Think You're Ready for a Pet?

Humans have kept pets for tens of thousands of years.  The packs of wolves that would follow early nomadic man learned to trade protection for scraps.  Within a few generations the domesticated canine was born.  As humans evolved from nomadic hunters to organized city dwellers, cats became useful companions in the home.  They protected perishable pantry goods from mice.  Thus, the domesticated cat was born.


Fast-forward 15000 years our civilization is vastly different.  And while domesticated dogs, cats, and other pets look a little different then their ancestors, their instincts are still quite close to their ancient predecessors.  They are animals with survival instincts that often go under stimulated in modern environments.  Often times this leads to trouble for both pet and owner as each they continue their domestic relationship modern world.


Unfortunately many people do not take the time to study a specific pet’s traits before bringing that pet into their environment.  When choosing a pet it is important to consider what that pet has been bred for, how long it will live, and what will be involved in the long term care, housing, and feeding of the animal.  Here are a few things to consider before taking on the responsibility of a pet:



Reason for Owning a Pet


So you’re thinking about getting a pet.  Why?  Have you really thought about your motive behind bringing an animal into your life?  Are you looking for a cute and fun companion?  Does your child want a pet?  It’s easy to fall in love with an adorable kitten or puppy, but that animal will grow into adulthood and be part of your life for a long time.  Are you ready for that?  Don’t make an impulse purchase.  If you’re reacting emotionally to cuteness then it’s probably not the right time.  If you’ve recently been through a big change or loss (death, divorce, empty nest, move, new baby) then it’s probably not the right time.  If your child wants a pet and you’re enticed by indulging your child’s whim then it is probably not the right time.       



Lifestyle and Environment


Once you’ve determined that this is not an impulse you may think you’re ready to shop for your new pet, but there are more factors to consider.  Now consider your lifestyle and home environment.  Do you spend long hours away from home? Do you travel frequently? Are you active? Are you social? Do you have children?  Other pets? Do you spend most of your time indoors or outdoors? Take time to really assess your responsibilities, routine, environment, and habits before choosing a pet.  Some dogs and birds are highly social and need constant care.  Some animals require a lot of exercise.  Some require a lot of indoor and outdoor space.  Others pets are fairly low maintenance.  Some animals have a difficult time with small children and strangers.  Some are aggressive, protective, and even predatory to smaller animals and children.  If you live in a high rise in Manhattan and spend 80% of your time on the road, then an Australian Sheepdog is probably not the pet for you.  If you are a home body who doesn’t like to go out much than a boxer is probably not the pet for you.  It is important to consider your specific routine and lifestyle and choose a pet that will fit based on compatibility, not on cuteness.   



Needs and Care


All pets, even fish and small animals, require some level of care.  Large breed dogs require a lot of exercise.  Some cats and dogs require a lot of grooming.  Some snakes and birds require a special diet.  Fish tanks and habitats have to be cleaned.  Litter boxes have to be emptied, etc.  Most pets will require socialization, training, and care.  That adorable little Maltese puppy is going to require regular grooming.  That beautifully plumed parrot that seemed so charming at the pet store could become aggressive and destructive if not trained and socialized properly.   And that parrot is going to live for a very long time (30-60 years).  That cute kitten is going to grow into an adult cat with fairly strong predatory instincts. 




Health and Longevity


Once you’ve assessed your lifestyle and ability to care for a pet, it is also important to think about long-term concerns.  One consideration may prospective pet owners forget to consider is the average lifespan of a pet.  Most dogs and cats live from 12-16 years and even longer.  Tortoises and goldfish have a lifespan equivalent to humans.  Many parrots lie 35-60 years.  Conversely, mice and smaller animals live less than 5 years.  Most pets will be in your home as long as a child and some even longer.  If you are looking for a pet to fill a void for a short time, or because you’re lonely after your children moved out of the house, then it’s probably not a good time.  If you have an older child who wants a pet and is able to care for it now, think about where that child will be in 8 years.  He or she will have moved out and you will be left to care for that pet for another 8 years.  This responsibility could potentially hamper your long-term life goals like travel, career, and so on. 






Another long-term consideration is cost. It is important to consider the cost of owning, feeding, and housing a pet long-term.  There is the initial purchase costs but it doesn’t stop there.  There is the annual feeding cost to consider.  Some pets like snakes and birds require a special diet.  Dogs, cats, and birds will need regular vet checkups every year.  During the first year of their life, puppies and kittens will need several rounds of vaccinations.  Then there is also the cost to spay or neuter these animals.  To have their teeth cleaned yearly.  There is the cost for habitat for all pets.  This may mean building a fence, buying a kennel, terrarium, aquarium, etc.  Then there is the monthly cost to feed your pet.  When you add up the basic costs over the lifespan of the pet the sticer price can get very high.  According to a study by Business Insider, a medium dog will cost close to $6,565 over its lifetime.  A cat will cost $7,640.  And a cockatoo will cost a whopping $52,250 over the course of its 50 year life span.  These estimates are only based on the initial purchase cost, as well as the cost for feeding, basic medical care, and habitat.


