed, low-key dog? Don’t bring home a Husky. Do your research to find the breed or type of animal that best matches your needs. If you know anyone who owns the type of pet you have your eye on, ask if you can interact with the animal. Maybe ask to pet sit, so you can spend a couple of days with the animal to see if you’d be a good fit with that type. Ensuring that you’re getting a breed that meshes with your expectations will be a big factor in setting you and your pet up for happiness.
Last, but certainly not least, carefully choose where you’ll be getting your pet. I’m a huge advocate for rescues, shelters, and humane societies. The animals in those places are often at risk and haven’t had the happiest of lives, so being able to bring one into its forever home is a gratifying feeling. Shelter animals sometimes get a bad reputation, as their histories aren’t known and can sometimes have behavioral issues. But in my experience, it’s a wonder what a stable home will do for an animal. I’ve seen a lot of bad habits vanish from shelter pets once they’re settled and used to their new home. There are also training programs, internet resources, and behaviorists to help your new pet adjust—and the fact is, getting an animal from a breeder or a pet shop doesn’t guarantee that it will be free of behavior problems, either. If you’re looking for a specific breed, you can research to see if there are any breed-specific rescues in your area, or you can request that your local shelter notify you if someone brings in an animal of the breed you’re after. Giving shelter animals a safe and loving home has been a joy in my life, and I highly encourage anyone looking to get their first pet to do the same.
Whether you’re adopting a pet from a shelter or bringing one home from a breeder, the most important thing is to take the process seriously. Do your research and go into the process with honesty and realism. This loveable little friend’s life is now in your hands. Treat them well.