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Finding the Right Pet for Your Family

You’ve been thinking about adopting a pet.  What do you need to consider when finding the pet that’s right for your family?

  • Interests. What do your family members want in a pet? Is somebody cute, fuzzy, and cuddly desired? A puppy or kitten may be in keeping with your pet wish-list. Would somebody who is colorful and speaks English more your style? A parrot may be of interest to you.
  • Health. Do any of your family members have allergies to specific kinds of animals? For example, if your family wants a kitten, but your son is allergic to cats, are you willing to have the affected family member(s) take allergy medicine or contend with allergy symptoms? Alternately, would a Sphynx cat (a breed of cat that has no hair and is thus reasonably safe for your son) be appropriate in your family?
  • Lifestyle. If your family has an active lifestyle, pets that can be on-the-go with you may be of interest to you. A dog that likes to go for walks, chase Frisbees, etc., would be a good choice for you. Or, you may prefer pets that need limited interaction from you as you go about your busy day. An aquarium of fish may be your choice. Alternately, if your family has a laid-back lifestyle, pets that are inside-only and like lots of attention from you may be the best fit. Laid-back, affectionate dogs and cats may suit you best.
  • Temperaments. If you have a one-year-old who has yet to master fine motor skills, an attempt to pat a pet may be experienced by the pet more like a slap than a gesture of affection. Larger animals are more able to withstand these unintended physical assaults than smaller animals, for whom these blows can shake their whole bodies.
  • Home. Do you have a lot of breakables in places that a toddler can reach? If so, the wagging tail of a big dog can reach these breakables too. Do you have dark-colored furniture? All furry animals shed (some more than others) . . . so a long-haired white puppy or kitty may pose problems in a house with dark-colored furniture. Do you have a small home or apartment? If so, having an indoor kitty may not be a good fit.
  • Finances. Pets can be expensive. Food, water, bowls or feeders, proper veterinary care, toys, grooming tools, etc. will need to be purchased. As your pet ages, expect veterinary bills to increase. Animals with shorter life expectancies typically have lower costs. Fish are less expensive than guinea pigs, which are, in turn, less expensive than dogs and cats.

Once you have chosen the right species and breed of pet for you, how do you choose the right individual pet?  Pets are individuals, just like people are.   Pets have personalities and preferences, just like people do.  Before you take home a pet, have your family spend time with some available pets of the desired species and breed.  Watch how the available pets interact with your family members.  Are they affectionate or neutral?  Are they active or laid-back?  Are they accepting of your one-year-old’s unintentional slaps?  Do you see red flags such as hissing, growling, or other behaviors that you find unacceptable?  (Note: if you see an unacceptable behavior, don’t immediately rule out that pet.  First, determine if the behavior is because the animal is frightened, which should pass as the animal gets to know you, is something you can alter through behavior modification techniques, or is something that you cannot change and cannot live with.)

As you prepare to bring home “the chosen one”, set your adoption expectations realistically.  No matter who you choose to adopt, you will need to make some changes to accommodate for your new family member.  Space will need to be set aside for food and water bowls . . . possibly a litter box . . . toys, and various other paraphernalia.  You and your pet may have different ideas about specific household boundaries: while you certainly get to decide on the boundaries of your household, don’t try to win all the debates with your newest family member.  Letting your new family member set some of his/her own boundaries is healthy for him/her.        

In the end, while choosing the right pet for your family can and should be guided by logic, the ultimate adoption decision will be made by love.  Often, a family will find one particular pet that forms an immediate and strong bond with one or more members of the family.  When the pet adopts you, that’s the best sign that you’ve found the right pet for your family . . . the great match.

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