There’s not much in the world that compares with the sheer joy and excitement of holding a new kitten for the first time, or the feeling you get when you turn the key in your front door and hear the sound of scampering up the hallway as your four-legged best friend runs to greet you. “It’s been hours,” he seems to say. “I missed you so much!”
Yes, it’s true: pets really do bring us so much joy. The anecdotal evidence is there, of course, but there’s also science to back that up. People with pets tend to have better cardiovascular health, and kids who have grown up with pets generally visit the doctor less frequently. Pet owners report less depression than non-pet owners, and tend to cope with grief better, too.
When it comes to choosing a pet for your family, there are a few things to keep in mind. A pet, after all, might be part of your family for the next 15 years. It’s a huge commitment and one that must be considered fully before taking the plunge.
Kelly Doyle, community, education, and training officer at RSPCA NSW, says that the main difference between happy pet owners and those who aren’t is simple: research. “Adding a pet to your family can be amazing, but you have to be realistic about your lifestyle before you take the next step,” she says. “Don’t just think about questions like, ‘Am I a dog person or a cat person?’ Think about your life and how a pet will fit in.”
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting a Pet
Before you head to the shelter or your local RSPCA, Doyle suggests asking yourself the following questions:
1. Are you very social? If you’re out a lot, will you still be able to commit to your pet?
2. Do you go on vacation a lot? If this is the case, who will look after your pet when you are gone?
3. Do you work long hours? If you do, will you still have time to walk your pet if necessary?
4. Do you have time to feed, water, groom, and walk your pet?
5. Do you have suitable accommodation for the pet you want?
6. If you’re renting, will the landlord allow pets?
7. Is your family quiet or loud? Some breeds don’t like noise very much.
8. Can you afford a pet? Don’t just consider upfront costs; there will be ongoing costs like training, food, flea treatments, and vet visits.
9. And finally, are you able to care for this pet for their whole life?
One thing potential pet owners often don’t consider, says Doyle, is allergies. “I’ve seen it so many times,” she says. “Families come in and they’re so excited to take home their new animal and then they come back a week later, upset that a member of the family is allergic,” Doyle recommends that everyone in the family has some contact with an animal in the six months prior to getting a pet, so that you’re sure nobody suffers from any allergic reactions.
While dogs have high energy requirements, there are plenty of animals that don’t, says Doyle. “If you’re not big on the outdoors and exercising, a cat is a great option for you, or even a rabbit or a guinea pig.” Keep in mind, though, that these pets aren’t exactly low-maintenance, either: you’ll need to clean out their kitty litter or hutches regularly.
And if you do want a dog, make sure your activity levels match those of the breed you’re after. “We see people coming in saying, ‘We just want a small dog because we don’t have a lot of time to walk them’ — and then they ask for a Jack Russell, which is a super-active breed,” says Doyle.
Already Have a Pet?
If you’re giving your existing pet a “sibling,” make sure they’ll be okay with their new housemate. As Doyle point outs, “Not all people get along, and not all animals do, either! If you have a dog, for example, bring them into the shelter to meet your new pet before you make a commitment.”
Get It Right
At the ASPCA, all potential pet owners are asked to fill in a form to ascertain their suitability for the type of pet they’re looking for. This is a great way to figure out what’s right for you and your family. Before you head there, go to Petfinder.com if you’re ready to commit to Fido. Here you’ll find plenty of information on choosing the right puppy, plus how to know if your breeder is ethical. There’s also a cat guide if whiskers are more your thing.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Homes to Love.