Adding a Pet to Your Family

Black and white dog sitting on a small child's lap.

You’ve been thinking about adding a pet to your family, but you have questions. What pet is right for us? Is this the right time? How many pets are right for our family? Will one pet get lonely when we’re not around?

From experience I can tell you, nine pets are really too many. Even for most pet-people. What is the right number? Like the right time, and what kind of pet is best for your family, the best number of pets for your family is a question only you can answer, but here are some things I’ve learned along the way that may be helpful.

Exotic Pets

Exotic pets are considered exotic for a reason. This may not hold true for all of them, but in my experience they are often more difficult to care for than traditional pets and / or less affectionate. You will no doubt find someone on the Internet exclaiming the wonders of the pet you’re considering, but think three times before adopting anything with the label “Exotic” especially if they are nocturnal.

Most people want to sleep at night. And I’m pretty sure we all want our kids to sleep at night. Nocturnal pets sleep during the day so you miss out on the joy of interacting with them while they are awake and they may be noisy at night. Not a great combo for any family.

Timing is Key

You need to be ready for a new pet. That means your kids need to be at ages that work for those pets, you need to have the energy and money to take care of the pet, and (serious consideration) you need to have intensive time for the first three months you have a new pet in the home. Especially puppies and kittens need attention and training the first few month, but even older animals require more time and attention during the first months as they become a part of your family.

Selecting the Right Pet

You may have wonderful memories of growing up with the best dog or cat in the world. Based on your experience, you may know you want that particular breed of dog or cat. But remember — you were a child. If the dog dug up the flowerbeds it probably didn’t bother you. If the cat scratched the furniture, you probably didn’t care. It’s time as an adult to do your research.

What’s Important to You and Your Family?

Do you have “fur” sensitivity in your family? Then you may want to look at breeds of dogs with hair instead of fur. These dogs require more grooming with regular haircuts.

Do you want a lapdog or a watchdog? Do you want a dog that’s smart and easy to train? Or are you looking for a great big love.

Or maybe you want a cat because they fit your lifestyle? There’s a reason cats have the reputation of being aloof. The same thing that makes them easy to leave alone for long periods makes it easy for them to be loners.

With all traits, it’s a trade-off. Decide on your pet priorities before you ever start to shop.

Rescue Animals

I am a huge fan of adopting rescue animals. We had a wonderful rescue cat. But honestly, he wasn’t wonderful for the first few years. Yes, I said years. His final couple of years with us were amazing. The best cat ever (I hope you can say that about your pet, too). In the end, the investment of time was worth it, but I couldn’t say that right away.

Ask yourself, why is this animal in rescue? Are we in a position to love this animal no matter what? If you are satisfied with the answer to both those questions, then I say all systems are go.

Petspectations

That’s right – petspectations. If you tell your four-year-old that you’re going shopping for a puppy and ask if he wants to come along, most likely he’s already pictured bringing home a puppy that day. Be careful not to set petspections you can’t meet.

Getting Ready to Shop for a Pet

In my experience, parents needs to decide together without including kids on what kinds of pet they both want, determine it’s the right time, decide on any specifics like breed of dog or cat before any shopping. Why?

Impulse pet buys have long lasting consequences!

In fact impulse buys are one reason animals wind up in rescue and you do not want to contribute to that system unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Now that You’re Ready to Shop for a Pet …

Shopping for a pet can be fun. Since you will likely only do it a few times in your life, don’t rush it. Since your kids don’t have the maturity to know what it means to add a pet to the family, I highly suggest you do the following:

  • Find several sources that offer the pet you want. Try looking online as well as locally.
  • Adult-only shopping. Tell your kids you’re going on a date. Get a sitter and do your first in-person meetings with adults only.
  • Never buy on the first meeting. More about that a little later.*
  • Tell the kids you’re considering buying a pet. Once adult family members agree on a pet, it’s time to take the kids for a meet-and-greet. Observe how the pet and the kids get along. This is very important!

*Say NO to FOMO*!

