There are few things in this world as adorable as a puppy or kitten. It’s insanely difficult to stare into one’s soulful eyes and not take it home with you immediately. But as tempting as it might be to grab it (plus as many of its littermates as you can possibly fit in your car), it’s important not to rush into any pet adoption. In honor of Adopt-a-Cat Month, before you bring home a four-legged companion, be sure you’re doing the right thing by asking yourself the following questions:
Is your home situation stable?
Do you know where you’re going to be living in a year? How about five years? Is it easy to find pet-friendly housing in your area? Adopting a pet means embracing a new family member—one that might live for another 10 or 15 years. Your furry new friend might be holding you back from taking six months away to backpack across South America or moving into that super affordable no-pets-allowed apartment. Your responsibility for caring for this animal will have to come first, and it’s important to be honest about your priorities before you find yourself trying to give away your cat online. (A good rule of thumb: don’t give away your cat online.)
Can you afford it?
Adoption fees are often cheap, but caring for an animal for its entire life isn’t. Even the healthiest pet needs to eat. Cats need litter. Most dogs need flea and tick medication, and may need a dog-walker while you’re at work. All animals require collars, travel carriers, brushes, and toys. These costs add up over time, and that’s before you even get to the annual vet checkup. As your pet ages, it may need medicine or basic veterinary procedures, which can be prohibitively expensive. Even a seemingly simple treatment, like removing a cat’s decaying tooth, can cost hundreds of dollars.
Who will care for it on a daily basis?
Having a pet of your own means more than just playing with it occasionally. Someone has to feed it daily or even multiple times a day. Dogs need a healthy amount of outdoor exercise, and cats require frequent litter changes and enough stimulation to keep them from getting bored. Getting a dog may teach kids responsibility, but they also can quickly lose interest in the day-to-day grind of feeding and exercising them. If you live with roommates, will you be relying on them to assist you with pet care? Before you take home an animal, make sure someone will always be around to feed it dinner, even if you’re stuck late at the office.
Do you have room?
Pets need plenty of exercise. When they get bored, they can become destructive and prone to chewing on themselves and your house. If you don’t have a backyard where your dog can roam freely, make sure you’ll be able to take it on ample walks, let it run around the dog park, or otherwise give it the activity and stimulation it needs. Even small animals need more activity than you’d assume: rabbits should be able to roam freely for up to six hours a day, according to adoption service recommendations.
Will it fit in with your other pets?
Many animals benefit from having a buddy to hang out with, but that doesn’t mean that all pets get along. Will your older cat accept a newcomer barging in on her territory? Will your dog take a nibble out of your new bunny? Just because we love all our animals doesn’t mean all our animals are going to love each other. Check with the shelter to see if they know how your new friend reacts to others, and see if you can glean similar information about your current pet.
Does its personality fit your lifestyle?
A Chihuahua may not be suited to following you on arduous hikes or accompanying you on runs, and a border collie may have more energy than can be contained in your tiny urban apartment. Make sure you find a pet that can keep up with (or settle down in) your current lifestyle, including the frequency of your planned travels. A solitary cat might be more accepting of your every-other-weekend trips than a puppy with separation anxiety, for instance.
How will you deal with behavior issues?
No pet is going to behave perfectly, and it’s important to consider how you’ll deal when problems arise. Dogs especially need clear training and reinforcement, but cats can act out too, tearing your couch to pieces or peeing outside the litter box. If your pet starts misbehaving, will you hire a trainer? Enroll in classes? Buy a book and try to wing it yourself? Plenty of people feel overwhelmed by a pet with behavioral issues (especially biting) and it’s vital to be honest with yourself about your ability to handle these situations before you end up with a pet you can’t control. FYI: If a little excess vomit on your duvet cover is going to be a deal-breaker for you, you probably shouldn’t get a feline friend.
What kind of grooming does it require?
Long-haired animals require a lot of maintenance to make sure their coats don’t become matted, which means you might need to spend up to 20 minutes a day brushing. Pets may need frequent ear-cleaning and nail-clippings. Decide whether you’ll groom your animal regularly or if you’ll need to take them to a professional.
What happens when you go on vacation?
Most people have to go out of town every now and then—sometimes with very little notice beforehand. Make sure that you have someone to call when you do, whether it’s a reliable pet-sitting service or a generous friend.
We all want the best for our pets, and that includes their health. Find out how having a pet insurance plan could help alleviate some of those costly vet bills in the future.