With so many different species and breeds of animals readily available in the pet trade these days, it can be difficult trying to choose the right one for you. There are so many factors to consider when choosing your perfect pet.
I’ve been in this position many times myself, wondering if the pet I want is the pet I’d be able to provide for. It’s a topic many animal professionals get asked about often, and while we all have different takes on these things, here’s my guide to help you choose your next pet!
What type of pet are you looking for?
This is a very broad subject, but hopefully if you’re wanting to get a new pet you’ll have some idea of what type. Dog? Cat? Reptile? Fish? As long as you’ve got that in mind, next comes narrowing down your options within each type.
A few basic questions you need to ask yourself are:
• Am I in the right position to get a new pet?
• Why do I want a new pet?
• What size pet do I want?
• How much time do I have to dedicate to my pet’s needs? This is everything from feeding, grooming, exercise, enrichment and training or taming.
• Can I afford the initial costs and upkeep of this pet? What if something goes wrong, how will I afford vet costs?
• Do I have enough space to keep the animal as it grows?
• What is my plan if I can’t keep looking after this pet?
If you’re looking for a dog, for example, ask yourself what purpose the dog will have and why you’re getting one as this will help with breed selection. No point getting a Belgian Malinois as a family pet when you have no more than half an hour a day to dedicate to it.
If you want to get a reptile think about what type – snake, lizard, gecko, tortoise etc – and then what space you have to offer it. Don’t get an arboreal species if you can only give it a tub to live in, similarly don’t get a terrestrial species if you expect it to live in a tall tank.
Male or Female
You hopefully know what species of animal you’d like, now you need to decide whether you want a male or female. Often it just comes down to personal preference, but with some species the differences between the sexes makes a world of difference when it comes to deciding.
Males of certain species can become troublesome when they hit adolescence. Dogs can display scent marking and mounting behaviours, and may try to roam in search of females. Cats can become more demanding and confident, less tolerant of handling, and may even begin to fight with other resident cats. Several snake species can become fussy and restless during breeding season. Frogs may become more vocal as they search for potential mates.
Females will have regular heat cycles, unless spayed, that can be messy, behaviourally challenging as they’re more likely to fight with other females, and potentially result in emergencies like pyometra, and unwanted pregnancies. They can become stubborn and moody, and often act distracted as they search for a male.
Restlessness and disinterest in food are behaviours that can be observed in both males and females of many species during breeding seasons.
There is the option to spay or castrate for many animals, but again this should be researched beforehand and discussed with your vet. There are different pros and cons depending which animal you look at. The choice between male or female of the species you’d like to own should be thoroughly considered before making the decision to take the animal on.
Housing your pet
You’ve picked your perfect pet, now it’s time to think about where you’ll keep them.
Space consideration is huge when deciding what pet to take on. What many people forget is that the tiny little fluffball you take home is potentially going to grow into a monster sized slobber machine that needs a king sized mattress to sleep on and a decent sized garden to run zoomie laps around in. Most dogs, of course, won’t grow up to be 15 stone like our Padfoot will, but small dogs also have housing requirements that need to be thought about before taking one on. Even a goldfish requires a fairly large tank in order to thrive.
There’s a lot of misinformation around about the housing needs of many small furry pets, fish and reptiles. With all of them the rule remains the same – Bigger is Always Better.
Contrary to belief, Rabbits, hamsters, rats, most reptiles, all do better with large enclosures. Rabbits should really be allowed to free roam, or as close to as possible. If that’s not an option, at least half of a standard sized room should be set up as a space for them, filled with plenty of enrichment and activities to satisfy their needs.
Reptiles need heat sources, basking bulbs, thermostats, UVB lights. Basically a long list of things that cost a lot of money and that will need to be replaced at least once a year, if not twice. They need large tanks or vivariums, regular substrate changes, hides, clutter, enrichment. A long list of housing needs.
Housing an animal correctly ties into three of the Five Freedoms all animals have the right to be provided.
- Need for a suitable environment
- Need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
- Need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals
Before purchasing any pet always research their current and future housing needs to ensure you’re going to be able to provide everything they need to grow and thrive.
Adopt or Shop?
