Choosing The Right Pet For Your Family
Adopting a pet is a wonderful experience for a family! Whichever pet you choose, they will need a certain amount of care and attention, and just like every other member of the family they may have some particular needs.
A couple of points to consider when making your choice may be glaringly obvious, whilst others may need a little more thought.
Factors to consider in the decision-making process:
- What is your family situation at the moment? Married with little kids under four? Baby on the way? Children older than 7-years-old? Single parent household? Adopting a relatively ‘high maintenance’ pet, like a puppy, may not be the best choice for a family with a new born baby. You’ll have your hands pretty full learning the ropes of parenthood and unless you have an angelic child and you are very patient and calm, it may be an idea to wait until you’re not under quite as much pressure.
- How often is someone at home? One adult at home most of the day? Kids home from school in the afternoons? Able to go for walks every day? How much time do you really have to spend with a pet? If you and your partner work full-time, have little free time over the weekends and rarely have more than a couple of hours at home, it may be an idea to adopt a pet that is less socially dependent – perhaps consider a fish. However, if you have plenty of time at home with “Mutly” everyday, excellent, a dog might just be the right choice for you!
- Who will be the primary caregiver for the pet? You? Your partner? The kids? Adopting a pet as a companion for a child is a wonderful idea. However, adopting a pet to instill responsibility in a forgetful child is unlikely to result in favourable outcomes – if that’s the case be prepared to provide most of the care yourself!
- How does the family feel about adopting a pet? Everyone is really excited? You’re not thrilled or your partner’s not thrilled? It’s really important that all the family members are honest about how they feel about adopting a new pet and how it will impact on their lives. If one member is not so keen but most of the responsibility for the pet’s care falls to him/her, resentment will build and that is not a great base for building a life-long friendship with an animal pal. Have a plan for delegating responsibilities to different members and how they will be held accountable e.g. a seven-year-old can be responsible for putting out food at dinner time and a three-year old can assist Mum with filling the water bowl. Sticker charts serve as useful reminders!
- How much money do you have to spend on a pet? Have you considered pet insurance? Adopting a puppy or kitten will involve initial expenses (adoption/purchase fees, training fees) as well as ongoing costs (veterinary care, pet food, parasite control). Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you’ve only spent $100 adopting a dog from a shelter, that there won’t be any major expenses. Ensure you are able to budget for taking good care of your pet and consider taking out pet insurance to cover the unexpected. No-one plans for a pet to break a leg, and there’s nothing worse than having to explain to your family that their darling ‘Spot’ had to be euthanised because you couldn’t afford to have his leg fixed.
- Do you have experience with the type of pet you’re considering? If you don’t have experience, will you be willing to research and get help? Has your daughter asked for a Mali Uromastyx? Certain animals are very tricky to keep and are definitely not appropriate for novices. For example chameleons are fascinating creatures, but very difficult to care for – even experienced herpetologists have trouble. If you’re considering a reptile, perhaps think about something like a Leopard Gecko instead – they have friendly natures, are easy to maintain and are a manageable size. Keep in mind that if you are a “newby”, you should do lots and lots of reading before holding it in your hand and wondering “So what do I feed you?”
- Why are you thinking of adopting a pet? Have the kids been nagging? Is the timing right? If this is something you’ve been planning for a long time and finally the planets have aligned, fantastic – go for it! However, if you’re leaving for a six-month sojourn to ‘show-the-kids-the-world’, now is not the right time.
- Does anyone in your family suffer from allergies to any particular animals? If you or your little people are allergy prone, it may be worthwhile considering some allergy tests before adopting. It will allow you to choose a pet that suits your circumstances and save a lot of heart ache in the event of discovering an allergy and having to rehome a beloved pet.
- How long will you be able to care for the pet? A couple of years or for the rest of it’s life? Some pets have a short-lifespan (hamsters, mice, rats), whilst others will live for substantially longer. Thinking about a tortoise? Consider whether 50 years is the kind of commitment you’re willing to make.
So you’ve decided you definitely do want a pet
Here are a few species to consider:
Dogs: Intelligent (most), affectionate, sociable creatures. They require lots of time and energy and bond closely with their family. Research any breed carefully as some have very specific needs – do not just choose a breed because you ’like the way it looks’.
Cats: They’re more independent than dogs and generally manage spending more time on their own. However cats are less likely to be tolerant of tail pulling, loud shouting and chasing by short-legged people, than dogs. Once again, particular breeds are more suitable for different families, so research carefully before you adopt.
Guinea Pigs: Low maintenance, sweet and they rarely bite. However, they’re not suitable for little people under 6 years old – they’re too fragile to handle a squeeze from a toddler.
Turtles, Lizards, Snakes: Research, research, research… Did I say research? Before considering adopting a reptile, make sure you know exactly how you’re going to care for it, what its vivarium conditions needs to be, how you will feed it and who you can call on to care for it when you go away.
Cockatiels, Parrots, Cockatoos, Parakeets: These birds are very sociable and enjoy human interaction. African Grey Parrots are considered to have the intelligence equivalent of that of a three-year-old child. Be sure you’re able to provide for their needs as well as the family’s desire for a friendly happy pet.
Fish: This may be the right start for your family if you don’t have a lot of time or money to devote to a pet. Just be sure not to forget about taking good care of “Nemo” while he swims around quietly in his unobtrusive bowl.
Farm Animals: Chickens are great for teaching little kids about caring for pets. If you’re in a suburban area, make sure to only adopt hens – roosters make for very unhappy neighbours! Ensure you have enough space for them to scratch about, time to provide a healthy clean environment and someone who can care for them when you’re away. P.S. You get fresh eggs too!
Still not sure? Have a chat to your vet. She can help you work out the best solution for you and your family.
Dr Bronwen Bollaert is a veterinarian with 14 years experience working with a variety of domestic and wild animals, and has a special interest in Behaviour Medicine. Dr Bron is the director of Healthy Pet Mobile Vet, (www.healthypetmobilevet.com.au) a veterinary house call service dedicated to bringing quality vet care to well-loved dogs, cats, exotic pets and birds in Brisbane’s northern suburbs. She writes a blog, “Sniffing It Out”, with regular posts for veterinary advice for caring pet-parents. Dr Bron is involved with PetPEP, an Australian Veterinary Association initiative aimed at teaching children and the community about responsible pet ownership, safety around pets, healthy living and the welfare of animals. She’s parent to two short-legged people and one fur-baby.