From costs incurred to family lifestyle considerations, here’s what you should be aware of
Considering a pet for your family? It’s a great idea – studies show a multitude of benefits to having pets. They help deflate stress levels and increase a sense of well-being. But which little critter should you get? Is a dog the best companion or a cat for your home?
We asked two veterinarians about what you should consider before you invite an animal into your home. Here’s a look at what they said:
Dr Sara Elliott, director of veterinary services at British Veterinary Hospital explains that one of the chief considerations when deciding on a pet is your family structure and lifestyle. She explains: “If you have a busy schedule, are not at home for long periods throughout the day, or travel frequently, a dog may not be the best choice. Dogs require a significant amount of care and attention and do not do well behaviourally when left alone. A cat, on the other hand, while they have their own specific needs, are far more content being left alone throughout the day provided they have access to adequate food, water, safe shelter and a clean litter tray.”
It’s also important to take into consideration a four-legged friend’s socialisation needs. Veterinary Nurse Laurel Osgood, at Al Barsha Veterinary Clinic, explains: “A shy, solitary cat who does not like most people would likely not do well in a family with young children, and would probably be better suited to a person or couple who don’t do a lot of hosting. On the other hand, some dogs and cats need the kind of activity and stimulation a busy family would provide. The temperament of the animal, and how well it meshes with the family, is very important.”
Take into consideration that you – or a loved one – may have an allergy to certain animals – make sure you spend enough time with your potential playmate to discover any issues before you commit; it’ll be harder on both animal and family to say goodbye if something flares up.
Are you set on a dog or cat? Why do you really want a companion? Some introspection is in order before you do the paperwork. “A pet is a lifelong commitment and is a decision not to be taken lightly. If you are a family looking to teach young children the responsibility of owning a pet, we recommend choosing a smaller animal such as a hamster or guinea pig. While these animals also require commitment, care and monetary investment, their day-to-day needs are much more manageable,” says Dr Elliott.
Each breed of cat and dog has its own peculiarities and mood predispositions. “Factors such as whether you have children in the house, the age of the children and exposure to animals must also be looked at concerning the breed. Each breed’s behavioural traits and needs vary, and we would recommend conducting thorough research and discussing the best breed for your family with your vet,” says Dr Elliot.
“All children should be closely supervised when interacting with the family pet(s) until they are old enough to interact with them appropriately. Cats can be very child friendly, particularly those with easy-going temperaments, and for dogs, breeds like the Golden Retriever and the Labrador are popular with families for a reason. However, every animal is different, and child-friendliness often depends as much, if not more, on the temperament and training of the specific animal as it does on the species. All children should be taught how to appropriately interact with pets, and learn to respect the pet’s boundaries and understand when the pet is communicating that it does not like what the child is doing,” says Osgood.
While getting a puppy or kitten may seem like a good idea, older animals come with already-learned behaviour which can be a great fit for your family. “Puppies and kittens do not yet have a set character and may change as they grow, but with an adult, you are more likely to know what you are getting. However, it is still important to learn as much as possible about adult animals as an older cat or dog may be less tolerable of babies and toddlers than a younger, more playful dog.
This could be due to chronic health complaints or their desire to spend more time sleeping. Younger children are yet to learn how to respect boundaries and navigate the signs of the animal needing their space. Similarly, if you adopt an animal, you may not have access to the animal’s complete history and may have been exposed to children who did not treat them well. This leads to a distrust in children of a similar size and can cause the animal to tap into its defensive instincts to protect itself. It is crucial to select a pet from a reputable adoption organisation to be confident that they will conduct the necessary due diligence on your family situation and work with you to ensure they match you with the best match for both you and the animal,” says Dr Elliot.
Some animals are more independent than others and don’t mind ‘me-time’. Others however will be miserable if they are left all by themselves for large periods. “Owners who choose to get a member of the rodent species must be aware of their socialisation needs – guinea pigs, rats, and gerbils should never be kept alone and need a companion of their own species, while hamsters are solitary and should be kept alone. It must also be considered that rodents, rabbits, and more exotic animals will need a veterinarian who is experienced in caring for them,” explains Osgood.
Osgood explains the pros and cons:
Dr Elliot recommends the following:
While this is not an exhaustive list, they highlight some aspects involved in being a dog parent.
Thinking of getting a cat? Cats are much more self-sufficient than dogs. “However,” warns Dr Elliot, “There are breeds of cats that prefer to be in pairs and, if left alone without the company of another cat, can become depressed. “
She adds: “While the above is true of adult cats and dogs, it is different for puppies and kittens, and both require a more significant investment of time as their feeding schedule is timed much closer together, and frequent human contact helps with their developing socialising skills.”
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