What No One Tells You About Owning a Pet
I always cringe when people get a puppy, only to tell me they gave it away because it was “too much to handle.” Someone I know did just that recently. Apparently no one told them that dogs need to be walked every day.
Other people seem to give pets away as soon as they have a baby. Or because they’re too expensive.
Granted, there are legitimate reasons for re-homing a pet. For instance, their owner’s health suddenly deteriorates, or there’s an unsafe situation for the pet or a child.
But when I hear people say they want to take their cat back because they didn’t realize cats scratch furniture, I want to tear my hair out.
Getting a pet is not something to take lightly. It’s a commitment for many years to come. So here are some things to know before you get a pet.
It should not be a surprise
You should never gift a live animal to someone (or someone else’s kid) without asking them first.
Do not surprise your spouse, or a friend or adult family member, with a kitten or puppy. Take them with you to a shelter to pick one out together. (I don’t advise buying dogs from stores, for various reasons. Shelters or local breeders are your best bet.)
I once went to a party where the favor for each child was a live goldfish in a bag. Please, don’t do this.
The only time getting an animal should be a surprise is if you choose a pet for your own child, knowing how to take care of it and that they want an animal. (Tip: Take them to the shelter or a friend’s house first and have them handle the animal or a similar one, to see if they have allergies or are afraid of it.)
If, after all of that, you do surprise your child with a pet, you must tie a cute bow on the pet (this may not apply to a fish) and take an adorable video of their reaction.
And then you must be willing to take care of the pet if your kid can’t or doesn’t — because they’re a kid.
Want an animal-related gift for any other child in your life? Stick with plush animals, please.
Sure, you tally up the cost of pet food and think, I can afford this, right?
Wrong. Here’s stuff my cats needed in the past year:
- vet visit (annual check-up plus shots, about $150, each)
- blood work and a procedure to take out a tooth that was causing an infected gum: $600+
- toothpaste (yes, for a cat) and toothbrushes
- litter. Every month: about $11 for 25 lbs, and having to haul it back from the grocery store. (I tried ordering it online once, but the delivery person smashed all my packages since.)
- a new litter box (you should have at least two and replace them every few years): about $17
- a syrupy goop to prevent hairballs
- paper towels … see above
- new saucers (the old food bowls gave them whisker fatigue)
- toys (they do wear down)
- someone to feed them and check up on them while we were on vacation
Cats need a wellness visit to a veterinarian every year. If they’re in pain, they don’t whimper like a dog does — instead, they slowly become irritable and withdrawn, and you’ll need a vet to check them to find the source of the problem.
Other animals need regular veterinary care, too.
My cats are relatively clean, but I still have to vacuum up all their fur and their litter scatter. Also, see above about hairballs. That’s not a great mess to wake up to at 5 a.m.
It can take awhile to housebreak puppies. They can track in mud from outside, and tear up grass. Puppies also love rolling in anything smelly.
Even small animals like hamsters, gerbils, or fish need a clean habitat.
Are you willing to spend time cleaning up after an animal? Look up what’s involved before you bring one home.
They can have behaviors
Dogs chew things. Put up your shoes in a closet and give them a lot of chew toys. Get ready for obedience classes if you have a puppy. They can get lonely if you’re gone a lot.
Cats scratch things. Give them a scratching post every few rooms. Don’t declaw them! It’s incredibly cruel. I’ve found that when cats are more comfortable with people (and no longer kittens), the scratching goes way down.
Read up on behaviors specific to your animal before you adopt it. Don’t think you can handle a rambunctious puppy, but you’re still OK with the cost and daily walks? Consider sharing your home with an older dog.
They depend on you
Pets (again, except maybe fish) develop affection for their owners. They depend on them not just for food, but love and companionship.
They can get scared when they get re-homed, so think about what their care really entails before you get one.
Having a pet is not always glamorous, and it’s hard work, but it can be rewarding, too.