Getting a new puppy or kitten is an exciting event, but before embarking on this journey, it's important to realize what a big responsibility pet ownership is, and to be prepared for the investment of time and money it can involve.
Firstly, you should consider your family's lifestyle. It is important to do some research into the breed of dog or cat that you are considering.
A major cause of pet problems is choosing one that's a poor fit for your household. If you live alone and are away at work during the day, a young puppy or an energetic dog is not the best fit.
A cat may make a better pet, as cats are more self-sufficient and don't need to be let out during the day.
Large breed dogs or breeds known for their high energy level (Border collies, Jack Russell terriers) are not good choices for couch potatoes or for small apartments or condos, but can be great for families with children. Information on different dog and cat breeds is readily available from your veterinarian and online.
To reduce the chance of problems later on, try to start with a healthy pet.
In Toronto, dogs and cats are no longer sold in pet stores.
Avoid buying a pet from a classified ad site and use a reputable breeder instead.
Adopting a pet from a shelter is another great option, giving a dog or cat a second chance at a forever home. Again, be sure to research the pet you are interested in to ensure a good match before you start your life together.
The first year of your pet's life is likely to be the most expensive and labour-intensive. Puppy classes are strongly recommended to establish a good foundation of obedience. Puppies and kittens require at least three sets of vaccines, routine deworming and check-ups. Dogs and cats are typically neutered or spayed at around six months of age.
During these visits, it is important to discuss house training, feeding and any behaviour issues with your veterinarian.
Adult pets (from one to seven years) should be examined by their veterinarian yearly, even if there are no medical concerns.
These annual physicals can detect health problems before they become serious or costly, and vaccines can be updated.
Dogs are usually tested for heart worm each year and medication for heartworm and flea prevention is recommended during the spring and summer months.
Although cats are less susceptible to heartworm, a combination flea/heartworm preventative may be advisable, especially for outdoor cats.
Dogs and cats over seven years are considered geriatric.
As they age, pets become prone to developing diseases such as diabetes, kidney and liver problems, cancer and arthritis or other joint disease.
Important things to monitor at home include any changes in drinking, urinating, appetite or weight.
It is also likely at some point your pet will need a professional dental cleaning and possibly some tooth extractions, requiring a general anesthetic. At this stage in their lives, pets should be seen by their veterinarian twice a year, or more often if they have specific medical conditions.
These are just the routine health-care items to be aware of; unexpected expenses for treatment of illnesses or accidents often arise. Various pet insurance companies offer plans that will pay for some or all of the treatment for illnesses or injuries.
Having a pet as part of the family can be a rewarding experience, but it involves a major commitment. Doing some homework first will help ensure a wonderful friendship.
Dr. Krista Nelson is a graduate of Ontario Veterinary College. She currently practises emergency medicine at Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital, a 24-hour emergency and referral hospital in Scarborough. Visit us at www.tveh.ca or 416-247-VETS (8387).