Americans love pets. More than 64 million U.S. households have at least one companion animal and the number of pets grew by more than 10% in the past decade.
It’s not surprising, say the experts at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Pets provide companionship, unconditional love and fun. But adding a pet to family is also a commitment: pet ownership also brings with it the responsibility to feed, house, train and care for another living thing.
If you are thinking about pet ownership for the first time, it’s important to make an informed decision, says the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). All too often, a well-meaning family purchases or adopts a pet only to find out that the new family member is not compatible with their lifestyle, or requires more care than expected. Sadly, this may add to the population of homeless pets in shelters.
Before you begin visiting shelters or pet stores, it’s important to answer these three questions:
1. Do you have the space for this pet?
Active dogs need more space and more daily exercise than older or more sedentary dogs. Some pets may get enough exercise within the confines of a house or apartment. For their own safety, dogs and cats should not be allowed to run uncontrolled, but should be walked on a leash or exercised in an enclosed area. Most animals are better kept indoors or in doggy day camp or day care at a quality kennel while you’re gone.
2. Do you have the time for this pet?
Pets depend on people for affection and attention. Feeding, exercise, grooming, and play are daily time commitments that must be considered in caring for a healthy, happy pet. If you are considering a dog, do you have time for the obedience training necessary to help the dog become a good companion? Are you gone all day? Will your working hours allow enough time to provide the care and exercise a pet needs every day?
3. Do you have the money for this pet?
The purchase price of an animal varies greatly. All pets need food and shelter, and most should have regular visits to a veterinarian for health checkups and vaccinations. Don’t forget about boarding when you travel, grooming, obedience training and toys and accessories. The ASPCA estimates that the average first year costs of a pet range from about $650 for a cat or $800 for a small dog up to $1500 for a large dog — and that doesn’t even include the cost of purchasing or adopting the pet itself!
Even if you can answer "yes" to all three questions, don’t let the playful antics of a puppy or kitten in the pet store prompt you to act on impulse. Do your homework, researching the care requirements and behavioral characteristics of the pets you would like to consider. Make educated decisions: dog or cat? juvenile or adult? pure-bred or mix? large or small?
Take your time – the process won’t take long and can be educational and fun – and you will be rewarded with a happy, healthy pet with whom you family can form a lifelong bond.