Integrated Family Community Services 3370 South Irving Street, Englewood, CO 80110-1816 Ph: 303-789-0501

Is Your Family Ready for a Pet?

There are many benefits to owning a family pet. Friendly pets have been shown to lower stress levels and blood pressure. A happy pet is always glad to see you when you come home, reminding you that you are important and loved. At the same time, added costs come along with a family pet. There will be medical bills, food expenses and the cost of other supplies that have not been part of your regular budget. Before you run out and find an animal companion, make certain that you consider the following things:

It Depends on the Type of Pet

Some pets are a fairly low-cost investment. Mice, hamsters, gerbils, and other small rodents are inexpensive to buy, and their equipment is fairly inexpensive and easy to acquire as well. The same goes for other common pets like small tanks of freshwater fish, or amphibians like firebelly toads. They don’t require much space or present a great financial burden.

Then there’s the more common pets like dogs and cats. These are fairly common companion animals, with few specialized needs due to thousands of years of domestication. They are very interactive and often come to feel like a member of the family. However, they do require more serious investment in terms of food and veterinary care. They also tend to live longer, which means more of a commitment.

Finally, there’s high-maintenance, high-cost pets like exotic animals. These are birds and reptiles. Birds can be lots of fun, but they’re very social creatures and require almost constant attention and stimulation for their own mental health, comparable almost to the needs of a small child. Reptiles are less social and don’t need as much attention, and are truly fascinating animals that can be fun to watch and interact with. But they have unique care needs that require specialized equipment and research to meet. For example, the bearded dragon, one of the most popular pet reptiles, can cost up to $700 for a basic setup.

It’s best to determine a budget and what you’re looking for in a pet before bringing one home from the pet store.

Are You Are Ready to Make the Investment?

When a new animal companion comes into your family’s life, you need to be ready. The new pet needs an environment where it can thrive. If you are getting a puppy, there are a lot of things you need to make sure your home is puppy-proof and welcoming to your new addition. You need to think ahead of time about whether it will have the run of the house or if some spaces should be limited. Especially for a young, untrained animal, you need to think about the damage it can do. Few pets are as potentially destructive as puppies and kittens, as they can do a great deal of furniture damage by chewing, digging, and clawing. You need to have suitable alternatives to your dining rooms chairs ready to go. You also need to be ready for the adjustment period that comes with a new animal. Especially if you get a puppy or kitten, there will be some frustrating moments before its training is complete.

Do You Have the Space?

Small pets like fish, amphibians, and reptiles can happily spend their whole lives inside a sufficiently sized aquarium or terrarium. Even the largest enclosures can still fit comfortably inside an average apartment. For free-roaming pets like dogs and cats, however, it’s a different story.

Depending on the breed, some dogs require a great deal of space to roam and get the exercise they need. A dog or cat that lives in a space that is too small may become depressed or anxious. It may do damage out of frustration. It may also constantly bother its owners to take it outside. Before you bring a Great Dane into your home, be certain that you will not all be on top of each other. Different breeds of cats also have different needs when it comes to space. A cat that feels trapped in a home that is too small may try to sneak out. If you want to give your cat some more space but are afraid they will climb over your backyard fence, you can build an enclosed space—also known as a “catio”—for them to roam around in.

Do You Have the Time?

Training is critical to helping animals learn to live side-by-side with humans, and a well-trained pet is a happy pet. With proper training, your new pet can learn some fun tricks for the family. More importantly, your pet will learn about proper behavior and boundaries. This kind of training takes a good deal of time. For animals like dogs, training requires daily practice. While this is a wonderful bonding time with your animal, it is also a time commitment that you will need to make. Another consideration is how much time someone is at home. Pets are supposed to be companions, but if people are out of the house from the early morning into the evening, they can have problems. Some animals develop separation anxiety, constantly making noise while you are away. Other animals can get into mischief when they are bored.

Figure Out Who Will Be Responsible

Having a pet can be a great lesson in responsibility for your children. Animals need regular feeding and care. If it’s a simple goldfish, the extent of care is likely to be just regular feeding and cleaning its tank. For birds, it’s feeding, cleaning the cage, and playtime. For dogs, there will be feeding, walking, brushing, and picking up waste. 

You need to set up a schedule to make certain that the animal is taken care of well. This concern about responsibility is especially important for dogs and cats. Most towns have rules about cleaning up after your dog when it goes for a walk. If no one in your house is willing to do the scooping, a dog may not be the animal for you. While cats generally use the bathroom inside, their litterbox needs to be cleaned regularly to avoid unpleasant odors in your home. 

If your kids do not agree to do this kind of job ahead of time, be prepared to handle it yourself. You should also be mentally prepared to take on the care of the animal yourself anyway, as children generally lose interest in new pets rather quickly, and start neglecting their care, which rapidly becomes fatal if a parent does not intervene.

Consider the Emotional Investment

Even though it is not the most pleasant topic, you need to consider the emotional costs of owning a pet. For much of its life, your animal will provide you and your family members with an emotional boost, accepting you just the way you are. There will be times when your pet is sick, and you will spend time worrying about its recovery. This will only increase as the pet gets older. Like an aging adult, an aging pet has increased medical costs as its body declines. You need to consider how your family will handle an aging companion and how it will handle the eventual loss of the pet.

A family pet can help your children learn many life lessons about responsibility, patience, and empathy. However, for the sake of the animal and your family members, buying a pet should never be impulsive. For all the joy that a new puppy can bring into your life, that puppy will be dependent on you for at least a decade. You need to be prepared to handle all of the immediate and long-term costs of pet ownership. With planning and preparation, you can be your new animal’s best friend for its whole life.

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Integrated Family Community Services is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

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