One of the joys of being a general practice veterinarian is that I get to see lots of new puppies and kittens as they are getting their start in life with a new family. I get to talk about what is needed to keep them healthy and how to start early on the path to good citizenship all while holding an irresistibly cute fuzz ball. Unfortunately for the happy expectations can sour due to poor foresight prior to acquiring their new pet. Here are some serious considerations that need to be made before committing to care for an animal for the rest of its life.
1. Pets will still cost you money after you purchase them or adopt them. Besides food and toys, puppies and kittens will need vaccines and spays or neuters. They may get sick or injured and require medical attention. If you had to finance the purchase of that bulldog puppy you are likely to find that the cherry eye surgery, the skin infection treatment, and the hip replacement surgery that are likely to be needed in the near future will be difficult to manage, and it is not fair to your pet to have to go without medical attention because you failed to contemplate the realities of their maintenance before committing to them. If you can’t afford vaccines then you can’t afford a pet.
2. No matter how cute your new puppy or kitten is, if it is forbidden in the lease for your apartment it will cause you problems. Do not try to sneak a pet into a housing situation where their inevitable discovery will lead to you deciding if you will be evicted or you will get rid of your pet. Lots of innocent animals get dumped at the Humane Society as if it is the Humane Society’s job to pick up the responsibility because the original owner made a bad decision. In spite of the very dedicated efforts of our many rescue societies, not all of those innocent animals get a happy ending.
3. New pets do not come pre-programmed with all the good behaviors you would like them to have. Puppies in particular need guidance, and lots of it. It is time-consuming and hard work to guide a dog to become a harmonious member of the family. Sometimes you get lucky and you get an easy one, but just like children, you are just as likely to get a knucklehead that needs considerably more help in learning what is OK and what is not. If you only have time to toss the dog in the back yard and leave it there without any human interaction for days on end you may find yourself disappointed with the amount of refinement in your dog’s manners. If you do not have the time or desire to spend a lot of quality time every single day with your pet, then you should reconsider getting a pet.
4. Giving a pet as a surprise gift is almost never a good idea. You are obligating that person to all the above mentioned issues, and they may not be ready or willing to make that commitment. It may seem that giving a cute kitten is the solution for loneliness or grief over a recently lost pet, but if the recipient of the gift was planning to go on a Caribbean cruise in a week they will not appreciate having to figure out how to get the kitten taken care of while they are gone. The gift giver sees the adorable puppy. The gift recipient also sees all the poop on the floor until the puppy is house trained.
5. Exotic animals are really fun to look at, but can be very difficult to provide a healthy environment for. Snakes and lizards don’t consider their lives to be disposable if the person who promises to care for them doesn’t want to bother with jumping through all those hoops to provide appropriate light, heat, humidity, food, and shelter. Sugar gliders are fascinating little marsupials, but in the wild they gouge eucalyptus trees with their sharp teeth and then come back later to eat the sap that bleeds out and any insects trapped inside. Are you prepared to put the effort into making sure their nutritional needs are met? In general exotic animals require more effort to keep them healthy, but for some reason many people get them because they mistakenly think that a budgie or a hedgehog will be easier to keep as a pet than a dog or cat. Research the needs of your exotic pet very carefully (that means find more information than just what the guy at the pet store tells you) before you make a promise to an animal that you will appropriately provide for all its needs.
In spite of, or probably in large part because of, the amount of work and love and time and effort and money that go into our pets almost anyone who has had one can understand how they enrich our lives. Keep the experience positive by going into the relationship with eyes open.