Having a pet is rewarding, but it can be hard work as well. If you are well prepared, do your research, and love your pet unconditionally, caring for a pet doesn’t have to be back-breaking. Read on to get some tips for supporting any animal addition to your family.
Preparing for a Pet
Determine if you can adequately care for a pet. While pets are loving additions to your home, they are not always easy to manage. All pets require time, money, and love in addition to the specific needs of each animal and breed. You need to be sure you want a pet not just that day but in the long-term.
Most pets require attention and maintenance during the day, so make sure you’ll be home enough to take care of your pet.
If you have kids, consider what pets will be kid-friendly. Hamsters and fish, for example, make great early pets.
If you plan on moving or making large lifestyle changes you shouldn’t consider a pet until you are more stable.
Choose a pet that fits your lifestyle. Even different types of dogs have different needs, so make sure you pick a pet that suits your means. Before buying a pet do thorough research on the behaviors and needs of various pets you like. Don’t go into this decision dead-set on one species or breed — being open-minded can lead to happy surprises and the right pet for your family. Keep in mind some general concerns with different pets:
Dogs – though dogs vary widely by breed, all dogs need lots of attention, time to exercise, and plenty of room to roam.
Cats – Intelligent and individual, cats will be fine with less supervision, though they still need your love and time to keep from acting out.
Hamsters, Gerbils, Ferrets, and Rodents – Economical and short-living, rodents make good first pets. They often, however, have strong odors.
Fish – Fish need careful monitoring and care to thrive, and won’t cuddle anytime soon. Think of having a fish like having a garden.
Lizards – Happy on their own and generally easy to care for, lizards do not offer much affection and can be difficult to diagnose when sick.
Birds – Birds can be incredibly messy and are often loud. They are also expensive and occasionally temperamental, especially bigger birds like parrots.
Rabbits – Rabbits are friendly first-time pets that make a great contribution to the household. However, they can easily make a lot of noise and mess.
Choose your breed carefully, especially if you have children. It’s a mistake to just decide “I want a dog” (or any other animal) and to buy the animal without considering the needs and requirements of the breed.
Some breeds are natural shepherds, which makes them great for 1 person, but some breeds (Border Collie, for example) have the sheep-herding instinct in their blood. This means that when a child roams too far from the rest of the “herd,” the collie will try to get it back. How does it do it with the sheep? It bites them. This may result in grave injuries to children. Please do your research on how breeds behave.
It is important that a pet lives in an environment where it will be comfortable, safe and provided with what it needs. Some animals are very adaptable, such as cats, which can live happily in environments ranging from farm land to city centers, while others have more specific needs. For example, horses must have a lot of pastureland and somewhere safe to shelter.
For animals that will roam the house, not being confined to tanks or cages, they will need places to sleep that are out of the way of general household traffic, where they can lie without being disturbed, such as the corner of a room. If they are a cat that will often be shut indoors, then it is also important that they have a litter tray that is regularly cleaned out.
Be realistic about your budget, and your ability to shoulder responsibilities. Some pets are more expensive than other pets, and you need to be honest with yourself about whether you can afford the pet – and whether you have the time and maturity to handle it.
Costs associated with pets include set-up supplies. Depending on the kind of pet, you might need a crate, an aquarium, and leashes.
Don’t forget the ongoing costs of caring for a pet. You need to factor in the cost of regular food purchases, but also whether you can afford to take your pet to the veterinarian for preventative care (like shots), not just emergency care. That’s essential to keep the pet healthy, and it can be quite costly.
Prepare your house for your incoming pet. Curious, food-driven, and unable to listen to your warnings, pets can get into trouble if you don’t create boundaries or safe spaces. Birds may dart out of open windows, lizards can scamper around the house, and dogs or cats may run into the street. Take note of openings your pet could accidentally escape through and make sure you can keep food out of their reach.
Remove any harmful objects like knives or poisonous food.
If you want your animal to have outside time, consider putting in a fence.
Put aside one room that you can designate as the pet’s “bedroom.”
Aim to adopt your pet during a relatively quiet time in your life so that everyone can avoid undue stress while getting used to each other.
Buy necessary pet supplies in advance. Talk to the pet store attendants or adoption agencies about things you’ll need — housing, toys, grooming supplies, etc. — and shop before you bring your new pet home. Teach your family members how to use everything so that everyone is on the same page.