When you find an adorable puppy or kitten (or for some of you a snake, I suppose, though I’ve always had the rule that pets must have hair on their tails or live under water.) …. Back to the adorable puppy or kitten … when you find that adorable puppy of kitten, you need time to make sure it’s the right pet. You may be tempted to think, “What if someone else comes along and scoops it before we do?” *That’s FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out*).

Here’s what I suggest. Ask the seller if they will accept a NON-refundable deposit to hold the pet for at least 72 hours while you consider and make multiple visits. The pet owner will likely jump at an offer of a non-refundable deposit. If you purchase the animal, they’ve made a sale to a satisfied customer. If you don’t purchase, they have the opportunity to sell the animal at the full price to someone else.

Why is a Non-Refundable Deposit Worth It?

Here’s something very important to consider – The prices you pay to buy a pet is a TINY fraction of the amount you will spend on that pet. Consider the following:

  • Pet food for five, ten, fifteen years.
  • Bedding, crates, litter boxes, etc.
  • Annual vet check-ups.
  • License fee.
  • Sick vet visits.
  • Pet toys (they need to be entertained and challenged, too).
  • And if you work long hours or travel pet sitter or (gasp) boarding.

A Word about Pet Care

Caring for your pet is one of the biggest joys and responsibilities of having a pet in your family. Many people fail to factor in he expense of pet care, but unless you have someone who is willing to pet sit for as long as you will have this pet (i.e. your friend’s teenage son will likely move away long before your pet is gone) this may be the single largest expense you have for your pet!

Before You Buy

If you don’t know if you can afford a pet, I strongly urge you to take the time to find and write down all the costs associated with pet ownership. Don’t have the time to do that? This may be obvious, but that’s your answer – you don’t have time for a pet.

  • Go to a local pet store and fill your cart with food for a month and a couple of toys. While you’re there throw in brush if you have a dog. And don’t forget a crate (for crate training and travel) or a litter box. Now add that all up.
  • Call your local vet and ask for prices. Add in teeth cleaning. Ask them if there’s anything you’ve forgotten.
  • Check out DoggyVacay.com for prices of local dog sitters. Likely the cheapest and most expensive won’t be the ones you select. Find a few in the middle. Now consider all the days you will need help. Traveling out of town for holidays with family? Vacation? Don’t forget that sleepover for your son’s birthday when the dog can’t be there because one of the kids coming is allergic to dogs. Also, look down the road. Would you like to travel more in a few years? Perhaps your kids will leave home and you may want to see the world. That’s all part of the cost of this pet.

One Last Thing

Do you know how to care for your new pet? Where will your new pet sleep? What food does this pet need for the first week? How do you teach this pet to pee and poop where it’s acceptable?

There are books, blogs, videos, classes and more to teach you how to care for, train and enjoy your new pet. Don’t bring a new pet into the family until you know the basics.

The Big Day

If you’ve done your homework, the time is right, you have the money and bandwidth to enjoy a pet, you’ve pre-shopped, adult-only shopped, had at least 72 hours to make sure this is the right pet, introduced your kids AND have a match. Congratulations. There is nothing like inviting a pet to join your family.

Make it a Big Deal!

Have the camera ready. Take movies. Take as many photos of your new family member as you did / do of your kids.

Use this time to set life-long habits. Who’s going to feed and walk, the dog? Who is going to change the litter box? Do it that way from the very first day. Having a pet is a great experience for kids to learn how to care for another living being.

There’s nothing like adding a pet to your family.

Enjoy!

Cheryl Greene

Cheryl Greene is the co-founder and Executive Producer of DrGreene.com. She is a mother, a breast cancer survivor and a foodie. Cheryl is active in social media and can be found on Facebook and Twitter as @MsGreene.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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  1. Rosy

    Who wrote this? Annoyed that you consider cats as animals that can be left for long periods if time. “Aloof” and “loners”? Cats need as much attention as other animals! Another famous case of not understanding the unique language of cats.
    Dissapointed you are spreading this message to people.

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    • Hi Rosy,

      I am the writer of this piece, and I must admit my information comes from a combination of stereotypes and being the owner of one wonderful cat (much loved pet) who fit the stereotype.

      We’d love to have you share more of your expertise and opinion. Please enlighten us!

      Looking forward to the dialogue,
      @MsGreene

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      Reply

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