HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Maybe you’ve wanted to get a pet for a long time, or perhaps you’ve been recently tempted by some cute photos on Facebook. Acquiring a pet is a major decision, and one to undertake with a good deal of research and consideration.
As a veterinarian, I see far too many pets ill-matched to their family, which causes a lot of stress and can end with pets being relinquished to shelters and even euthanized.
Taking careful consideration of what kind of pet (species, breed, age, and temperament) best fits with your lifestyle and family is the best way to ensure you end up with a pet that brings you joy rather than stress and sadness.
Different pets require different investments in time, money, and energy. Dogs are very popular pets, and yet they rank high in terms of potential economic and time costs. Cats can require a bit less time and energy, but still need daily care, as do small rodents and other pocket pets. Some reptiles, fish, and amphibians can make great pets that don’t necessarily require quite as much human input. Certain kinds of birds can live to very old ages and require significant human interaction. Consider the following costs or inputs required by various pets:
-Food: Anywhere from a few dollars a month (for a fish) to well over a hundred dollars a month (for a large dog on an expensive or prescription diet).
-Veterinary Care: Puppies and kittens, like human babies, require multiple visits to the doctor for vaccinations. Older animals should see the vet yearly to ensure they are in good health and up to date on vaccines. Many breeds require special care. Consider the cost for spay/neuter surgery, as well as for dental cleanings and other routine care. It is a good idea to invest in pet insurance or keep a fund for potential emergencies.
-Grooming/Boarding: Do you travel frequently? Would you be able to bring your pet along? Consider the cost of boarding or a pet sitter. If your pet is a breed with long or continuously growing hair, you may need regular grooming services.
-Equipment: Dog beds, cat litter, fish tanks, bird cages, etc. can add up in cost. Not sure what the animal you’re considering needs? Do some research before you commit to ensure you can provide for it properly.
-Exercise: Most pets (even some of those kept in a cage or tank) require at least some amount of exercise. Puppies and certain breeds of dogs of any age need a significant amount of time spent outdoors and running around. For some breeds, a fenced yard may provide some of the required exercise, but for most dogs, time spent walking or running outside is essential.
-Training: Don’t forget about the time required to train your pet. Training can be a great way to bond with your pet, but it is time consuming. Dogs require the most training, but even cats need some training to become ideal pets. Will you enroll your dog in obedience classes or hire a trainer?
When it comes to deciding on a pet, most military base housing has limitations on both number and species. Most times, only cats and dogs are accepted and no more than two per family. Within these parameters, how should you choose the best pet for your family?
According to ASPCA.org, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized annually in the U.S.; this means that over 30% of dogs and over 40% of cats that enter shelters never leave. Many dogs in shelters are purebred. Animals for sale in pet stores often come from “puppy mills” (profit-driven breeding farms where animals are kept in deplorable conditions. I highly recommend considering adoption first. If you are set on a specific breed, and can’t find one in local rescues or shelters, be diligent in your research about breeders. Responsible breeders screen for certain diseases inherited in particular breeds. They also sell only to people they have met in person, and should require proof that your housing arrangement allows that breed/dog.
Many people believe that a puppy or kitten is safer than adopting an older animal, because young animals are “blank slates.” However, even by the tender age of 8 weeks, animals can have experiences that affect their personalities for the rest of their lives. Litters that have not had a lot of contact with people at the critical socialization period (7-12 weeks) may always be fearful of humans. An adult dog that shows friendly behavior from the first time they meet a prospective owner has likely had positive experiences with people in the past. Young animals undoubtedly require more work than older animals. Puppies and kittens chew, are not potty trained, and need to be fed, let outside, and played with often. If you work full time and cannot be home during the day, perhaps an older animal is a better choice. In any case, training is a must regardless of age to ensure that your new pet understands the household rules. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about modern methods of training.
Even if you are considering adopting a mixed breed dog, look at the dominant breeds in its makeup. The general class of dog breed (hound, terrier, working, herding, sporting, or toy) can indicate some aspects of the temperament and energy level. What was the dog bred to do? Consider coat type and grooming requirements: Consider predisposition to medical problems. These are questions you need to ask yourself before adopting a pet.
When choosing a pet, what is their personality? Breed is a great determinant of energy level, how social a pet is, what it enjoys spending its time doing, etc., but it’s not the only determinant. Assessing an individual animal’s attitude is also very important.
-Is the dog or cat you’re looking at outgoing or shy?
-Is it calm or playful?
-When you take him or her to the exercise yard at the shelter, does s/he hang out near you or zoom around sniffing everything and looking for the ball in the corner?
-Does the cat you’re considering stay at the back of the cage or come forward to sniff you?
-Is s/he aloof or clingy?
-What kind of pet do you prefer?
Remember that an animal’s true personality may not be revealed until they feel comfortable in a new home. If you can foster an adoptable animal, this may be the best way to see if it’s a good fit in your family. Don’t forget to see if a potential new pet gets along with existing pet(s), too.
There are many good resources out there to help you choose the right pet for your family and lifestyle. If at any point you feel overwhelmed by the decision, feel free to use a veterinarian as a resource. You can develop a relationship with a veterinarian before you even have a pet. We are happy to offer our expertise in helping you get your relationship with your pet off to the best possible start.