The benefits of pet ownership are numerous, and clearly, people know it. In 2020, dog adoptions and sales soared amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and one market research firm has projected that the total number of pet-owning U.S. households will grow from 68 million in August to 71 million by the end of the year.
“Pets bring joy, help with learning responsibility and compassion for others, companionship, stress-relief, and can be a great addition to your family!” Camp Bow Wow animal health and behavior consultant Erin Askeland told HuffPost.
“However, it’s important to understand the required care, cost, and time it takes to own a pet before making the decision to bring on into your home,” she added. “When you bring a pet home, you should do so with the mindset of caring for it for the duration of its life, provide it the best quality life and necessary care for mental and physical health, and understand the time commitment of owning a pet.”
But where to begin? Below, Askeland and veterinarian Rolan Tripp outline eight questions to ask yourself before taking the leap into pet ownership.
Can I afford a pet?
Even if you aren’t shelling out large sums of money to buy a pet from a breeder or shop, there are still costs involved.
“Fees for adopting a pet can vary greatly, but that’s just an initial cost,” Askeland noted. “You’ll also need to budget for veterinary visits with booster shots, bloodwork, fecal testing (for parasites), etc. depending on the type of pet you choose. This veterinary care continues throughout the pet’s life, and you also need to think about emergency funds should your pet get sick or injured.”
Other pet ownership costs include food, training, pet care supplies (crates, toys, bedding, crates, leashes, collars, etc.), pet sitters or day care and boarding. There’s also the additional cost of cleaning your home, car, and the pet itself.
Do I have the time it takes to care for a pet?
Pets ownership involves a lot of money and time. Be realistic about your schedule as you consider bringing a pet into your life.
“Pets require flexibility and time at home to allow for care, training, exercise, and cleaning. Some pets require more attention than others, but all require some daily interaction,” Askeland explained.
“Getting a pet is an exciting and fun adventure, but it can also be stressful because of the time commitment and necessity of arranging your schedule around the pet’s needs,” she added. “You’ll need to plan your schedule around getting your pet out for exercise, making sure he’s not home alone too long, and making sure you have accommodations set up in the event you travel or are away from home for a longer day then normal.”
Do I live in a pet-friendly home?
“You can make most living situations with a pet work, but if you live in an apartment, some pets will be more challenging ― dogs who will need to go out to potty and exercise, in particular,” Askeland said.
She emphasized that pets should always be monitored, whether inside or outside and even if in a fenced area. This is particularly true for young pets.
“Smaller spaces can work well because it’s easier to monitor your pet, but you can also use baby gates and block off areas in a larger home so your pet is in one area when transitioning into the home,” she added. “If you’re renting a place to live, consider any additional expenses you may have to bring a pet in. This includes pet deposits, pet fees, and cost of any damages a pet may cause.”
Am I prepared?
“Before you get a pet, keep in mind that you will be sharing life for the next decade or so,” explained Tripp, who is the founder of the Pet Happiness Network. “When you are not prepared to give pets the time and type of care they need, pets can become anxious and a source of stress instead of the healing and happiness we often seek from pets.”
He explained that what you do in the first few weeks of having the pet in your home sets up the pet’s future expectations. So it’s important to have a plan to help the pet adjust to life with you.
“Once the pet is home, like a marriage, it takes a ‘for better or worse’ attitude and plans for the better,” Tripp said. “Resist bringing home a pet without planning or because you feel ‘love at first sight.’”
Is this the right breed for me?
Do research the kind of animal you want to bring into your home to see if it’s compatible with your lifestyle. Think about different breeds and the characteristics associated with them. This is especially important for dogs.
“Consider the dog’s size, as size determines the space taken in a car, the size and cost of dog beds and kennels, the food cost, and the amount of clean-up!” Tripp explained. “Select a coat type that fits your preference for the amount of shedding, need for brushing, grooming, a wet or dry dog face after drinking water, and how it feels to stroke the dog.”
He advised researching what to expect from different breeds or breed mixtures on websites like akc.org. Factors to consider include the breed’s activity level, trainability, and its tendency to be vocal and be friendly to other dogs or cats. If you or someone in your household has allergies, think about allergen levels as well.
Do I have a good support system and backups if I need help?
“It’s best to have everyone in your home involved with caring for the pet, even if you are the primary caregiver,” Askeland said, noting that most pets are quite social and should feel comfortable with others in the home.
“It would also be unfair to the pet to have someone in the home but unwilling to provide any attention or support the pet’s needs as they arise,” she added. “Because of this, it’s important to have discussions on schedules, responsibilities, and emergency scenarios prior to bringing a pet into the home.”
Do I have realistic expectations about pet ownership?
“Responsible pet-ownership is about knowing, as best you can, what you’re committing to, what your pet’s needs are, ensuring you can provide these, and committing to that pet for its lifetime,” Askeland explained. “It’s not always easy to own a pet, no matter what type, so make sure it’s right for you before diving in.”
She suggested reading books about the pet you want, talking to friends or family who have owned that kind of pet, looking up the cost of care and supplies that the pet will need, researching pet insurance costs, and taking a realistic look at your life and schedule to see how a pet fits in.
Am I willing to make sacrifices for my pet?
Reflect on your lifestyle. How pet-friendly is it? And if the answer is “not very,” consider whether you’re willing to make changes for your pet, whether that’s canceling trips, missing social engagements or putting less time into other endeavors. While you may be home a lot in 2020, think about how your life may change as the COVID-19 vaccine gets a wider distribution.
“If you travel frequently for work, a pet may not be an ideal choice because of the time commitment involved,” Askeland noted. “It’s also important to be with your pet in order to create a bond, develop a schedule, and ensure the pet has consistency in training and within its life. It’s also not wise to adopt a pet just before a vacation you have planned or during times of year where your focus is needed on another project, whether work or home.”