These estimates do not include other expenses such as boarding, toys, indulgences and and emergency care. Pets are susceptible to accidents, illness, and congenital problems the same way people are.  When such emergencies occur the financial cost can be great.  An animal ER office visit will cost you a few hundred dollars.  A surgery will cost several thousand.  And if your pet requires medication or long-term treatment the costs can run into tens of thousands of dollars.  Many families are faced with the difficult choices where cost is concern.  Many owners have to give their pet up for adoption or send it to a shelter because they can no longer afford it.  Many owners choose to euthanize pets who are ill or need surgery because they cannot afford the vet bill. So when you think about bringing a pet into your home, it is important to think about your financial situation in the short and long term.  Can you really afford it?  Are you willing to pay the price and make the difficult choices when they arise?




Still Ready? Time to Shop Around


Now that you really taken time to consider your motives for owning a pet, your ability and willingness to care for a pet long term, it is time to shop around.  Where do you start?  Take your time and do your research.  Pet stores are great for pet supplies, but they are not the best place to learn about specific pets, and they have a bias to sell you a pet or equipment for a pet.  Research reputable breeders and rescue organizations in your area.  Visit the local humane society. Talk to a vet.  Wherever you look, go in with an open mind.  Spend some time with a few pets and observe them.  Interact with them.  Like people, animals have unique personalities.   You may fall in love with one particular animal, but don’t get too attached right away.  Go home and think about it.  Keep looking.  Take time before you make your final decision.



Types of Pets




Dogs make great family pets.  The advantage to dogs is that there are many options of size, energy level and temperament depending on the breed.  They are loyal and obedient.  All dogs will require training, some more than others.  Dogs are pack animals, so they are highly social and will expect to be part of the family.  They require regular interaction and socialization with people and other pets.  For individuals and families who are looking for a loyal companion, dogs are a great choice.  If you are looking for a more independent pet, then a dog is not a good choice for you.





Cats are more independent than dogs and are also affectionate and charming.  They make ideal pets for owners who have less time and interest to devote to frequent interaction.  Cats need less space than dogs.  However, cats are still quite similar to their “wild” ancestors, so predatory and breeding instincts are strong in cats.  All house cats should be spayed and neutered to make them more docile and less apt to prowl.  They also need some stimulation to allow them the chance to play at hunting.  Otherwise they may turn their predatory instincts on your possessions or other pets. 



Small Animals


Guinea pigs are gentle and affectionate.  They live in small habitats and are fairly easy to feed and care for.  The have little odor.  They only live for 5-8 years, which may be ideal if you want a pet for a short period of time. 



Ferrets are affectionate and intelligent.  They are quite and curious, but many people find their odor undesirable.  They need more interaction than other rodents because of their intelligence.  When under-stimulated they can become lethargic and destructive.  In rare cases, ferrets have been known to show aggression toward small children.



Rabbits are adorable as babies, but when the mature they can become aggressive and destructive.  For this reason, rabbits do not make desirable pets for most families.  They can be fun for older children if you have a lot of space for them to explore and an outdoor habitat to house them.  Rabbits should be kept away from dogs and cats, as they may be seen as prey by the larger animal.



Rats, mice, gerbils and hamsters are economical pets and have fairly short life spans (2-3 years), so they are often desirable for families with children.  They require little space and are easy to house, feed, and care for.  The most odiferous of this group are hamsters, what little odor they produce is slight. 





Turtles, tortoises, lizards, and snakes are considered “observational” pets.  They are fun to look at and will tolerate being handled, but they will not show affection in return.  Tortoises are the most affectionate of this group, but they live a very long time. 



Birds offer a variety of options in interaction and temperament, but they do not make ideal pets for most people.  Parrots, cockatoos, and parakeets, and cockatiels are the most affectionate of the group.  They generally only bond to one family member.  Some species require a special diet.  Larger birds, such as parrots, live a long time.  They can be noisy, which some owners find a nuisance.  Some birds, like cockatoos, produce a lot of dust and powder.  This can be a problem if you are prone to allergies. 



Fish are similar in many ways to house plants.  They add beauty and color to a room.  Like plants, however, it takes a “green thumb” to keep the fish and the aquarium healthy and clean. 




Our mission at PetStarter is to promote responsible pet ownership.  We love pets, and we are dedicated to educating prospective pet owners about a number of different pet species.  We want you to find the perfect pet for your needs, but only at the right time.  Thank you for choosing PetStarter as your source for all things pets!