So the first question on any journey with a pet is likely “Should I/we get a pet?” Our immediate reaction is “Yes! You absolutely should, pets are awesome and your whole life will be better because of it!” but then we have to check ourselves, put our sensible pants on and reign ourselves back in!
Adding a pet to your family can, undoubtedly, be the start of a bond, the depth and speed of which can often surprise first time pet owners but it comes with emotional, time, energy and financial commitments over (hopefully) many years so you need to ensure that you are bringing the right pet into your home at the right time and for the right reasons so it is a happy ever after for all.
Dog behaviourist, Suzi Walsh has given her thoughts and tips below to help you make the best decision for your family.
Should you bring a pet into your home?
There are so many benefits to having a pet in your home and as a part of the family. Not only does a pet provide companionship but living with an animal can improve both your mental and physical health. It’s hard not to smile when you come home to a purring pal or wagging tail!
If you have grown up with pets, you may be very familiar with all that goes along with pet ownership but for those considering it for the first time it can be a brand new experience and one that requires some navigating. Whilst there are so many positives that come with the privilege of pet ownership, caring for a pet and meeting all of their needs can be time consuming and costly so it is important to think carefully before deciding to add a pet to the family and to ensure that you choose the right pet for you, your home environment and the lifestyle you have.
It is worth noting that when you choose a pet for your home you are making that choice for the animal so it’s important to ask yourself what kind of home you can provide for a pet and not just what kind of pet you would like in your home.
Should you choose a dog?
If you are considering a dog as a pet for your family, some key questions to ask yourself when considering a dog include:
Are our home living arrangements suitable for a dog? If renting, will a landlord let you have a dog?
One of the first questions to ask yourself is whether your current living arrangements are suitable for a dog. There is no “one size fits all” house type for a dog and each dog will have its own needs in terms of garden, garden size, being more suited to an urban or rural environment etc. but having a suitable physical space in your home for a dog will be critical.
Another factor that is becoming increasingly important is whether you rent your home or may intend to rent in the foreseeable future. A lot of landlords will not allow pets in rented properties so before taking on any pet, you will need to ensure that you have a landlord’s explicit permission for any pet you have and you should not assume that this will be granted. You should also bear in mind that any future landlord may not be willing to give you that permission.
Do we have the time to give to walking/feeding/training and playing with a dog?
There is a time commitment that comes with looking after the most basic needs of a dog such as walking them and feeding them. If you are thinking about bringing a dog into your home you need to factor in the needs not only of a dog but also the particular breed you may be considering. Whilst each dog has its own unique personality, a breed often has certain characteristics and traits, while mixed breeds may display a combination of traits from their breeds so it is important to understand what these may be and consider how these traits would fit into your home environment and lifestyle.
Often families purchase a high energy breed of dog thinking that they can provide for that animal’s physical needs but in fact realise that they themselves are not as physically active as the dog they have chosen. Whilst puppies in their early months may require less, young dogs require an average of two walks a day of about 30-40 minutes. This is what is considered a low/moderate energy breed of dog while high energy dogs can require upwards of an hour twice or three times a day. An under-exercised dog can become very stressed and entertain themselves by chewing, digging or barking at anything that catches their attention.
In addition to physical exercise, many dogs will also need daily mental enrichment and guidance on how to navigate living in a human world which takes time and patience. Dogs benefit hugely from engagement with you, playtime and being integrated into family life and your routine as much as possible.
You should also consider the training needs of your new dog which may mean attending formal training classes or working with a trainer on a 1:1 basis. Young puppies can also benefit from socialisation classes where they get to spend time with other dogs which can help them be less reactive to other dogs as they get older.
Have we agreed on responsibilities across members of the family?
It is not uncommon for members of the family to agree to certain responsibilities in regards to a new pet e.g. walking, feeding, picking up the poos in the garden (!) and then those responsibilities fall to one member of the family, often a parent and sometimes the parent that was most reluctant to get the pet. It is important to have these conversations in advance of getting a pet so everybody in the household is in agreement about bringing a pet into the home and knows what will be expected of them in providing care and attention to the new family member.
Will somebody be home for most of the day or do we have an alternative option such as doggie daycare?
Dogs thrive on constant companionship and are much more content living in a home where someone is there most of the day. Puppies require someone to be at home nearly all the time and should not be left alone for more than 2 hours at any one time. The longest length of time that an adult dog should be left alone should be no longer than 5 hours a day. If you are working outside the home for the majority of the day this does not necessarily mean that you are unable to get a dog but you will likely need to find a doggie daycare or dog walking arrangement that will provide exercise and stimulation for your dog while you are at work – which then also needs to be factored into the financial cost of taking on a pet.
Have we considered the impact to our current routine, for example weekends away and holidays and whether we will be taking dog friendly vacations or finding a suitable boarding kennels or dog sitter?
A dog is a long term commitment of potentially up to 15 years and will often require a degree of adapting your existing day to day routine to factor in your new family member. This can come as a surprise or an adjustment for new pet owners as it can impact day to day life such as how long you can go out and leave your dog home alone or ensuring you have a suitable minding arrangement for a weekend away.
