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Choosing the Right Pet for You

By Mark Hale DVM

Bolivar, MO

     Are you considering the addition of a pet to your home? If so, some forethought about your situation can prevent later problems.

     Falling in love with that cute puppy or kitten is easy. Young puppies and kittens are almost impossible to resist. For many people, raising and training a puppy or kitten and watching them grow can be very rewarding and worth all the extra time and patience it requires. But sometimes there are advantages to adopting an adult dog or cat. When you select adult animals, you can often tell what personality, size and appearance the pet will have. Oftentimes adults are already housetrained, calmer, mature and do not require as much supervision. Caring for a puppy or kitten can be very time consuming, much like caring for a newborn baby. Adults are generally less delicate and are better able to fight off potential health problems.

     Whether you start with a young pet or an adult, there are still several things to consider. An obvious one is what type of animal would work best in your household. Dogs may be considered "man's best friend", but in many circumstances, a feline might be your perfect companion. Additionally, "pocket pets" such as guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils as well as birds, aquarium fish, and reptiles have gained popularity among people with limited time or space. 

     Cats generally are more self-sufficient, less expensive to care for, and require less space than dogs. Most of the cats with which I have been acquainted, have learned to use the litter box with no difficulty. Our cats were easily trained to use a scratching post to sharpen their claws instead of our furniture. In addition, cats can often be left at home for short trips saving the expense of a boarding facility. 

     If you have your heart set on a dog, consider these questions: Do you have the time and energy to allow your dog to get enough exercise? Will your landlord allow pets? Do your work hours keep you away from home too long for an indoor dog? Does your yard have a fence? You should also consider the size and breed of your dog. Large breeds have some great characteristics but also require more exercise, have larger space requirements, cost more to feed and medicate and tend to live shorter lives than their smaller cousins. 

     Breeds of dogs have been selected over time for certain uses. For instance, Labrador Retrievers were bred to run afield in pursuit of game birds. If you live in a small apartment and don't have time to spend exercising it, a Lab would probably not be for you. 

     Books, dog and cat shows, and television programs are available to help educate you about different breeds. There is much variation within breeds and all sorts of mixed breeds, so each individual animal must be assessed on its own. 

     Choosing a pet as a gift for someone else may not be the best idea. According to the Southwest Humane Society, almost one-half of pets given as gifts are surrendered or returned to a shelter in the months following Christmas. A better idea may be a gift certificate to a shelter. 

     There are several quality local breeders and adoption centers where you can choose your pet. Your veterinarian may be able to help you locate the type of pet you desire. 

     Choosing a new pet is a big decision. They require lots of time, money and commitment. These responsibilities continue for 10 to 15 years or even 20 years. With some planning, pet ownership can be a rewarding experience.