CHOOSING THE RIGHT PET // IT’S A MAJOR COMMITMENT // DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Are you thinking of adopting a pet? Having a pet can be one of life’s most rewarding decisions. Pets can provide love, affection, companionship and much more. Yes, they can really make you happy. That is, if you make the right choice. Just like in life and in love, you have to choose wisely when it comes to adopting a pet because having a pet is also a responsibility. Pets are complex, feeling living things and as such have biological, psychological and physiological needs in order for them to grow and live a healthy and productive life. They are not toys that can just be put aside, or discarded. So before you make a decision on which pet you will choose, it is good to ask some questions and get some important information.
First, what type of pet would you like to make part of your family? Dogs are highly loyal and very affectionate and empathetic creatures. They love affection and lots of it. In contrast, cats are, in general, more independent and laid back. They also like to show affection, play, and like to be petted. However, it’s mostly on their terms, and only when they want. Cat lovers will surely agree that cats can be very loving and affectionate, too. The best indication that they are happy with you is when they are purring. It’s the sweetest thing to a cat fancier.
What is your living situation? Do you live in a house with a fenced-in yard? This would be ideal if you want to keep a dog, so that you could leave the dog there when you have to go to work. If so, remember that your dog will require shelter and fresh water. Or do you live in an apartment, and are the tenants allowed to keep pets? If you go to school or to work, can you leave your pet alone in the apartment? If you can’t keep a dog or a cat, maybe you could consider keeping fish in an aquarium. In terms of housing and space requirements, dogs generally require a bigger living space and a fenced yard while cats can be trained to do their business in the litter box. Dogs also need regular exercise. All pets need a clean and safe environment, protected from heat, storms, cold, or other extreme weather conditions.
It’s important to know about a breed’s predisposition to diseases. Some breeds are known to be predisposed to problems. German shepherds are prone to hip dysplasia. Schnauzers are susceptible to tumors. If you have a breed in mind, it would be good to look up breed characteristics online, such as temperament and purpose as well as genetic predispositions to certain diseases. Our pet’s health is also our health because they are our close companions and because of some zoonoses (diseases that are transmissible from animals to humans). Whatever type of pet you decide on, whether it’s a dog, cat, bird, pot-bellied pig, or other interesting creature, it is important to know as much as possible about that animal and to get proper veterinary care and regular check-ups for your pets.
Do you have time and patience? You will need to have both because pets require a lot of time and attention, not just for feeding, play and exercise, but also for their grooming needs. Maltese and Shih Tzu breeds and poodles have such gorgeous hair but require a lot of devotion. Otherwise, short-haired breeds may pose an attraction instead. But long hair or short, dog or cat, they need to be brushed on a regular basis and they tend to like the attention. The fact that pets need our time and attention cannot be overemphasized. Teaching the pet tricks, toilet training and obedience also takes a lot of time and patience (note: never, ever hit your pet). This could make the difference between purchasing a puppy or adopting a grown dog from the shelter, one that is already housebroken and probably already trained. It’s amazing how “rescues” can blossom into loving and intelligent pets with a little tender loving care.
Learn about proper nutrition. Big or small, these lovable creatures require food and nourishment. Relatively speaking, the larger breeds need more food. Your budget for pet food may influence your decision on whether you get a large or small dog. Nevertheless, proper nutrition is very important at all stages of the life of your pet. Often, big box store commercial pet foods are said to be like junk foods sold at fast food restaurants, so do your research. Improper feeding i.e., too little or too much, can lead to malnutrition. It is important to remember that human food is for people, not necessarily for pets. Improper feeding and abrupt changes in their diets can lead to gastrointestinal issues for your pets. The Internet has many useful sites that rate pet foods and their ingredients. Don’t rely on the “warm fuzzy” images on the pet food package. Do some research. Some sites masquerade as “objective” sites, but may actually be slanted towards specific brands. Beware.
Having a pet is a serious commitment and should not be taken lightly. It is better for all involved if the prospective pet owner will do some online research and a little soul searching when deciding whether to get a pet or not, and what kind of pet to get. Indeed, the rewards of having a pet that loves you unconditionally can only be measured by the happiness and joy it gives you. But the fact remains that these loving creatures are forever our pet children who never lose their dependence on us. They may grow older or bigger, but they will never outgrow their love for us. It is a privilege to be loved so unconditionally, but it is a serious responsibility. I hope this helps you make the right choice. I wish you a wonderful and lasting relationship with your pet.
Karen Glarneau is a DVM and holds a Masters in Veterinary Epidemiology/Public Health. She resides in Tuscaloosa County.

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