It's not unusual to become so enamored with the idea of having a pet that the realities of the responsibility are left behind. To be sure, having a dog is an incentive to get some exercise, and there's nothing like coming home to a pet who's happy to see you, especially after a long day. It's important to remember that pets are a lifetime proposition, living beings that rely on you for their survival. Responsible pet ownership requires acknowledging the disadvantages of having a pet and recognizing if you can overcome them or if it's better to wait.
Pet ownership is not cheap. When you take on a pet, you are adding another family member and all that entails, including food and medical care. Dogs and cats require vaccinations, spaying and neutering and parasite prevention. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates the annual financial commitment for a small dog is approximately $420; a medium dog jumps to $620 and a large dog costs about $780, at the time of publication. Expenses for spaying or neutering and basic supplies aren't included. Caring for one cat is estimated to cost approximately $545 a year, exclusive of supplies and spay/neuter surgery. Small animals also incur expenses: rabbits are estimated to cost $675 annually, while a Guinea pig can range between $550 and $800 annually.
Consider that pets can get sick, causing unplanned medical expenses to add more costs to keeping a pet. As pets age, they are prone to developing medical conditions requiring additional vet visits, testing, medications and medical procedures, which can add up to considerable expense.
Pets take time, even if it's a pet you won't socially engage with, such as a fish. The word "housebroken" doesn't mean the pet cleans up after himself; it means he understands the appropriate place to take care of business. A dog still needs to be walked and cleaned up after; a cat needs her litter box cleaned and changed; and small animals, such as hamsters, require regular housekeeping. In fact, small animals require additional care because their living spaces need regular cleaning and maintenance, such as removing all bedding and washing the cage. Fish tanks require regular water changes and water-quality monitoring to ensure fish live in a safe, healthy environment.
Beyond basic feeding and toileting duties, pets require engagement. Dogs require basic obedience training so they will be well-behaved family members. Pets such as dogs and cats are social creatures, often thriving when they have the companionship of other people and animals. Some breeds of dogs and cats are more independent than others, meaning they cope better with the extended absence of their owners. The American Veterinary Medical Association states that proper exercise and mental stimulation, appropriate to the pet's breed, age and health, are important facets of responsible pet ownership.
Pet ownership is a lifetime commitment, potentially lasting years or decades, depending on the pet. Responsible pet owners have an alternative care plan in place to ensure their pets are cared for in the event of emergencies or significant life changes.
Having a pet requires thinking ahead. If you leave town, you must have a someone tasked with caring for your pet in your absence. It may be someone who stops in to feed your fish or it may entail boarding your dog at a kennel. If you hope to expand your family with a spouse and children one day, your pet needs to be factored into those plans, as growing families often impact time and flexibility. Pets also have to be factored into emergency plans, such as evacuation routines during hurricane season.
Most people have neighbors, whether they're on top, on either side, or both. You should consider whether a new pet will impact your neighbors' quality of life. For example, a dog left alone all day may bark and disturb people. Cats and dogs left to wander outside can cause damage to other peoples' gardens and homes, as well as leave messes behind.
For anyone who has known and loved a pet, the greatest disadvantage of pet ownership is saying goodbye. Most people outlive their pets, and watching a treasured family member decline with age and illness is tough. Whether a pet becomes sick and dies or you make the decision to humanely euthanize your pet, a pet's death can be a painful, difficult experience.