There’s nothing that warms the heart more than seeing the videos that pop up after the holidays of a pajama-clad kiddo popping the top off a box to reveal a puppy or a kitty. Chances are, that child has been bugging his or her parents to get a pet for eons so the payoff is usually a lot of happy tears. And while this can tale can have a happy ending, as veterinarians, we see the alternatives far too often.
Whether it’s pet allergies, another pet that doesn’t like the new pet, aggressive behavior due to lack of training, or something else, far too many Christmas pets ultimately get rehomed or, worse, euthanized. That’s why we want you to be ultra-prepared if you’re considering buying or adopting a pet this holiday season, and we’ve shared seven considerations you need to think about before pulling the puppy or kitty trigger.
1. Pick the Right Pet
Your pet should fit into your lifestyle, not the one that you want to have, but the one that you live every day. If you’re not active, getting a high energy dog will cause you more stress. If you are always on the go and want your pet to be with you on these daily adventures, a couch potato just won’t cut it.
Make a list of what activities you and your family do regularly. Could it be something that your pet can do with you? Does a kitten or puppy make more sense? Or perhaps an adult cat or dog might be best. If you’re going with a puppy or adult dog, spend some time researching dog breeds to find one that fits well into your lifestyle. After doing this analysis, you might realize that now is not the time to get a pet at all, and that’s fine too. It’s best to be honest with yourself, as rehoming a pet can be an agonizing experience for all involved.
2. Consider Your Timing
When you get a pet it is best for them to have time to adjust to their new home. They will need a minimum of two weeks to become used to a routine. A puppy will require longer for potty training. You don’t want to stop progress if you are planning a trip and your new pet will need to adjust to another change.
Separation anxiety in pets is rather prevalent, so you want to also incorporate some time apart for your pet to gradually get them used to what their permanent schedule will be like after the holidays. If you will be going to work and/or kids will be going to school, you should leave for short periods of time to get your pet accustomed to this in order to avoid separation anxiety. You can even leave them in their crate downstairs and go upstairs—preparing them for this separation doesn’t even mean you actually have to leave the house.
3. Divide and Conquer Pet Responsibilities
The pet may be for the kids but we all know who is ultimately responsible for the pet—the adults. Kids, however, should know that they can and should contribute to the care of the pet, including feeding, walking the dog, playing, clean up grooming, or other needs.
Where will the pet sleep? If a puppy needs frequent nighttime potty breaks, you will not want it in the room of a small child that may disturb their sleep. Just as with kids, your pets will also benefit from a bedtime routine. Having your family involved in this process has proven to help kids that have a difficult time getting to sleep.
When the family contributes to the care of the pet, this increases the human-animal bond. Even though it may take more time, or you have to remind family members to do their tasks, bonding with pets helps the overall wellbeing of each member of the family.
Here are a couple of good resources that go further into the benefits of the human-animal bond:
4. Consider the Costs
Understand the costs associated with the pet you are considering, and that means going beyond the initial purchase or adoption fees. Vaccinations and other preventive care are not always included when you get your pet, and you should take your pet to your veterinarian to discuss what your new pet will need based on your pet’s new lifestyle. You obviously want to set your pet up with everything they will need when you first get them. In addition to these initial purchases, though, don’t forget about the ongoing cost of pet ownership, which runs the gamut from food and accessories to wellness/preventative care and sick veterinary visits.
The average pet will cost $25-$150 per month for their basic needs. Also, don’t forget about grooming. If you get a pet with fur they may not need to be groomed as frequently as a dog with hair. Hair will grow and will need daily brushing and cuts about every 4-6 weeks. Basic bathing and brushing for your pet will average about $30-$40, where a full groom with haircut can be pricy and can cost up to $150, but can average $60-$80. You can groom your dog at home but most people that attempt this will opt for a professional groomer. You should talk to a groomer about what’s involved before you invest in your own home equipment.
We’re not trying to be curmudgeons and want you to enjoy a long and happy life with your precious pet but, again, as veterinarians, we see far too many instances of rehoming dogs and cats because the owners didn’t fully realize the overall costs of pet ownership.
5. Line Up Your Veterinary Care
The cost of illness or injury to your pet can be expensive, but having pet insurance can lessen the blow of these costs in the time of your pets’ needs. You can talk with your veterinarian about what insurance they will recommend, and they might offer a wellness program that would partner with catastrophic insurance. If you opt-out of these, understand that routine care for your pet each year will be around $500, and as your pet ages that cost increases.
Don’t skip veterinary care—we say this not just because we are in the veterinary profession, but when an illness is caught and treated early, this decreases the costs of care and your pet enduring pain or discomfort.
6. Note the Time It Takes to Train
Your new pet will not only need that time to adjust to their new home but also to the training needs to begin the day you bring them home. Cats will need to know where their space is, and dogs, regardless of their age, will need training. In the first two months, dogs will need at least 30 min per day of training. Puppies will require a little more depending on if they are potty trained. You should plan to spend 15 minutes a day on training for the first year, and an hour a week for the rest of their life.
This training would include polite leash walking if they routinely don’t walk, or just basic commands of sit, stay and wait. You would be surprised how often training happens when you don’t even realize it but, in the early days, you should allow for this time in your schedule. An unfortunate thing we see as veterinarians are dogs that get rehomed or euthanized due to aggressive behavior when, really, it was just that no one took the time to train the pet in the first place.
7. Commitment to a Possibly Long Pet Life
When you choose to have a pet you are committing to them for the rest of their lives. Know the average life span of your pet. Dogs can live 15 years, cats can live 20, and a tortoise can live to 80 years old! Even some fish have been known to live past 40 years old. You don’t want the novelty of a puppy to wear off after the holidays when kids go back to school and have less time to play with the pet. Having an older dog that isn’t as needy may be the best option for your family, or even a cat or a kitten that will be content with more independence.
Only you and your family can decide what is the best option. By reading this blog, you’ve shown that you are committed to learning what it takes to make a Christmas pet not just a passing fancy but a legitimate member of your family. If you have any questions about how to know whether you're ready for pet ownership or if you want to line up your first veterinary appointment, give us a call!