STEP 1: MAKE AN INFORMED PET CARE PLAN
Before you make the final selection about the right pet for you consider your daily routine and make a plan for a pet's daily needs.
We recommend addressing the following questions before moving forward in adding a pet to your home:
1. How much time and energy do I have available to provide to an animal?
If you are not home often or frequently tired, think very carefully about the type of pet you chose to adopt. Dogs, especially puppies, require a lot of daily tasks that take energy (cleaning up after the dog, exercise, multiple feeding times, bonding activities).
Cats are often categorized as independent and easy. However, cats need daily exercise/play time, cleaning after (litterboxes), feeding, and affection. Cats, especially kittens and energetic cats, can be a lot more work than many people are prepared for.
Small mammals (hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits), birds, and reptiles/amphibians benefit from daily bonding with their owners but have less daily tasks associated with their care. However, they will require regular cleanings of cages and have various feeding schedules depending on the type of animal. You will also need to ensure they have proper supplies in their cages, such as chewing aids to prevent overgrowth of teeth, mineral blocks, and exercise aids for small mammals and birds and heat lamps, proper food type, and proper climbing/resting areas for reptiles/amphibians.
Fish can be a great pet for those with minimal time and energy. The colorful nature of aquariums has been shown to be beneficial for mental health across populations. Fish require minimal upkeep if aquariums are set up with proper filters and water levels. Adding algae eaters (shrimp, plecos, snails) can also help keep your aquarium clean and healthy. Costs for proper aquarium set-up may seem daunting at first, but in the lost run, it will save you money on cleaning supplies, chemicals, fish, and filters.
2. Who can care for the animal if I become ill, injured, or need to be away from home?
Before committing to animal, ask those you are close to if they would be willing and able to care for a pet in the case that you are unable to do so yourself.
Consider reaching out to family, friends, coworkers and/or those in organizations you belong to for support.
If you do not have support available, consider if you have the financial resources to hire help by comparing prices of pet support services in your area and what kinds of help would be available (boarding a dog/cat, daily checks, dog walking, daily feedings, cleaning support).
If you are limited in these areas but feel a pet would be beneficial, consider adopting an animal that does not need daily feedings and care (reptiles) or one that can survive with an automatic feeding (fish).
3. How much money is in your budget for pet care and supplies?
The amount of yearly costs of a pet vary greatly depending on your area so it is highly recommended to contact local vets, animal rescues, and pet stores to get the best indicator of what you should plan to spend.
Costs of a pet also vary greatly depending on if they are from a breeder or animal rescue. Consider what is included in the adoption fee as well. Many rescues will include spaying/neutering and routine vet care in the adoption fee while breeders and pet stores will often only include initial vaccines for cats and dogs.
A recent published report on average costs for a medium sized dog in your first year of ownership ranging from $395-2,455 (https://www.petfinder.com/pet-adoption/dog-adoption/how-much-does-a-dog-cost/). Each following year may cost $326-1,967. While the items on the expense list will vary, you could expect similar figures for cat adoptions.
For those considering adopting a cat or a dog, this website gives a very informed breakdown and recommendations on how to properly budget and where you can save money: https://www.thesimpledollar.com/pet-cost-calculator/.
If you are considering a fish, small mammal, bird, amphibian or reptile, we recommend pricing materials across pet stores and online retailers available to you. Also, research vets in your area that would be able to help the animal you choose in case of an emergency. Vet offices may not have a vet trained in small mammals, birds, or reptiles/amphibians.
An idea of what an aquarium set up price may look like can be found here for fish: https://www.petcoach.co/article/aquarium-costs-what-it-takes-to-run-a-healthy-successful-fr/
For planning for reptiles, this website provides a lot of helpful information: https://www.reptifiles.com/how-much-do-reptiles-cost/
When planning for small mammals and birds, consider this website as a resource: https://www.kiplinger.com/slideshow/spending/T063-S001-the-cost-of-owning-5-popular-small-household-pets/index.html
4. Are you prepared for the emotional difficulties of owning a pet?
Pets are a great source of comfort, joy, and laughter. However, owning a pet is not always easy and happy. Animals may have behavior problems (using the bathroom in the house/on furniture, scratching furniture, chewing, jumping, barking, running out the door). These behaviors can become frustrating and cause anxiety, especially to those who have rental standards at their home. These behaviors may require training, patience, and a lot of time to overcome with your animal.
When animals become sick it can also contribute to anxiety and depression. Many animals have lifespans shorter than their owners, some of which are very short (fish, small mammals). This calls for self-reflection of how prepared you are to deal with the death of your pet. While no one is ever prepared for such a thing, there are some of us who may not be built to deal with a loss as great as this.
5. Are you prepared for the responsibility of owning a pet?
When you adopt a pet, you are committing to care for the pet for the rest of its lifetime. This is a great responsibility that should not be taken lightly. You will have to schedule your pet into your regular routine and plan for your pet if you take vacations, move, and make lifestyle changes. If you do not know what your next few years will look like, or you are not ready to plan around another living being, it may not be the best time to add a pet into your life. It may not be the best time in your life to add a pet to your life if you are fully responsible for it and expect you may not be around for the pet's entire lifespan. Losing an owner is very hard on animals, especially dogs and cats, and they grieve after a death similar to people. Dogs, depending on breed and size, live 10-20 years on average and cats often live over the age of 20 if they live healthy lives.
6. Where will you get supplies and bring the animal for care?
Consider if you are able to get supplies in the community or online. Supplies may be heavy and may require planning for you to acquire them. If you only go shopping a couple times a month, will you also be able to adequately supply your pet in this time? If you shop for supplies online, can you carry the boxes inside? Chewy.com is a great resource, however, from experience, they pack their boxes pretty heavy unless you contact customer service and ask for accommodations.
Consider which vet you would use in the community and how you would arrange transport if you do not drive.
Consider what resources are available for your pet in the event of an emergency
Consider how easy it would be to bring your pet in and out of your home when needed
Alright! You considered the big stuff! Are you ready to search for your pet? If you saw these questions and got overwhelmed or realized there is more to owning a pet than you realized, consider co-owning a pet. Many people have reported they found it helpful to own a pet with a family member or friend in order to share responsibility, finances, and work load. This may be a great way to learn how to care for a pet, what works for you, and alleviate anxiety if you want a pet but have many concerns. Another option would be volunteering at a local animal shelter/rescue. Volunteering would help you learn the responsibilities of owning an animal and build a network of support for help with your future pet.
If you have created a plan and are ready for the selection process, move on to step 2!