The prospect of getting a new pet can be very exciting and it is a wonderful feeling to be a proud owner. Anyone who has taken on a pet will know that within a matter of hours you are completely hooked, but there are a few things to think about before your commit to and bring home your new bundle of fun and cuteness.
This is not just the cost of actually buying the pet (which can be anything from Free to thousands of pounds!). Can you afford the costs necessary to give your chosen pet the correct care? The average annual costs of owning a pet can be quite high and have been estimated at £1000 – £2000 for a dog (depending on size), around £1200 for a cat, £400 – £500 for a ferret, £500 for a rabbit and £400 for a guinea pig and Chinchilla. (For cats and dogs that amounts to approximately £10000 – £31000 over a lifetime!) You will need to think about the costs of providing good quality food, bedding, housing for small animals, boarding kennels or pet sitters, routine vet bills for things such as parasite control and vaccinations, as well as the cost of vet bills should your chosen pet become poorly and require treatment.
This will cover your pet for any injuries or illnesses he or she may suffer from. Most types of pets can be insured, including rabbits, rodents and reptiles. The policy premium (the amount you pay in monthly or annually) will vary depending on the different cover levels and different animal breeds, so a very basic level of cover may be as little as £5.00 a month but a premium level of cover may be as much as £40.00 a month. It is also worth noting that many insurance companies now exclude certain types or breeds of pet from their policies, so check that your desired breed of pet is able to be insured. If you would like to find out more about pet insurance and what to look for in a policy, please read our pet insurance article.
Your Family and Home Life
Think about how the pet will fit into your family and home.
- Do you have children or do children visit your home? If the answer is yes, please make sure that you give special consideration and do your research on the breed and type of animal that you want as a pet, as not all of them will be suitable. You will need to train the children (yes I did say that!) to respect animals and not to tease them, they will also need to know not to touch them without an adult present. Remember that all animals have the potential to bite, scratch or otherwise injure someone if they get scared, no matter how well trained and handled; this also includes the ‘small furries’ such as rabbits and rodents. If you are getting a dog, regardless of the breed, you must ensure that he or she is very well socialised with people of all ages from a very young age and that you understand canine body language well enough to remove the child if the dog starts to look uncomfortable with the situation it is in.
- Does anyone have allergies and what will you do if you discover someone is allergic to your new pet? It has been shown that children that grow up with pets have less allergies and are healthier in that respect, but not everybody is that lucky.
- Who will look after the pet? Never buy a pet for a child and expect them to take responsibility for it’s care and training. For most children the pet-owning novelty wears off very quickly once they realise its not all cuddles and walks in the sunshine! Obviously there are some exceptionally wonderful kids out there, but all too often the responsibility for the less glamorous parts of pet owning, such as cleaning up the poo and going for walkies in the rain, sleet and snow will fall back to one or both parents.
- Does everyone in the household want this pet? Believe it or not, pets have been cited as a common source of problems in relationships. Couples and families can find themselves arguing over their pets for a variety of reasons and while these arguments may seem minor, they can actually cause more major disagreements or problems over time.
Are you really ready for a pet? If you are due to go on holiday, start a new job, have a baby, move house or start a big project on your home or at work, now is probably not the best time to get a pet.
Size of the pet
Do you have enough space at home and/or in the garden for your chosen pet? Even small pets like hamsters and rats require fairly big cages. Where will your pet eat, drink and sleep? The size of the pet will also effect how expensive it will be for vet bills, insurance, food, housing and equipment. Those giant breeds of dog can look fabulous walking next to you, but have you thought about how you will travel with it if necessary? Will it fit into your car? Could you carry it in an emergency?
With regards to housing of ‘small furries’, remember that despite their small size, most will still need plenty of exercise and space to explore and play in. Rodents such as rats, chinchillas and hamsters often prefer habitats with multiple platforms and safe tubing. Rabbits and guinea pigs will not only need large hutches, but also a large, safe exercise area.
Rat cage minimum recommended size: for 2 rats you need at least 3 ft ( w) x 2 ft (d) and as high as possible, with an additional 2 cubic feet for each additional rat. However, the bigger the better with rats, especially if they will not be getting any exercise outside the cage. Rats are extremely active and need lots of space.
