Choosing the Right Pet
Michael W. Stephan, D.V.M.
Juno Beach Animal Hospital
So, you've finally decided the time is right for that new addition to your family. You have your own place for the first time in your life, or the kids are old enough to start learning some of the responsibilities of pet ownership, or the last one is off to college and the house suddenly seems so empty! Before you head for the pet store, give some thought to the kind of pet you want, and the kind of pet which will best fit into your lifestyle.
The first thing to decide is what kind of pet you like. Are you a dog person or a cat person? Maybe neither of those appeals to you, but you have always thought about having a bird or two around the house, or the serenity of watching fish swim back and forth at the end of the day has some benefit in its calming effect. Or maybe a lizard or another reptile would be better suited to your situation. This week we will explore some of the general considerations of each of these broad groups of pets to help you narrow the field. Of course even within a group there are many choices available to you, each with their own pros and cons. We will look at the specifics within each group in more detail in future columns.
No matter what you decide, give some thought to your situation before you buy. Depending on the species, you are making a commitment that will range from ten to thirty years. Acquiring a pet should never be an impulse purchase. Do some research to determine the amount of time and finances which will be required by the pet you choose. A vast majority of the pets turned in at animal shelters each year, or who are presented at veterinary hospital to be put to sleep, are given up because of behavior problems. Most of these animals are showing normal behavior for their breed, or type, but the behavior is inappropriate for the situation in which they are placed. A young healthy dog from the working or sporting breeds need room to run and exercise on a daily basis, not the best choice if you live on the seventh floor of a high-rise. Cats really should be encouraged to remain as indoor pets. The threat of rabies and other diseases must be carefully considered before releasing them to the outdoors. If a member of the family is allergic, keeping a cat confined may not be practical. Even birds and reptiles will require a time commitment if you expect to tame them and keep them so that they can be handled and enjoyed.
In addition to a time commitment, each pet also involves a financial commitment on your part. Whether you adopt a pet from a shelter for a nominal fee, or spend $500 to $2000 for a purebred show animal, it will cost money for feeding, grooming, housing, boarding, and medical care for the lifetime of the pet. Remember that size does matter! It will cost you more to feed that 130 pound Mastiff each week than it will a ten pound cat. If you have to board your pet, most boarding facilities charge according to body weight. Routine medical care such as exams and vaccinations are usually the same regardless of size, but heartworm and flea prevention as well as medicines and surgical procedures are more expensive for larger animals. Try to get some idea of the month to month expenses you should expect before you invest.
The health benefits of pet ownership for people have been well established. A little time spent in research and planning before you get your pet can make it a rich and rewarding experience for both of you!