Have we considered any significant planned milestones such as relocations, job changes, family planning and how these may be impacted by getting a dog?
Any significant planned milestones such as a job change that may change your working hours or location, relocations abroad, baby arrivals should be considered in the context of how these may impact a canine family member. Big life events can increase the risk of a dog being surrendered which can be a very tough decision or may cause disruption for a dog which may lead to behavioural changes that may need to be worked through. However, a lot of these changes can be overcome with the support of a good dog trainer and behaviourist.
Have we considered the typical costs of having a dog but also any unexpected costs that may arise due to illness or accidents?
Whilst you will likely be repaid with an abundance of love and affection, wagging tails and sloppy kisses, dogs are costly pets to own and a small dog could cost approximately €3,000 per year when you include a high quality diet, boarding fees, grooming, insurance, training, a licence, medical fees and other necessities such as leads, collars, beds etc.
Any unexpected medical fees can significantly increase this amount so it is certainly worth investing in pet insurance from the outset.
None of the above is intended to put you off getting a dog but to ensure that if you do decide it is the right time to add a dog to your family that you are doing so with an understanding of the investment you are making in that pet. A dog is the pet that needs the most human attention on a daily basis but can be a wonderful addition to any home and family.
Should you choose a cat?
Many people have a misunderstanding of cats, they believe they are not as loyal or as devoted as a dog but in fact cats can be incredibly affectionate companions once you put in the effort to include them in your life. Similarly to a dog, if you are considering a feline family addition, it is worth asking yourself the following key questions:
Are our home living arrangements suitable for a cat? If renting, will a landlord let you have a cat?
The living arrangements for a cat are likely to be less extensive than for a dog and certainly there are many cats which are perfectly suited to apartment living which can be more challenging for dog ownership, however, you will still need to ensure that you have a suitable physical space in your home for a new cat.
You will also still need to have a landlord’s explicit permission for a cat if you rent your home or think it is likely that you will be renting in the future.
Do we have the time to give to feeding and playing with a cat?
The benefit of a cat is that they are often happy to have some alone time which can make them better suited to families who work longer hours. However, it is important to remember that even though cats are more independent than dogs they still require daily interaction and play from their human caregivers. It is advised that you play with your cat twice daily to not only encourage physical exercise and mental stimulation but also as a great bonding experience which builds trust and affection.
Have we agreed on responsibilities across members of the family?
Whilst the day to day list of responsibilities for cat ownership may not be as extensive as a dog in that they do not require daily walks it is still worth aligning on the split of responsibilities for caring for your cat so there are no unexpected surprises once the new family member has arrived and settled in.
Have we considered the impact to our current routine, for example weekends away and holidays?
A cat comes with an equally long term commitment of potentially up to 15 years and quite often longer and, whilst the addition of a cat into your family often doesn’t have the same potential for routine adjustment as a dog, it is still important to consider factors like who will be minding your cat for weekends away or holidays which can range from pet and cat hotels to a family member or friend dropping in daily to feed and play with your cat.
Have we considered any significant planned milestones such as relocations, job changes, family planning and how these may be impacted by getting a cat?
Any significant planned milestones should still be considered in the context of how these may impact a feline family member. These big life events can also increase the risk of a cat being surrendered or may cause disruption which may lead to behavioural changes that may need to be worked through.
Have we considered the typical costs of having a cat but also any unexpected costs that may arise due to illness or accidents?
The cost of having a cat is typically less than owning a dog. Owning a cat can cost approximately €1,500 per year considering they need a very high quality diet, boarding, insurance, cat litter, vaccinations and other necessities. As with any pet though, unexpected medical fees can significantly increase this amount so it is certainly worth investing in pet insurance from the outset.
Whilst some people have a very firm view from the get-go as to whether they would like a cat or a dog, if you are unsure it may be that a cat would be a great choice for a pet for your home. (One might even say purrrfect choice…sorry we had to).
Choosing the Right Pet for You
Once you have decided that the time is right to bring a cat or dog into your family the next step is to start thinking about more of the details and the specific type of cat or dog that would best fit into your family, home and lifestyle. This step can include some of the following considerations:
What sort of space do I have for the pet i.e. do you live in an apartment or have a large garden?
Are there children in the home and what ages are they?
Do I have existing pets that I need to consider?
Do I want a younger or older pet?
Do I want an active pet or quieter pet?
Will a pet that sheds a lot suit a house-proud home?
At this stage of your journey, a rescue will often be able to help you assess the right pet for your home and lifestyle to ensure the right match for both you and the pet.
Suzi Walsh is an expert dog behaviourist and trainer with an Honours Degree in Zoology and Masters in Applied Animal Welfare and Behaviour. Suzi has worked professionally as a dog behaviour consultant for the past 16 years. She is a founding member of the Irish Veterinary Behaviour Association and is passionate about improving the lives of dogs in Ireland. As well as working with dogs who have behavioural problems Suzi also teaches puppy classes and gives workshops, courses and seminars to pet parents and other professionals in the industry as well as working as an expert assessor when things go wrong. Suzi has previously worked for Dogs Trust Ireland and with the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind as a supervisor and has also worked with the veterinary department of Dublin Zoo on a nutritional research project for captive wild animals.