Hamster cage minimum recommended size: 80 cm ( w) x 50 cm (d) x 35 cm (h) would suit a single Syrian hamster or a pair of Dwarf or Chinese hamsters.
Guinea Pig hutch minimum recommended size: A minimum of 6 ft.( w) x 2 ft (d). x 2 ft (h). for two guinea pigs. The more guinea pigs in the hutch, the bigger it will need to be. You will also need to include a secure exercise run of at least 6 ft. ( w) X 4 ft.(d) X 2 ft. (h)
Rabbit hutch minimum recommended size: The Rabbit Welfare And Fund (RWAF) recommend a minimum hutch size of 10 ft ( w) x 6 ft (d) x 2 ft (h) for a pair of rabbits, to allow them room to move, stand on their hind legs and have enough space for the food, toilet and sleeping areas to be kept apart. You will also need to provide a large secure exercise area.
Breed Of Pet
Have a really good long think before you settle on a specific breed and make sure it is absolutely right for you; please make your decision based on the animal’s needs and requirements versus what you can offer it, rather than on what it looks like or whether it is in fashion at the moment.
Different breeds of animals often have very different personality traits (far too many to go in depth on this post) so you should always consider what an animal has been bred to do in the past, before making your decision. For example everyone loves the look of the stunning Dalmatian or the handsome Siberian Husky, but you might not realise that these dogs were originally bred to run for miles and have HUGE amounts of stamina so, therefore, require lots and lots of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and prevent unwanted behaviours. Terriers have been bred for their ability to dispatch rodent pests quickly so don’t be surprised at their feisty and bold behaviour. In the cat world the Siamese can be very vocal, Maine Coons are known for being very affectionate and Bengals can be very destructive when they get bored. With rabbits the Lop-eared is generally friendly and outgoing whereas Netherland Dwarfs can be very skittish and are generally unsuitable for children.
The difference between Pedigree, Pure-Breed, Crossbreed and Mongrel (Dogs and Cats)
These words are often confusing to people and can lead to some unsuspecting people getting fooled or deceived by crafty ‘breeders’. Generally they refer to/are defined as the following
Pedigree – These animals will have a registered mum and dad of the same ‘pedigree’ breed; by which I mean a breed that is officially recognised by the English or American kennel clubs or Governing Council Of The cat Fancy (e..g. Labrador, Cocker spaniel, St Bernard, Burmese, British Shorthair. Persian etc) the parents and offspring will have a genuine registration certificate – usually from the Kennel Club (UK or USA) or The Governing Council Of The cat Fancy (GCCF), which means that the litter has been officially registered with the club and will have an official five (or more) generation pedigree certificate that will show his or her ancestry and it will state whether or not you can show and/or breed from your pet and register their offspring in turn.
Please remember that having a pedigree certificate does not necessarily mean that the breeder is a good or responsible one, or that the animal is guaranteed to be healthy and well bred!
Purebreed – These animals will have a mum & dad of the same ‘pedigree breed’ but the offspring are not registered with the KC or GCCF so cannot be shown in official competitions (Mum and dad may or may not be registered).
Crossbreed – This is usually the result of the mating between 2 different identifiable ‘pedigree’ breeds for for example Cockerpoo (Cocker spaniel x Poodle), Labradoodle (Labrador x Poodle), Cavachon (Cavalier KC Spaniel x Bichon Frise), Multipoo (Maltese Terrier x Poodle), Jug (Jack Russell x Pug), Sprocker (Springer Spaniel x Cocker Spaniel), Lurcher (Greyhound x with anything else!) etc. These breeds are also often referred to as designer breeds.
Mongrel/Moggy – This term is usually used to refer to a crossbreed of 3 or more ‘pedigree’ types or a mix of of unidentifiable breeds, but can be used to mean crossbreed too.
