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Are You Ready to Get a Pet?

What you need to consider before you get a pet.

Age (Yours and Your Pet's) Matters

When considering a pet, ask yourself this question: “What am I going to be doing in 10 years?” Will you have gone off to college? Will you be retired? Moved into assisted living?

When people adopt pets, they often fail to consider their long-range plans.

“When you get a pet, it’s for life - their life,” Cruz tells WebMD.

Some dogs and cats can live as long as 18 or 20 years. Some birds and reptiles can live 40 years or more, Singleton says.

As they age, pets tend to develop more kidney or liver failure, diabetes, and similar illnesses. Often they need expensive, ongoing medication or special equipment. That’s an expense that many people don’t account for when they first bring their pet home. Sadly, it’s a common cause for people to either give up their pets to shelters or put them down.

Owners need to understand how long a pet might live, and make sure they have a strategy to care for the pet if the owner can’t do it anymore either because of cost or physical disability.

“Especially if you’re older, you need to have a plan. What is going to happen to my pet when I die?” Cruz says.

And though elderly, more sedentary owners can benefit immensely from the companionship of a pet, Cruz says they should choose an animal with less demanding requirements. “A senior pet might be just what a senior person needs,” she says.

On the opposite end of the age spectrum, when is a child old enough to have a pet? It mainly depends on the child’s maturity level.

When a child can show some responsibility in taking care of himself, that’s when you know he can at least handle and treat an animal properly, Cruz says. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to assume full care of the pet. But at least they can help with some of the feeding and grooming duties.

Do Your Homework

Knowing what you’re looking for in a pet can save a lot of heartache and headache for both pet and owner.

There are plenty of resources to help you figure out if you’re ready and, if so - what kind of animal you should go for.

First, talk to a veterinarian. A vet will probably ask you if you have a lot of kids in the house, which might mean you need a sturdier breed of animal. And, what are your expectations -- are you looking for a dog that can go jogging and hiking with you every weekend, or just one that’s going to cuddle at the foot of your bed? Other questions: How big is your yard? Does anyone in your home have allergies? Do you want a calm companion, or a peppy animal who lives to play chase with you?

Based on these types of issues, a vet can suggest an animal to fit your lifestyle.

Books and web sites can also give you a good understanding of different animals and breeds, including grooming and health issues to anticipate.

Visiting a shelter, pet store, a dog show, or even talking to a breeder are other smart ways to better understand what kind of size, attitude, and breed best suits you, Cruz says.

Reviewed on June 10, 2011

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