It’s a small question on the surface, but quite loaded when you stop to consider it on a deeper level.  Many people who decide to purchase/rescue a new pet realize the importance of their decision and take certain factors into account.  This forethought is very much needed, however the full implication is still frequently underestimated.  I feel the decision to add a new pet to the family should be taken nearly as seriously as the decision to add a baby to the family.  Granted, these two things are on VERY different scales of responsibility; however the approach to these additions is nearly the same.  With any new addition, factors such as lifestyle, schedules, and finances are just a few important considerations. 

A gray square with the numbers 5 2 and 3 2 written in it.

The most common stories of failed pet ownership are those that begin with the pet being given as a gift.  When little forethought is put into the decision of pet ownership, the shock of owning a pet is often enough to leave that pet in a shelter, abandoned, or neglected.  No new pet owner wants these horrible outcomes for their pet; however, the burden of ownership is often much greater than anticipated. 

Factors to consider:
1. Expected life span – cats can live 18+ years, small dogs 15+ years, and large dogs 10+ years.  People often do not consider where they will be in five years, much less 20.  It matters even more if you live in an apartment or have a career that moves you around.  Will the next apartment allow for my pet also?
2. Provision of care – what if I am away?  Will I be able to afford boarding for my pet, or do I have a reliable friend or family member who will happily take care of my pet while I am away?  How long will my pet be left alone during the day, given my usual schedule?  Is that acceptable?  Will an untrained puppy be able to stay at home while I am at work?  Will my schedule accommodate time for play and socialization of my pet?  Will I be able to take my dog to obedience class (yes, your dog needs an obedience class)?
3. Financial risk – seems always underestimated.  Some examples of costs that are often overlooked/miscalculated include added costs to apartment fees, boarding/house-sitting, regular veterinary bills, cost of spaying/neutering, cost of food/toys/accessories, fencing, bedding, grooming, and training, just to name a few.  Of course the biggie is emergency medical care – it is unrealistic to hope that the unexpected will never happen to you and your pet.  Do you know where to take your pet in an emergency?  Did you know that pet insurance is widely available, accepted by all veterinarians, and covers most emergencies?  Add the cost of insurance to your calculations – in my opinion, all pet owners should have coverage.

consider these points

  • no pet is free
  • the amount of money that you spent to obtain your pet has no bearing whatsoever on how much the pet will cost over time
  • not everyone should own a pet

Another often overlooked factor relates to behavior and behavior problems.  It is a fact that behavior problems are the number one cause of animal euthanasia in the US.  It is important that a prospective new pet owner look into the animal’s behavioral tendencies.  Consider your pet’s needs for exercise, tendency to bark, how much it will shed, and level of aggression.  What about destruction of property by a cat with claws or a puppy who is bored?  Don’t forget about house soiling and accidents – this is common with puppies, geriatric pets, and cats in multi-cat households.  You will also have to clean up the yard, pick up while on walks, or scoop the litter box.

A final word: expect the unexpected.  Your pet will most likely eventually get sick and require extra medical attention.  It will get old and require extra nursing care.  There may be additional fees and potential complications from illness or medications such as house soiling, seizures, disorientation, blindness, deafness, and arthritis.

It is my hope that this article does not scare anyone away from pet ownership.  It is truly a joy.  However I do feel that pet ownership is a duty, not a right.  You are taking charge of this being for the rest of its life – that is a big responsibility.

Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care