There are many things to consider before getting a pet. Even relatively easy pets to care for should not be bought lightly. Any animal requires at least some attention and work. That's why it's important to think carefully about your ability to meet a pet's needs.
Unfortunately, it appears that many people do not take the time to consider the work involved, at least judging by the over one million dogs and cats that need to be re-homed every year. Thinking about your reasons for wanting a pet, the environment you can provide a pet, and how a pet fits into your lifestyle now and in the future can help you maximize the chance that you and your new pet thrive together for many years.
The following seven questions will help you determine whether you are ready for a pet.
The first question is the most important. The reason you want a pet has to justify the work involved. For example, getting a pet to save a relationship or as a birthday present for a young child can backfire. If you do not have a strong enough reason to care for a pet, it can end badly for both you and the animal. The animal will end up suffering from neglect, and you may become frustrated with the time, energy, and expense you are putting in.
Most people want a pet for the companionship. If this is your reason, consider how much companionship you want, and when. Pets vary on how much attention they need. If you are away from home a lot, a cat may be better than a dog, since cats do better than dogs with less interaction. If you want a pet to help you manage anxiety, on the other hand, a dog is usually more than willing to let you pet it all day. Cats tends to find other things to do.
Once you have your reasons and goals down you can research what pet is right for you.
Resolving what kind of pet you want means more than asking if you'd rather have a dog or a cat. For one thing, dog breeds are so varied that they can act almost like different animals. Do you want to go on runs with the dog? Do you live in a small space? The type of dog you get matters a great deal. Research dog breeds to help determine which one fits your lifestyle.
Look beyond the typical cat or dog as a pet, too. A lizard, turtle, fish, or bird may be better suited to your lifestyle than a cat or a dog. For example, a hamster, rabbit or guinea pig may work better as a child's first pet, since they are easier to care for and still cute. If you are a young adult, consider a pet that would be unique but easier to care for, like a bird, so that if you are stuck at work or want to go out at night you can do so without harm to the pet.
Finally, ask yourself if you'd rather have a rescue or go through a pet store or breeder. Rescuing a dog or cat can save the life of an animal. On the other hand, with pet stores and breeders you can get more certainty that the animal is healthy when you adopt it. Rescue animals may need more time and energy, as they can suffer from anxiety and may have other needs.
Whatever you decide on, your pet should reflect your lifestyle, environment, values, and interests.
Once you have a good reason for wanting a certain type of pet, you need to make sure your living arrangements can accommodate it. You may need to check with your landlord about what pets are allowed, as lease agreements often include pet restriction clauses. Homeowner's associations can also have pet restrictions. While few HOAs prohibit pets entirely, there can be restrictions on the size and type of pets allowed.
Beyond the legal restrictions, you should also be considerate of roommates, neighbors, and your pet. Some dogs need more exercise than others, for example, so if you live in a small apartment in a big city you want to get a dog that is comfortable in that environment.
Beyond the living space itself, you should ask how a pet fits into your day-to-day life. Try to imagine a routine day with the pet prior to adopting it. How will you take care of the pet before going to work? When will you feed it? Will you have the time or motivation to clean its cage? Does it need training, and if so, when and how will you train it?
Thinking step-by-step about your week with the pet will help you understand the work required and minimize surprises.
Next, take a realistic look at your budget. A pet costs a lot more than its adoption and food. You'll need to buy toys or decorations, a leash, food bowls, and other things depending on the pet. Even fish have some ongoing expenses, like water treatment chemicals, that aren't always apparent up front.
If you choose a pet with a larger commitment, like a dog or cat, you'll also need to account for veterinary costs and regular appointments. And, if your dog or cat gets sick, there will be unexpected financial costs.
Finally, be wary of potential property damage and liability. If you are a tenant you may need to pay for any damage to the carpet, walls or yard that your pet causes. If your dog bites and injures someone, you (and your insurance) will be responsible for paying the injured victim's medical costs.
Some pets require minimal lifestyle changes. If you can remember to feed your fish and make a habit of routine cleaning, you're probably ready for a fish. But a dog requires a significant commitment to a lifestyle change. As just one example, if you go on vacation you'll need to figure out who will care for the dog in your absence. You'll need to make caring for the dog a part of your day-to-day life. That means daily walks, training, and attention. Before getting a pet, determine your level of commitment. If in doubt, you can always start with a pet that requires less attention to see how it goes.
Some pets also require thinking about long-term plans. What do you expect your living situation to be in a few years? Are you going to move? Have children? While none of us can predict the future, getting a pet is a commitment for the life of the pet. That means you'll need to be able to adjust your life to accommodate the pet.
Pet ownership is an exciting prospect. If getting a pet is right for you, good luck and enjoy your time together. If now isn't the right time however, you can always re-evaluate in the near future to see if you are ready.