Kitten on a blanket

As an animal trainer, I work with prospective pet parents in a variety of settings, including animal shelters and private preadoption consultations. In every situation, my goal is the same: to help people identify their ideal animal companions. Careful planning and assessment are essential prior to adding a new dog or cat to your family, regardless of whether the animal is the first pet in your home or the household already has numerous furry residents.

If you are considering a new pet, there are some important factors to consider before you commit.

Assess the Cost

Dogs and cats give us far more than we can give them when it comes to love and devotion. But it’s important to be aware of the cost of adding a pet to your family — in terms of both money and time.

Pets require a substantial financial commitment; the shelter adoption fee or breeder cost is only the beginning of this investment. Ongoing costs include veterinary care (one or two wellness exams per year, plus surgery, medication and treatment as necessary), boarding, training, grooming, food, toys, bedding, containment options and other essentials. As you choose your new pet, think carefully about available resources. Breeds with genetic predispositions to certain health issues, for example, or giant breeds may be more likely to incur significant medical expenses than other breeds. Pet insurance is one possible way to offset costs over the long run and provide care even if the unexpected does occur, but that is another additional cost.

Money isn’t the only issue, though. A pet requires a big time commitment, too. Cats may be stereotyped as antisocial and independent, but many felines need significant amounts of attention and interaction. Dogs also require ongoing quality time. Potential pet owners who work long hours outside the home, travel frequently or are consistently unavailable for long periods of the day or week will need to explore alternative options, like a pet sitter, doggie daycare or a dog walker, before committing to a new pet. If your current schedule makes it difficult to commit to caring for a pet, then it makes sense to postpone bringing a new cat or dog home. 

Finally, it is important to be aware that younger animals may require a greater commitment of both time and money than older pets. Puppies and kittens need time-consuming socialization and training; in addition, you will most likely need to pay for initial vaccinations and spay or neuter surgery. Younger animals typically have more energy than older pets and will have more to learn, like house training and good manners (although older pets may need to be reminded, too). These factors should be weighed carefully when you’re deciding if a younger or older pet will best fit into your home. 

Divvy Up the Care

Adults and children alike will promise to “chip in” and care for a new pet, but often these promises don’t result in real action. Instead, after the initial honeymoon phase, the brunt of the work falls to the adult who spends the most time at home. In many cases, this means that the kids beg for a dog but mom or dad ends up caring for him. To avoid family conflict, everyone’s commitment to care for the animal must be solidified before your pet comes home. Ensure this by being specific about which duties each person will be responsible for (feeding, walking, cleaning the litterbox, etc.). Consider putting it all in writing, so that everyone remembers what they’ve agreed to do.

If you or your family has limited experience with animals, there are ways to get a feel for what having a dog or cat is like before you commit to pet ownership. Volunteering at a shelter can be a good first step in learning to care for a pet. Fostering and pet sitting also allow everyone to experience firsthand the time and effort that go into having a pet. This also gives adults an opportunity to see if kids are willing — and able — to follow through on assigned pet care chores before making the full commitment. 

Adopting a pet as a family should be a group endeavor, but if you’re a single person with roommates, the situation is a little different. Before you bring a dog or cat into a shared living space, take the time to address potential problems. For instance, if you have a roommate who dislikes or is uncomfortable around dogs or cats, it would be best to wait until you’re in a new living situation before getting an animal. The same is true if you’re living with someone who is allergic to dogs or cats.

In addition, you will need to think about other animals you may already be sharing your house or apartment with. If your current roommate has a pet with a preexisting behavior problem, like reacting on leash, that this can transfer to another dog; your roommate will need to deal with this issue before you bring another pet into the mix. Similarly, if your house mate’s cat potties outside the litterbox, lingering smells may prompt your new cat to do the same. Finally, if the animal being adopted has issues that may cause conflict in your home, such as a limited tolerance for other pets or children, and you are already sharing space with another animal or are living in a family-filled apartment building or neighborhood, you will need to either postpone bringing a new pet home or look for another living situation.

Choose the Right Pet

Before you commit to any pet, it’s important to do your research. Think carefully about the adult build, breed and size that suits your living environment, and the energy level that will best match the types of activities you plan on doing together. Energetic, excitable animals and younger animals generally need more exercise, training and structure on a daily basis to manage their energy. If you want a dog who will enjoy activities like fetch, jogging, hiking or agility, then an energetic working breed may be a great fit. If you’re looking for a feline who loves to play, opt for a younger, more energetic individual. 

In most cases, sporting and working dog breeds need homes that can provide extensive physical outlets. Medium to large breeds, such as Australian Shepherds, Border Collies and Retrievers, need compatibly active homes, while many small breeds, including Corgis, Dachshunds, Jack Russell Terriers and Yorkies, require a high amount of exercise comparative to their size.

Cats also have varying temperaments and energy levels. For instance, the hairless Sphynx and Egyptian Mau are both high-energy breeds and may require more play and exploration opportunities than their more sedate peers.

Think also about your ability to provide for any special needs your pet may have and carefully consider any health factors that are important to you and your family. For instance, if longevity is important, be aware that giant breeds typically do not live as long as their smaller counterparts. If you want a pet who will snuggle with you on the sofa, look for breeds that are more prone to be couch potatoes than Olympic athletes. If your living situation requires a quiet animal, steer clear of talkative breeds like the Siamese or Beagle and look into dogs or cats with fewer tendencies to vocalize. 

Think About the Future

Though we may never know for sure where our path will lead, we can make preparations for the journey we anticipate. This means thinking beforehand about changes that may occur, such as marriage, a new baby or grandchild, or a move to a new home. Advance planning allows you to choose a dog or cat who will be a good fit for your life, both at the present moment and in the anticipated future. 

Animals can bring happiness, wholeness and even healing to a family. As you choose your new pet, consider carefully your expectations and needs, and take the time to find the dog or cat who will fit into your family now and for years to come.

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