If thinking about a new pet, read this article first
It's almost too easy to get a new pet these days: you can go to a classified adverts website, click a few links, make a phone call, and a couple of hours later, you can be the proud owner of a new puppy/kitten/rabbit/guinea pig or whatever creature you may have chosen. There are no restrictions on pet ownership: anybody can get an animal, with no prior instruction.
This is a great freedom, but the down side is that it means that many people end up with new pets without having any real idea about what they should do. So what can be done to help?
The first point for anyone considering a new animal is simple: do your research first. In this era of the internet, it has never been easier to get access to good quality information. Simply Google the type of animal you are interested in, and find out what's involved with owning one.
Are there any particular health problems that are common in that type of creature? And how can you avoid these? (E.g. pedigree animals are prone to certain diseases that are less common in the parent animals have been screened with blood tests or x-rays before breeding).
Find out what sort of housing you need for your pet? It's safer not to trust what the person selling the animal tells you; read up about this on an independent website written by someone who is well informed. You may then decide to get an indoor kennel for a puppy, a well-designed top-opening cat carrier for your kitten, or a large outdoor run and hutch for your small furry pet. It's far better to get this in advance rather than waiting until you have the animal in your home before worrying about it.
Next, gather information about the optimal type of nutrition for your new pet. Again, this will vary from species to species, and even from breed to breed. But find out in advance, so that you can buy in some food before your pet arrives. Good breeders usually provide a small supply of the food that the animal is used to eating already, and it's always best to keep them on this at first. But after a few days, you'll need to start them onto a ration of your choice, mixing half:half with the original diet. So you might as well get this diet stocked in your kitchen cupboards from the start.
Think about what sort of exercise you will give your pet: every animal needs to have daily activity, just like humans. With a dog, have a think about where you'll take them for walks, and buy some dog toys that are suitable for throwing and fetching. For a cat, get an indoor "cat tree" that allows the cat climbing and jumping space inside your home, and get some cat toys for them to chase. Not only this this good exercise: it's also excellent bonding time for your and your new pet. For small furry pets like rabbits and guinea pigs, think about how you will set up their hutch and run, ensuring that there's plenty of space for running around.
The next important area is health care: hopefully, your new pet won't fall ill any time soon, but you need to know about what steps you need to take to reduce the risk of that happening.
For dogs and cats, that means a visit to the vet for an initial health check, and to discuss vaccinations and parasite treatments. That health check is important: sometimes a young animal can have an inherited problem that may not be obvious to an owner. Examples include cleft palates, heart murmurs and hernias. If one of these is present, it's often best to return the animal to the breeder: it can be expensive, complicated and time consuming to deal with these types of problems. It makes far more sense for you to start out with a fit, healthy animal, free of all complications. If you delay this health check for more than a day, you will be emotionally involved with the new creature. Even if the vet tells you that there is a life-shortening health problem, it's likely that you'll feel unable to take the pet back to the breeder. So get this check done early, and try to be objective about the situation if it's bad news. This isn't easy, but you need to aim to be realistic in such situations.
This first visit to the vet is the right time to confirm that the pet is microchipped, and if not, then get it done, whether dog, cat or even a rabbit. There's no better way of ensuring that a pet is permanently connected to your name and phone number.
You should also find out about what you need to do to prevent the pet from breeding: most animals need to be spayed (females) or neutered (males). This doesn't usually need to be done till they are young adult animals, but you should still find out about this beforehand, even just so that you can budget for the cost of the operations.
While you are at the vet, it's a good time to talk about pet insurance. If your pet has an accident or falls ill, vets' fees can put a serious dent into your family budget, and in extreme cases, you may even feel that you can't afford the vet care needed to care for them properly. For this reason, it often makes sense to pay a small monthly sum to a pet insurance company, so that if there's a medical problem, the costs will be covered by the insurance policy.
It's fun owning a pet, but some planning and preparation at the start can make the experience smoother, safer and more enjoyable.