Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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New Pet Checklist Leads To Wise Choices

Pet Column for the week of March 19, 2007

Related information:

Services - Human-Animal Bond

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brooke Nitzkin
Information Specialist

So you've finally decided that the time is right to invite a furry, four-legged friend into your family. Before you do, please consider the advice of Dr. Jennifer Stone, veterinarian at the Champaign County Humane Society who teaches at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, Ill. A little forethought and planning will help make pet ownership a rewarding experience for both people and pets in your household.

One of the first considerations is how much time you have to devote to your new pet, which will determine what type of pet you should choose. In general horses and dogs require the most time, followed closely by cats, and then "pocket pets" or fish. If you just want a furry buddy but are rarely home, a pocket pet, such as a hamster or guinea pig, might be a great solution for you.

If you're ready for the time commitment required to own a dog or cat, your next decision is whether to choose an adult or a puppy or kitten. If you want a youngster, be ready for potty training, some house chewing, and lots of work. An adult is a good option for some people: on the plus side, they are likely through the destructive stage and may already be trained; the downside is that this new animal already has a history that you must be willing to accommodate.

Dr. Stone also advises selecting a veterinarian before you select a pet. Ear infections, coughs, and all sorts of minor illnesses are inevitable, and you woon't want to choose your veterinarian in a rush. She also suggests picking a high-quality, commercially available pet food before you bring the new pet home.

Now you are ready to pick out your new pet. The first thing that you should look for is the health of the animal you are getting. Check the eyes, ears, and nose of any dog or cat you are thinking of adopting. The eyes should be clear, with no discharge. The ears should be relatively clean, not red or smelly. The nose should be free of mucus. Puppies and kittens should be active, not lying lethargically in your arms. Do not fool yourself into thinking that lethargy indicates a naturally calm animal. While that is possible, more likely this pet is sick.

Visiting a prospective pet more than once will help you gauge their true personality. Breed characteristics tend to be accurate. For example, a black Lab mix will have a lot of energy because that is what those dogs were bred for.

"You should never get a pet thinking it will help you increase your activity level," says Dr. Stone. Too many times owners think that their new family member will force them into good exercise habits. But the truth is that old habits die hard, and more often than not the pet ends up getting less exercise instead of the owner getting more.

Another important aspect to consider is the new pet's interactions with other animals. A dog that is aggressive toward other dogs may be fine as the only dog in your house, but going to public places with this pet may be challenging. Make sure you understand this aspect of your pet's nature before you actually make a decision.

Now that you have thought through these considerations and made a wise decision, congratulations! You and your new pet will certainly be very happy. Having a pet involves a lot of planning, and a bit of work as well, but the rewards we get from our animals far outweigh all the effort.