According to a 2009-2010 survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) an estimated 71.4 million families in the United States own a pet. That equates to 62 percent of U.S. households. The most popular animal by far is a cat, with 93.6 million purring in their owner’s laps and 77.5 million dogs burying bones in their owner’s backyard.
Pets offer wonderful companionship. Studies indicate that people with pets live longer. Companion animals trigger a relaxation response in humans and provide a reason to get moving. Whether it is walking your dog or relaxing with your meowing cat, pets are a growing trend in the U.S.
Before you impulsively buy a pet you need to consider all of the following questions to be sure you’re ready to commit to this new, long-term relationship. It’s a serious commitment and one that should not be taken lightly:
• Who will be the main caregiver for the pet? Your five-year old child may be begging the loudest for a dog or cat, but most likely isn’t ready for all of the responsibility. Consider having them take care of a neighbor’s pet with your supervision for the weekend and see if they really have the desire to do the dirty work in addition to the “fun” part of owning a pet. See also the last question about “age appropriate” pets.
• What is the annual cost of owning a pet? According to family resource, the cost of owning a pet is between $7-$14 per week, or $355-$730 a year (this includes food, annual shots, leashes, collars, tags, toys). In addition don’t forget the cost for the pet itself which ranges from free adoptions to thousands of dollars for pure breeds.
• How much additional are you willing to spend in veterinary bills? Besides the cost of owning a pet, you will run into unexpected medical costs for the things your pet gets into. We have a friend whose cat ate the string from a roast beef she was preparing. She ended up paying $3000 to have the cat operated on to remove the blockage. That’s the price for a nice family vacation.
• Is every member of your family willing to contribute time or money to owing a pet? Getting a family pet is just that, it’s something every member of the family should be willing to help with. You don’t want resentment to creep in if some members don’t help, otherwise everyone will start slacking off on their responsibilities.
• What’s the best pet for your family? Getting the right type of pet is critical to success. You’re lucky if you have the right amount of space for a dog to run around and exercise. But if you’re an apartment dweller and work full time, perhaps a dog is not the right choice. Maybe a goldfish, turtle or indoor cat is right for you. So think about your surroundings and ability to provide the right amount of exercise, time and attention and choose your pet based on your lifestyle.
• What is the cost for pet care when you’re on vacation? If you’re away on business or vacation your pet needs to be cared for when you’re gone. Certain animals can be brought to a friend’s home to be cared for. Or a boarding hotel might be right for your cat or dog. Costs range from $20 to hundreds of dollars a night. Reliable in-home pet care is typically less money depending on the level of work required. If you travel a great deal, you may want to rethink about these costs as well as the quality of life your pet will have when you’re away.
• Have you observed your child interacting with someone else’s family pet? If your child is under the age of five they may not have the skills to be gentle and yet respectful of a pet. My veterinarian friend has told me horror stories of children who scratch the eyes, pull the tail, and yank the fur of their family pet. Try to observe how your child interacts with a calm pet to determine if they ready.
• What are “age appropriate” pets? Having a child begin at an early age may be a first step in their overall interest and their discovery about animals.
o Two and three year olds love to participate in basic pet care duties. They can assist a grown-up with brushing, feeding, training and learning the basics of respectful pet care by learning the importance of loving and gentle interaction.
o Four years and older can join you in walking (I would not recommend allowing them to hold the leash if the dog is stronger and heavier than they are), checking if they have enough water in their bowl and putting pet toys away each night.
o Ages six and older can take over the feeding schedule for pets. We have taught our children that our dogs need manners, they must “sit” and “stay” until we give them the command that they may eat. We don’t want to encourage bad eating manners.
o Nine years and above should take part in training the family pet in order for the pet to have consistent behavior. Our dogs have learned to have manners when we open the front door for the delivery person and to stay on our property and not roam.
o All of these age ranges are the building blocks for creating a wonderful environment when your family is ready to acquire that family pet.
So before you impulsively adopt a pet for your family, carefully review all of these points. Another good resource is to pay a visit to your local human society office and talk to the caregivers who can provide your family with a review of the types of pets that are brought to their shelter due to being lost or uncared for. It will open their eyes and provide a good foundation to determine if your family is ready to have a pet.