So, you feel you are at that time in your life where you are looking to get a pet. Maybe you have just left home and set out on your own, or your family are now old enough to accept some of the responsibility of pet care and you wish for them to experience the companionship, love and pleasure of owning a pet. Maybe you are recently retired and now feel you have the time to devote to a new special friend or maybe you view pet ownership as an opportunity to partake in new physical or social activities. Whatever the driving force behind your motivation choosing the correct pet for you is a big decision. This is written from the perspective of advising someone wanting to acquire a dog or cat but some of the information below is equally applicable to other domestic pets.
Perhaps the first question to ask yourself is whether you can actually afford a pet and not just financially. Pet ownership is a major commitment of your time. Dogs and cats living their natural lifespan can live anywhere from 8 – 10 years for giant breed dogs and 12 – 15 years for smaller dogs and cats. The real centenarians of domestic pets can exceed 20 years in human terms. This is a substantial slice of anyone’s life, and you should be mindful of how your circumstances may change in this timeframe. Children grow up and leave home. Job opportunities may see you travel a lot, or even move overseas. For the older owner personal mobility issues may develop limiting your physical abilities. Signing on to pet ownership is a commitment to care for your chosen pet “in sickness and health, until death do you part”. Whilst this may sound dramatic, drawing an analogy between pet ownership and marriage vows is one way of highlighting the degree of commitment you are about to make. One thing for sure is that your new companion is signing on for the full term. Within this extended period making time to meet your pet’s needs is a daily requirement: Beyond the obvious feeding, dogs require exercise and possibly grooming, as do long haired cats. Taking this one step further have you considered brushing your animal’s teeth? Absolutely the best way to maintain oral hygiene and potentially prevent other health problems down the track. Are you prepared for picking up after your dog or cleaning your cat’s litter tray? Unpleasant, maybe, but unavoidable as a new owner. Playtime and just simply interacting on the couch in front of the TV are all important. The more time you can devote the more fulfilling your human animal relationship is going to be. It really is that simple.
Unfortunately, I still see people who don’t look beyond the initial purchase cost of their new pet as if somehow the dog or cat will be self-funded. The true financial cost of pet ownership should not be underestimated, and I would urge you to think long and hard about whether you can afford the ongoing costs. Sadly, the truth of the matter is that pet ownership is beyond some financially. Remember this is a lifelong contract you are about to enter into, and you are going to be the sole provider. Veterinary costs aside (which I will hopefully touch on in a future article) have you factored in feeding, especially relevant for giant breed dogs as Great Danes: This alone can run to a couple of hundred dollars a month for a dog of this size. How secure is your yard? Will you need to replace fencing in order to contain your pet and provide a safe environment. What about the cat enclosure or run down the side of the house so your cat cannot roam whilst still getting “out and about”. What if you decide to move to a new house: Are you prepared to go through the process again? Council registration, pet insurance, boarding or cattery costs whilst you are on that overseas holiday you’ve been saving for. All too easy to forget in the excitement of that initial purchase but ever present, nonetheless.
Still reading? Congratulations. You are well on the way to responsible pet ownership. Having given considerable thought to get to this point you will already have a good idea of the sort of pet you are looking for. Now we can start narrowing down our choices. What we are ultimately trying for is an animal that fits well with our family dynamic, available space and lifestyle.
To this end and making broad generalisations, working and larger breed dogs are best suited to those with a very active outdoor lifestyle and perhaps families with older children. Keeping a Border Collie or Kelpie in a small concreted back yard or unit without stimulation and exercise is a recipe for disaster. Such confinement often leads to frustrated and depressed pets that show unwanted behaviours: Excessive vocalisation, property destruction, aggression to strangers or conversely uncontrollable excitement when interacting with people or other animals (manifest as jumping and mouthing). These unwanted behaviours impact greatly on the human animal bond we are trying to foster and are a leading cause of abandonment of otherwise healthy young animals to shelters, and sadly, in some circumstances, to euthanasia. Smaller breeds may well require less space at home but still require mental stimulation and environmental enrichment. Some like the Jack Russell will go toe to toe with their larger cousins where exercise is concerned, whilst others: Pekingese, Lhasa Apso and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel will be happy with a more sedentary way of life.
Cat lovers arguably have an easier decision to make with by far the most common cat I see being the Domestic Short Hair. These are generally robust individuals that have a reduced requirement for grooming but may well still enjoy, if not demand, a daily brush. Long haired cats clearly require much more attention to keep a healthy tangle free coat; whilst many purebred cats – Siamese, Persian, Burmilla, Chinchilla, Rex, Exotic shorthairs, as examples, are arguably best kept strictly within the home environment.
Once you have decided on a breed you now need to choose your breeder. This is as important a decision as choosing the correct breed for your situation. Most breeds have a dedicated band of followers and attending a few of their get togethers will enable you to discuss the local scene. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. These people are generally very passionate about their animals and love nothing better than talking about their preferred breed to those that show a genuine interest. Visit dog or cat shows as appropriate and again talk to the people exhibiting. Breeders need a market and should be only too willing to explain their process. Visiting your prospective breeders and making a direct assessment of the breeding environment as well as the temperament and general well being of the breeding animals housed there is time very well spent. Try and find people who have purchased from the breeders you are interested in and see if they have experienced any problems or have advice to give.
Once you have made a commitment to purchase, please try to resist the temptation to take your new puppy or kitten home too soon. Whilst it is human nature to want to, the time offspring spend with their mother and littermates is very important to the learning of social skills and can impact greatly on future behaviour. I would suggest that ten weeks is the bare minimum age for homing and twelve weeks is preferable. At twelve weeks of age the second dose of the primary vaccination course is due. If the breeder hasn’t already arranged this vaccination you are now provided with the ideal opportunity to start to build a relationship with your chosen vet. This also allows the vet to get to know you, your pet and your goals for pet ownership. Along with the required vaccination, a thorough health check examination will be performed, and you will have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have. The options available for veterinary care and current vaccination protocol recommendations will both be topics covered in future articles.
Clearly you may prefer to offer a shelter animal their “forever home”. Try and avoid snap decisions based solely on emotion. Attempt to find out as much information as possible about the animal’s story: How they came to be in the shelter and any ongoing physical or behavioural health problems. Bear in mind that this information can sometimes be very sketchy and incomplete. Conversely any documented pre-existing health issues will be excluded on any pet insurance policy you elect to take. This could lead to considerable ongoing costs. Spend as much time as humanly possible with the individual before making that final commitment and make sure to include all the family members in this “vetting”.
Whilst it is impossible to cover every situation, I hope that reading this will encourage you, the prospective pet owner, to do your homework thoroughly and make well informed decisions when it comes to choosing the ideal pet. Good luck and enjoy the process – a new adventure awaits!