Warning! Be especially careful when looking at ‘designer breeds‘ (which are essentially very expensive crossbreeds or mongrels); these animals have usually been bred to look a specific way and to make money for breeders, rather than for a specific function. While it is true that some of them are fabulous crosses and make great pets, others can be bad crosses, especially if the parents had health problems or bad temperaments. Some examples of designer breeds include
- Labradoodles and other Poodle crosses: The Labradoodle was originally bred to create a ‘low-allergen’ guide dog and quickly became popular because you could have a low-allergen dog (thanks to the poodle’s non-shedding coat) of small, medium or large size. But, did you know that the low-shed and low-allergen only happens with the first cross of labrador to poodle and not all of the puppies in a litter will have this quality? (Labradoodle x Labradoodle often does not have this effect at all). Other poodle crosses such as the CockerPoo or CaviPoo may have low allergen qualities as well, but it can never be guaranteed. Often these cross breeds make wonderful family pets, but not always, as they are very active and smart dogs that need the appropriate care and stimulation. There are literally thousands of these types of dogs in rescue centres all over the UK that are waiting for new homes, so before you part with your money have a look at your local rescue.
- Northern Inuit or ‘WolfDogs’: These dogs are not pedigrees. They have been bred purely to be a status symbol because they look like wolves (or what people imagine wolves to look like) and they are becoming hugely popular. The problem is that these dogs are the result of crossing many breeds together, such as the German Shepherd, Husky, Malamute, Canadian Inuit Dog, Labrador and Belgian Shepherd (to name a few!) Most of the ‘breeders’ are doing this with no regard to temperament or health of the offspring, and as a result these dogs can suffer from many conditions including epilepsy, heart problems, joint problems and endocrine problems. Not to mention the fact that these dogs are bred from VERY active and often high maintenance breeds, so they are very active and very intelligent and therefore need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation in order to prevent behavioural problems. (Interestingly many insurance companies in the UK will not insure these dogs, but none would give me a reason why exactly!)
- Designer Cat Breeds: Examples include the Bengal, Ocicat, Sphynx, Tonkinese and Munchkin. On the whole these cats are quite healthy, with the exception of the Munchkin, whose short little legs can predispose them to spinal problems. Care needs to be taken with some of the breeds because of their ‘wild’ natures though.
While many crossbreeds and mongrels can be very healthy and make wonderful pets, sadly many unscrupulous breeders/puppy farmers have jumped on the ‘designer pet’ bandwagon and are breeding animals for looks, rather than temperament and good health, for a quick profit. The brood bitches are often kept in appalling conditions and no thought is given to their health or that of their offspring.
Please read our guide on buying a new pet for more information on what to look out for and the questions you should be asking breeders and sellers.
Coat Types and Grooming
Most pets will require grooming and/or bathing of some sort and you will need to check their coats, mouths, ears, eyes and bottoms every day to make sure they are clean and healthy.
Pets with long coats will require daily grooming to prevent matting and you will need to consider if you will have the time to do this. Some animals shed lots of fur which may not be good for allergy sufferers. Even those designer pets with little or no hair (Chinese Crested dogs, Sphynx cats, Reptiles) will still need their skin looking after.
Time and Exercise
Many behavioural problems in pets occur because they are bored, under exercised and under stimulated.
Do you have enough time to keep your chosen pet properly exercised and mentally stimulated? Exercise is really important for the health, fitness and well-being of your pet and you will also need to spend time with your pet so you can play with it and provide any training it might need.
Dogs: It is not recommended that dogs are left alone for more than 4 hours a day and for some, even 4 hours is far too long. All dogs need at least two 20 minute walks a day (most breeds need much, much more than this) and the opportunity to run about off the lead in a safe area and meet other dogs if they are socially inclined. Depending on the breed of dog you choose, you may need to provide activities such as agility and training classes to keep it fit and stimulated.
Cats: In an ideal world a cat should be able to go outside, but if you have decided to keep your cat indoors then you must provide adequate mental stimulation for it and it will need much more of your time than an outside cat would to prevent boredom. You can read more about keeping your cat happy in our article
Rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets: These pets will need a large outside enclosed run/exercise area or they can be exercised on harnesses in safe areas. They can also be exercised in safe areas inside your house.
How To Find and Choose Your New Pet
So, you have read this article and have decided that you can afford a pet, you have the time and space and now is the right time to do it. Congratulations! But where do you start? Head on over to our next article about choosing a pet and where to get it from. We cover everything from rescue centres to pedigree pet breeders, the golden rules of buying or adopting a pet and what you need to ask and look for.
The Veterinary Nurses at your local practice will usually be more than happy to chat with you before you buy your pet to give advice and discuss breed types, personalities and traits, potential costs involved in pet ownership, where to look for your pet, questions you should ask and what to avoid and how to avoid puppy and kitten farms.