Have you been suckered by a pair of irresistible puppy dog eyes? Can't bear to part with the tiny kitten that fell asleep in your lap? It's hard to visit your local shelter and not want to take home a new pet, but making a spur-of-the-moment decision might not be the best idea for either of you.
When pets are good, they're very good. They're cute, cuddly and can provide you with a lifetime of fun. But when they're feeling mischievous, upset or simply board, get ready for a challenge. They can mark their territories on your new oriental rug, chew up your favorite pair of shoes and shred a chair's upholstery in a day's work.
The first question you have to ask yourself when thinking about getting a pet is the most important—why do you want a pet? If you're looking for a companion, you're in it for the right reasons. Here are a few more things to consider when trying to find the perfect pet for you.
When you decide to adopt a pet or get one from a reputable breeder, what you're really doing is opening your home to another family member. You know there's room for a pet in your heart, but how about in your home?
Outdoor Space: Do you have a yard? If your new dog needs to go out, where will you take it? Are there local dog parks or dog runs you can take advantage of? Also, if you live in a condo or apartment with a balcony, be sure to have safeguards in place to prevent a curious pet from getting hurt.
For Renters: Many landlords frown upon their tenants having pets. If you're lucky enough to be able to have one, find out if there is a special deposit or an extra fee per month. But apartment leases don't last forever—if you have to move, will you be able to take the pet with you?
For Homeowners: If you've got a fenced-in yard on a lot of land, you should be all set! But if you live in a condo or townhome, ask your association if there are certain restrictions on breeds, the number of pets you can have and the size of the pets you can have. Rules can vary greatly from place to place.
How Protective Are You?: What kind of things do you have in your house? Is your style comfy-cozy or do you prefer to have "museum rooms"—spaces that are off-limits to pretty much everyone? New puppies have been known to teethe on couch legs, and cute kittens may use your favorite chair as their own personal scratching posts. Think about whether there will be any space that will be off-limits to your pet and how you would be able to teach it boundaries you're both comfortable with. Lifestyle Considerations
No doubt, having an animal changes your life for the better. Studies have shown that owning a pet is good for your mind, body and soul. Still, with great love comes great responsibility. Will a pet fit into your life? Here are a few things to consider.
Work: Do you work part time or full time? Do you work a regular eight-hour day, or can a typical day easily stretch to 12 or 14 hours? Remember that you'll have someone at home who's counting on you. If you feel like your work life is too unpredictable, consider using a dog walker or pet daycare to help fill in the gaps you're gone during the day.
Allergies: Do you or someone else in your household just happen to sneeze whenever you're near a dog or a cat? Worried about whether you'll be able to breathe with a pet at home full time? Do some research and find allergy-friendly pets. If you're still concerned, consider consulting an allergist before making any decisions about expanding your family.
Physical Needs: Can you physically handle the pet you're considering? There's a big difference between handling small dog breeds and large dog breeds. Will the pet you're considering need to be lifted? Are you strong enough to hold it if it's anxious or trying to go after something? Remember, even the cutest, tiniest, most cuddly puppy can grow into an animal that's taller than you!
Children at Play: How kid-friendly does your pet need to be? Whether you have kids now, have nieces or nephews who frequently visit or are considering kids in the future, everyone will be more at ease if you know your pet is good with children.
Must Love Dogs...or Cats: Do you have other pets? You know your current pets pretty well by now. How are they around other animals? When thinking about bringing a new pet home, try to observe the new addition around other animals. If you're introducing a cat and a dog, for instance, do some research and get the best ways to have them become friends.
Moving Out?: How many years have you lived in your present home? Do you expect to move anytime soon? Just like humans, moving creates a lot of stress for animals. Are you in a profession that requires you to move frequently? Finding a place to live could prove more difficult with a furry friend in tow, so be fully aware of the long-term commitment you're making to your pet.
Help Wanted: Will you have any help? Do you live alone, have a roommate or a spouse? If you're running late, will you have someone else available to let out the dog or feed the cat?
The Age Question: Puppies and kittens sometimes need a little more attention and training. Are you experienced enough to handle it? Or would you rather help an older dog or cat looking for a home? Animals who are a few years old are sometimes less excitable and may already know the basic skills you'd have to teach a puppy, including the most important one—how to love their owners!
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: How stable are your relationships? Are you living with someone or married? Keep in mind that breakups and divorces affect pets too. If things are a little rocky, think twice about adopting a new member of the family. If you were to separate, could you afford to keep the pet? Would you have to share custody? Do your best to avoid heartbreak all around.
Become a Foster Parent: Still not sure if you're ready for the responsibility of a pet? Consider fostering a dog or cat. Reach out to your local shelter to see how you can make it happen—it's a great guilt-free way to see how owning a pet fits into your lifestyle. Who knows? You may find out that you two are a great fit! Financial Considerations
It's a sad reality, but tough economic times sometimes call for tough decisions. For some people, that means facing a heart-wrenching truth—they simply can't afford to keep their pet. Don't put yourself or any animal through the pain of separation. See if owning a pet will fit in your budget before you get one.
Run the Numbers: Do you know how much each year it costs to own a pet? It's important to realize the cost of owning a pet only begins with the adoption fee. When you bring your new pet home, you've got to get food, bowls, leashes, collars, microchips, sleeping crates, carrying cases and, of course, a new toy or two. But as your pet gets older, you'll have to shell out for regular vet visits, vaccinations, medications, food, water, possible daycare or boarding and other expenses that could be specific to your pet's breed and size. Do some research and try to estimate what you'll be spending per year. It can help you plan for the financial long run.
Health Care Costs: Pet insurance plans are available, but do they make financial sense for you? Would you rather put a set amount away per month and draw on your pet savings account for vet visits and vaccinations?
In Case of Emergency: Broken bones, serious genetic defects, emergency surgery...if your dog or cat needs urgent care, can you afford it? A pet is a member of your family, so you'll go to great lengths to ensure its health and safety. But start putting some money away now so your pet's health won't send you into debt. Start a saving plan so if the unexpected happens, you can focus on nursing your pet back to health and not how you'll pay for it.
Getting the Goods: What things will you need to buy for your pet on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis? Does it need to eat premium food? Will you actually make food yourself? What sort of toys or supplies does it regularly use? Be aware of what will be coming into your home—and how much you'll have to spend on all of it.
Grooming: Is your dog or cat particularly high maintenance? Can you handle the brushing, shaving and nail clipping yourself, or will you need to get some professional help? Grooming is an important part of your dog or cat's health. Don't neglect it to save a buck.
Work with a Vet You Can Trust: Your vet should give the best care possible to your pet, but also take care of you. Do you think you're being overcharged? Do you feel like some of the things your vet is recommending are over the top or just unnecessary? If you feel like you aren't being fairly treated, don't be afraid to ask questions about your bill.
Travel Plans: Whether it's a business trip or your dream cruise, consider what you'll do with your dog or cat when you're away. Will a family member dog or cat sit for free, or will you have to pay someone to come into your home? Can you afford to leave your pet at a boarding facility or long-term pet hotel? Get an estimate of a few options in your area, think about how much you'll be away and run the numbers.