Now you know what you’d like, do you know where you’d like to get it from? To buy from a breeder or adopt from a rescue centre, both have advantages and disadvantages. You can find breeders or rescues for most animals these days so choosing which to go for comes down to many personal factors. There’s also consideration needed for finding the right breeder or rescue – while many people know of irresponsible breeders, it’s also common to find irresponsible rescues.
Adopting from a Rescue
Adopting your next pet can be a massively rewarding experience! Animals end up in rescue for all sorts of reasons, but regardless of reason, all pets will appreciate a loving home where all their needs can be met.
Advantages of rehoming a pet can be:
- Giving an animal the chance to have a fulfilled and comfortable life.
- Knowing the personality of an older pet so little risk of having a personality mismatch.
- Usually pets are all health checked, had parasite treatments, microchipped and vaccinated, and neutered(species depending)
Adopting a pet isn’t always full of sunshine and roses though, and there’s always risks you have to consider before heading down this route.
- Does the animal have behavioural issues you aren’t experienced enough to deal with? In which case, are you willing to work with someone who does have the experience? However this may prove to be very time consuming and costly. And a happy ending may never come of a situation like this. How prepared will you be for potentially having to say goodbye sooner than expected?
- Many animals have unknown breeding origins and heritage. This leaves the door open for genetic health issues and temperament issues that can be prevented with good breeding practices. It’s a gamble taking on a pet that has no health records, unknown parentage and no idea of potential temperament issues it’s shown previously.
- Do you trust the rescue is responsible and legitimate, or are they just trying to get animals out the doors to free up space for others? Be wary of any rescue that doesn’t consider the needs of its current animals over the needs of potential new arrivals.
Buying from a Breeder
Finding a responsible breeder who holds welfare standards high, strives to constantly improve the quality of the animals they breed, and is dedicated to finding their animals the best home possible is amazing. But, again, there are positives and negatives to buying animals from a breeder.
Some negatives can be:
- Waiting lists can be quite long, it may take some searching around to find an animal that fits your requirements.
- Stigma. Unfortunately there’s still a nasty stigma surrounding purchasing animals from breeders, as people argue there’s already enough pets in rescue. I won’t get into it now as this post will end up way too long, but just remember no matter what anyone says there’s nothing wrong with purchasing any animal from a responsible breeder.
- It’s costly. At least much more costly than paying a £200 adoption charge from a rescue. But then you have to consider what you’re actually paying for.
The positives, though, are:
- A return to breeder guarantee. All responsible breeders will have contracts in place that require a new owner to agree to return the animal to the breeder if things don’t work out for whatever reason. This is very species dependent, however, and you’re more likely to see it with dog and cat breeders as opposed to reptile and small animal breeders. This is still something to enquire about before purchasing any animal.
- Health tested parents gives best chance of healthy offspring. Health testing exists for a reason. Anyone who chooses not to test animals before breeding from them, in my opinion, should always be avoided. Animals can carry genes that could cause serious health issues for their young, while showing no symptoms themselves. Health testing is vital in preventing these issues from being passed on.
- The history of the animal is fully known. Breeders can tell you everything that’s happened with the animal from the day they’re born to the day you take them home. Their eating habits and any special dietary needs, growth charts, training progress, socialisation, any behavioural issues, medical history, and any other information you need. Knowing all this ensures you get the most suitable pet for you, and you can be as prepared as possible.
Another way to get an animal can be privately rehoming, although this often isn’t recommended unless you have some experience and know what to look out for. Otherwise you may end up finding yourself stuck with an unhealthy, unknown, or potentially dangerous animal that you’re unprepared for.
So now you know which animal you’d like, where you’ll keep them, and how you’d like to come to own one, what’s left? Research, research, research. And after you’ve done that, go and research some more. You can never research enough. Join groups, ask questions, read articles, talk to existing owners… just keep learning!
Getting a new pet is easily one of the most exciting things you can do! But always remember you’re getting more than just a cute pet – you’re taking on the responsibility of caring for a living creature, the responsibility to fulfil all their needs, the responsibility to make sure they always thrive. That’s a lot of responsibility! And with many animals living for 20+ years you need to be prepared for the commitment.
Pets aren’t holiday gifts, they aren’t toys, and they aren’t there as entertainment.
But, as with everything, you get back what you put in. Provide an animal with everything they need to thrive, show them kindness, respect and compassion always, and you’ll be rewarded with something special beyond words.