If you have young children you can help them prepare for pet care by “feeding” a doll or regularly watering plants.
Caring for Pets
Schedule regular visits to the vet. Be sure to bring your pet to the vet soon after adopting it as well. Just like humans, pets need regular check-ups to spot problems before they become serious conditions. Use your first visit to discuss how often you should schedule check-ups and your pet’s dietary and medical needs.
Be sure to schedule shots and vaccinations as soon as you can. Make sure that your pet has all of the proper vaccines and other preventative medication suggested by your veterinarian, such as heart worm pills for some dogs.
Ask your vet what symptoms to look for if your pet gets sick.
Spay or neuter dogs and cats to prevent pet over-population.
Record your vet’s number as well as the number of a veterinary hospital in case of emergencies.
Knowing your pet’s normal behavior is very important; if they are sick or injured, they will often act unusually, such as sleeping more, going off their food, etc. If they begin to act oddly, check them for any injuries and keep an eye on their food and water intake; if they stop eating or drinking, or they have obvious wounds that are concerning you, then take them to the vet.
Make sure your new “family member” has food that suits their nutritional needs. The cheapest food you find may not always be the healthiest. Feeding animals table scraps – no matter how cute they are when they beg – is not a good idea since people food often has minerals and items in it that can be harmful to our animal friends. Only feed your pet appropriate foods and give them responsible portions.
Research or ask your vet about good food sources and portion sizes.
Natural foods, though more expensive, are healthier than dry or processed foods.
Watch your pet’s diet carefully. Many foods that are edible for humans can be inappropriate for animals, making them ill when they consume them, so it is important to research what foods your pet can not eat as well as those they can eat.
Overfeeding is as harmful as underfeeding, so it is important that your pet gets the amount of food it needs and not too much extra. For some animals, dietary requirements may change with the season; for example, if you have horses or other grazing animals, they will often require more hay during the seasons when there is less grass.
Look at pet food labels to make sure you are purchasing food for your pet that is properly nutritious. Research which food could harm your pet.
It is vital that all pets have a constant water supply. Check water bowls at least once a day to ensure that they have enough water and that the water is clean and not contaminated.
Clean your pet and all of its enclosures. This will keep both you and your pet healthy and happy. Create a regular cleaning schedule, at least once every 2-3 weeks, and stick to it, cleaning your animal and it’s living spaces to prevent disease and odor.
Consider whether your pet needs to be groomed. Many animals will largely take care of themselves, only really needing to be groomed or bathed when they manage to get very messy. Others, such as long-haired dogs or cats, may need regular grooming.
For larger pets like cats and dogs, there are animal cleaning centers with large tubs and hoses.
Keep up with regular grooming, such as brushing fur or scrubbing scales, every few days.
For dogs and cats, make sure you keep their nails short so they don’t break painfully.
It is a good idea to desensitize your pet to being groomed or bathed from an early age. When brushing fur, ensure any brush used on the face is soft, and if brushing long, tangled fur, take the time to work out knots gently rather than tugging. You can buy brushes for pets at pet stores.
When bathing your pet, make sure that the water is lukewarm and that the products you use do not cause an allergic reaction – buying specialist shampoos is not always necessary, but heavily perfumed products may cause a rash for many animals.
Consider taking your pet to a professional groomer if you aren’t sure you are competent to do it. You don’t want to accidentally injure the pet.
Exercise your pet if it’s the kind of pet that needs it, such as a dog. Figure out the exercise needs (if any) of the pet before you buy it, and consider whether your lifestyle gives you enough time to meet them.
Some pets don’t require you to do much beyond providing them with a safe place to move about, such as buying a run for a rabbit, and making sure the tank is large enough for fish. But other pets must be exercised.
Dogs require a more hands-on approach to exercise because they need to be walked regularly. Making sure your pet gets enough exercise can help prevent aggression and destructive behaviors.
Do in-depth research about care for your pet. While these steps are general guidelines for pet ownership, each animal is different and you need to adapt accordingly. Ask friends who have similar pets, check out books from the library, and search internet discussion boards about your breed or species. You can never know too much.
Be flexible once you bring your pet home. Pets have personalities and will have different wants and needs.