How to Be a Better Pet Owner: Finalist 4

This is the fourth finalist in our scholarship competition, on how to be a better dog owner.

We’ve all heard the common saying, “measure twice, cut once.”  However, many people forget to “measure twice” before bringing a new pet home.  As a second year veterinary student, I have seen many owner mistakes at clinics, the biggest one being that the owner simply didn’t do enough research before choosing a pet.  If you were to start looking for a new pet, you might flip your computer open to PetFinder and fall in love with a picture of a cute golden retriever puppy.  But what happens when that puppy becomes 100 pounds? Or eats your couch? To be the absolute best pet owner you can be, you must research what pet to get, when to get it, and the financial requirements of that pet prior to bringing home your new family member.

When first looking for a new member of the family, you must select an animal that is suitable for your home.  Over the last 6 years, I have witnessed way too many pet owners who simply choose the wrong pet for them.  For example, one client brought their 2 year old border collie into the clinic complaining about the dog barking and destroying furniture.  When we asked more about their relationship with their pet, we found out that the owners live in a one bedroom apartment.  A border collie is meant to run and herd, not sit in an apartment and receive one walk per day.  If the owners had researched the breed requirements, they would have better been able to choose an animal suitable for their lifestyle.

Other people think it’s a great idea to get an exotic pet.  It should be easy- no need to walk it or potty-train it, right? In reality, exotic pets are much more difficult to take care of than a dog or cat.  More often than not, exotic pets end up at the veterinarian due to husbandry errors on the part of the owner.  Each species has specific requirements to keep it healthy.  A snake needs precise, timed lighting to keep their body temperatures at normal levels.  Birds require certain perches to avoid foot problems.  Rabbits need specific types of bedding to avoid respiratory problems.  If owners don’t research these species specific needs prior to bringing an exotic pet home, they may be doing harm to the animal (and their pocketbook) if the animal develops a problem due to inappropriate husbandry.

My favorite example is a college girl who came into the clinic with her new (and very itchy) “teacup” pig.  When the veterinarian weighed the pig, he estimated that the pig would eventually weigh forty pounds.  He also diagnosed the pig with mange, a mite that makes the pig extremely itchy and can be transmitted to people.  She began complaining about the cost of the veterinary visit and about how big the pig was going to be.  Her house wasn’t going to allow a pet that big, and she didn’t have the funds to pay for the veterinary costs.  Needless to say, she came in one week later asking if we could find another home for the pig.  The moral of the story is that she didn’t do her research about selecting an animal that was suitable for her living arrangements and her budget as a college student.

The next major aspect that new pet owners must consider is timing.  As with most things, timing is everything, and choosing a pet is no exception. Choosing the wrong time to get a pet can have negative impacts on both the owner’s and the pet’s life.  For example, times of major life changes are not an ideal time to get a new pet.  Often couples get a pet as a sort of “try-out” before deciding to have a child.  However, this can be unfair to the pet.  When you get a new kitten, you generally coddle it and pamper it with new toys and attention.  Then when you have a baby, all the attention goes to the newest member of the family and the cat gets forgotten.  The cat may respond by urinating outside the litter box, which is a common reason cats are brought into the veterinary clinic.  The cat may even try to attack the new baby.  Medications to fix these problems can be costly, and owners often end up euthanizing these pets.  This could be avoided by analyzing whether or not this is a right time to get a new pet.

New pet owners must consider the cost of their new pet as well.  Most people understand that food, toys, food and water bowls, and a cute collar all need to be purchased before getting a pet.  However, veterinary costs are often overlooked or vastly underestimated.  Within the first four months of owning a new puppy or kitten, the average American will spend roughly $270 on vaccinations and exams alone.  Then there’s the cost of monthly flea prevention, heartworm prevention, fecal floats, and annual exams- and this is all for a healthy animal!  As the pet ages, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer all become major concerns, and they can be costly if your pet becomes diagnosed with one of these disease processes.  Emergencies also must be considered- do you have enough money to save your pet if it gets hit by a car? If it eats your bag of Easter chocolates?  If it swallows a pair of socks without chewing it?  With limited insurance options available for pets, the cost of treatment goes straight to the owner.  This can lead to the inability of the owner to treat their pet and ultimately, an unnecessary euthanasia.

Getting a new pet is both exciting and stressful.  Selecting the right animal at the right time while keeping finances in mind can be extremely difficult, but doing research about your new pet will help you make the right decision.  It will also allow you to cut the costs of your new pet by being able to prevent possible health problems before they occur.  By measuring the decision to get a new pet twice, you will be happier with the final cut, and you will be the best possible pet owner for your new best friend.

N. Preston

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