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Ask Yourself These 10 Questions Before Adopting Your First Pet

© Katho Menden / EyeEm - Getty Images   Kristi Littrell, adoption manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, gives advice on what to consider before adopting a pet.

By Karen Asp, Good Housekeeping

Like children, pets require a commitment of time, money, and love. Unfortunately, many people are unprepared for just how much responsibility pets can be, which may explain why so many end up in shelters. About 6.5 million animals enter shelters nationwide each year, roughly a third of which were relinquished by owners, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). To ensure you get the right pet for your family, here are 10 questions to ask before adopting.


What's the pet's average life span?

Life spans vary from animal to animal, which is why you need to do some research. Small dogs tend to live 14 to 19 years on average, while bigger dogs could live 10 to 15 years, says Kristi Littrell, adoption manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. 

Meanwhile, cats can live 15 to 20 years, parrots 50 to 60 years, and hamsters only a few years. If you're older, you may want to consider adopting an older pet — or making a plan for who will take care of your pet if you no longer have the capacity to do it yourself. If you have young children, you'll want to consider your kid's age and maturity level before committing to a smaller, more delicate animal.


How much free time do you have available each day?

Some animals demand more of your time than others. The amount of wiggle room in your schedule may sway you to choose one type of pet over another. Fish don't need much affection, but their tanks may require heavy maintenance weekly or monthly. Cats probably won't require as much time as dogs — particularly puppies, which need lots of one-on-one time for house training and socialization. But if you adopt an older, housebroken dog that knows basic commands, the time commitment may not be as overwhelming, Littrell says.


How much space do you have?

How much run-around space does your pet need, and how much can you offer? "The smaller the space you have, the more time you might need to invest in that pet, depending on what you adopt," Littrell says. If you live in an apartment, you'll spend more time taking a dog outside to use the bathroom and exercise versus if you lived in a house with a yard where you could just let the dog out.


How much money can you spend?

After you factor in food, bedding, toys, and health care, pet ownership can be expensive. That's why knowing a pet's average lifespan is important. The ASPCA estimates the cost of owning each of the following animals for the first year: $2,010 for large dogs; $1,310 for small dogs; $1,170 for cats; $800 for rabbits; $390 for small birds; and $375 for guinea pigs.

Those are minimum estimates, too. Other expenses, including emergency vet bills, medications, and pet-sitting services, cannot always be anticipated. Most people associate aging pets with pricier bills, but that's not always the case. "This really varies, especially since set-up with saltwater tanks for fish or puppy training can be quite expensive," says Littrell, who encourages people to adopt senior animals. "Although they may need more vet care, they don't require as much time and training as a young animal."


How often are you home?

Are you in the house most of the day or are you out in an office? If you're typically home, you can probably choose any type of pet. But if you're rarely there, a puppy may not be a good choice because it requires frequent bathroom breaks and shouldn't be left alone for long periods. Dogs, even older ones, warrant extra planning if you're gone for long stretches at a time. You may need to look into daytime walkers or doggy day camp. Similarly, parrots may also be challenging if you're not a homebody, because the birds demand lots of attention, Littrell says.


How frequently do you travel?

Even jetsetters can adopt a pet, but your travel habits should influence the type of animal you choose, since certain pets are more independent than others. For instance, cats, as long as they don't have special needs, can generally be left by themselves for a night or two, provided they have ample food, water, and access to a litter box. Dogs, on the other hand, will need to be fed, walked, and let out every few hours, often at an additional expense if you're away. If you plan on taking your pets along for the ride, however, dogs are easier to travel with than cats.


How active are you?

Almost every animal requires exercise. Yet the type of pet you adopt will determine the activity level you'll be expected to engage in with your pet. Dogs require you to take them for frequent bathroom breaks and daily walks, though older canines may not be able to walk as long as younger ones. If you don't have the ability or desire to be super active, consider adopting a cat, hamster, or fish, which don't require as much sweat.


What type of vet care is available?

Proximity to a specialized pet clinic is less important if you're adopting a cat or dog because most veterinarians have experience with these animals. But if you're considering adopting a less traditional pet like a parrot, lizard, or horse, make sure you have access to a veterinarian who can provide care for that animal, and come up with a plan of what you'd do in case of an emergency.


Does your residence restrict certain pets?

Some states and cities ban certain types, or even breeds, of pets. Residents in Miami-Dade County in Florida, for example, are banned from owning pit bulls. To find out which states have breed-specific bans, particularly on dogs, visit dogsbite.org

In addition to laws, certain homeowners associations or lease agreements may place limits on the size, number, or types of pets you're allowed to have. If you rent, ask what types of animals, if any, your building allows, and if you're required to pay an additional pet deposit. It's also a good idea to check in with your local animal control to find out more about local ordinances before you adopt.


Are you allergic?

"Many people don't realize they have an allergy to an animal until they bring it home," says Littrell. She adds that many animals are surrendered to shelters because of unforeseen allergies. Before you adopt, spend time with that type of animal, either at a shelter or a friend's house. If possible, foster the animal to see if your allergy worsens or can be managed by keeping it out of your room or off your bed. Fish and birds tend to trigger fewer allergies than dogs and cats. If you are concerned, your doctor can test you for allergies.

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Bloom Magazine: Ask Yourself These 10 Questions Before Adopting Your First Pet
Ask Yourself These 10 Questions Before Adopting Your First Pet
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