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Choosing A Family Pet

Pets are popular because they provide companionship, joy, unconditional love, a sense of safety, and often a service. These are probably some of the reasons why you're thinking about getting a pet. Animals are fun to be with every day. They make us feel good!

Before acting on impulse to acquire a pet, take time to consider the commitment. A dog, cat or any other pet is a living, sensitive creature. Each one is an individual, requiring life-long care. The cost of medical care, pet food and supplies should also be considered. Large-breed dogs and rabbits live an average of 8-10 years. Smaller dogs can live up to 15 years or more. Some cats, kept indoors with regular health maintenance, may live up to 20 years. Pets require continued daily investment of your attention and energy. Their needs do not cease when you are tired or preoccupied, when you leave for vacation or when the weather is bad.

Your pet-owning experience will be most enjoyable if you take the time to consider which animal best suits your family. Don't let the playful antics of the first puppy, kitten, or bird you see or the latest status-symbol pet charm you into accepting a responsibility for which you and your family are not prepared.

Before adopting a pet, consider:

• Your motivation.
Financial investment.
• Do you have room for this pet
• Required environment. Fencing? Puppy-proofing? Litter box? Other?
• Adult size. Small? Medium? Large?
• Breed characteristics and physical attributes. Activity level. Hair length.
Time and energy for pet's daily maintenance. Exercise. Grooming. Play. Affection.
• Municipal and state regulations regarding pets.
• Your previous experience. Basic obedience training. House training.
• A secondary caretaker. Vacation. Illness of yours.

Your goal is to identify the best animal(s) for your living space, lifestyle, and budget.

Do You Have Room for a Pet?

Active animals need more space and more daily exercise than older or more sedentary ones. Some pets may get enough exercise in a house or apartment. For their own safety, dogs, cats and rabbits 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 a suitable kennel while you're gone. The key is while you are gone. Most pets were initially wild, but became domesticated. Before you think about keeping an animal in a cage all of the time, think about how you would feel if you had to stay in your closet for hours or days on end. All living things need exercise and a place they can call their own. Dogs, cats and rabbits can all be house/litter box trained and thus can often “free roam” in your house without being dirty or destructive. Some creatures by nature are den-animals and do not mind spending a portion of the day in a crate.

Additionally, you may need space for a litter box and a crate or pen. Properly kept, a litter box should not smell (especially a rabbit’s). Nevertheless, many people do not want to look at a litter box in their guest bathroom or bedroom.

What Activities Do You Enjoy?

You and your family should discuss the reasons you want a companion animal and what you expect an animal to do with and for you. If you are looking for an animal that likes to sit on your lap, remember that some animals are more suited to that than others, but there are wide variations between animals within a species or breed. I have had dogs, rabbits and cats who were very cuddly and others who were very lovable, but would rather do anything than sit still. Many dogs, cats and rabbits can be taught to walk on a leash with a harness, although only dogs are good for walking/jogging with you when you exercise.

While most dogs enjoy playing with people, cats and rabbits can generally amuse themselves. Most cats and rabbits enjoy interacting with their owners but are often content to play alone. Cats and rabbits do not need to be let outdoors to live a happy and healthy life. In fact, they are better off remaining exclusively indoors. They may adapt better to smaller homes or apartments than do some dogs. Cats and rabbits do not need to be walked, though a cat can learn to walk on a leash. Though their activities can be more solitary, cats and rabbits thrive on daily attention and social contact with their owners.

If your leisure activities take you away from home, it is important to consider who will care for your pet during your absences? Cats and rabbits can withstand short (i.e. weekend) absences of their owners without having a pet sitter or needing to be boarded. Dogs are more of a challenge, needing to be let out every few hours. Smaller animals like hamsters and guinea pigs can tolerate longer absences, and can have a “home” set up that provides ample room for exercise (i.e. adding extra “rooms” and crawl tubes to the cage.) This does not mean that they do not need love and human contact daily, but it means that the required time is often less.

Do You Have a No-Pets Clause?

Most rental agreement no-pets clauses apply only to dogs and cats; rabbits, birds or small mammals (rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas) may be acceptable.

How Much Will Your Pet Cost?

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. Depending on the type of animal you choose, other cost considerations include emergency medical treatment, grooming, boarding, licensing, obedience training, and accessories.

What If a Pet Doesn't Fit Your Lifestyle or Situation?

Selecting a pet should be a family project with everyone's needs, concerns, fears, age and medical history (including allergies) considered. Family members should decide together what kind of animal they want, the amount of time they anticipate spending with it, and the amount of responsibility each person is willing to assume. Be realistic.

After discussing the role a pet will play in your life and talking with knowledgeable people, you may conclude that your first choice for a pet is not appropriate, so be flexible. Do not be misled by popular misconceptions that all cats are antisocial toward people or that no one should have a dog unless they own a house with a yard. Neither should you limit your options to a dog or cat. You may find great pleasure in a pet rabbit, bird, lizard, turtle or an aquarium of fish. Be open-minded and consider all the options.

Submitted by:

Dawn-Elise Snipes

Dr. Snipes received her PhD in Counseling and Education from the University of Florida. She has worked for 10 years in community mental health and is an ordained Christian minister. Currently she runs an online private practice Doctor Is In and an online continuing education site .




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