5 things you need to know before getting a pet

Pet ownership is a big responsibility that can surprise even the most experienced animal lover. Be as prepared as you possibly can with our handy guide.

It’s National Pet Day and we’re being bombarded with images of cute, furry creatures that make us all want to bring one home stat. But while picking up a new four (or two)-legged addition to the family seems like the easiest thing in the world, it's actually hard to prepare yourself for a new pet

Animal behaviourist, Laura V,  says the size of the commitment often shocks new pet parents, particularly with animals like young dogs and cats.

"If you’re thinking of getting a pet, ask yourself, are you willing to commit to that pet for the rest of their life," Laura says.

Considering most dogs live in excess of 10 years, and some cats can live for 20, it's not an easy decision. Even if you're certain you're ready for a pet, there are practical and logistical factors to take into account. 

Vet check-ups are a must

"Definitely prevention is better than cure when it comes to pets, because they can’t speak English and tell you how they’re feeling," Laura says.

This means, making sure they are properly protected against fleas, ticks and worms, as well as have their vaccinations up to date.

"Some people don't realise that even if they have an adult dog, they still need to have vaccinations, sometimes once a year, sometimes every three years," she adds.

Get your finances in order

As well as being prepared for the impossible-to-predict issues, it helps to make sure you have a healthy savings to support your pet. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission found the average cost of owning a dog is over $1400 per year. For a cat, it's $1030.

However, the first year alone will force you deep into your pockets, with ASIC suggesting a budget of $3000 to $6000.

The moral of the story here is: plan ahead!

The cost of your pet goes far beyond the initial expense of the purchase, with few considering ongoing health, training and food costs.

ASIC offers a helpful guide for your budget, but if you want to cut costs, Laura says you can DIY some extras including some food, toys and accessories.

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Training is a full-time job

One of the big mistakes people make when it comes to training is leaving it all to school, Laura remarks.  

A lot of people will take their dog to school, and then when they come home the training ends," she warns.

"Everything you’re doing with your dog or your cat, they’re learning from you, so it’s kind of an ongoing school. But if you put that time and effort in at the start, you’ll find that very soon your dog or cat will start to offer the stuff that you want."

Before you get your pet, remind yourself that training begins as soon as it comes home. Laura doesn't recommend being domineering with your pet, but rather treating and rewarding them as they positively interact with you and their new environment. 

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Does your pet fit your lifestyle?

When it comes to picking a pet that suits your lifestyle, Laura's motto is: "If you don’t have the time an energy, don’t get a pet that requires that time and energy."

If you lead a busy life, perhaps an excitable dog isn't the best option. If you live in an apartment, a farm dog, like a shepherd or kelpie, isn't going to work, but a greyhound might! 

While Laura says it's important to do your research and find a breed or type of animal that suits your needs, the main thing is to make sure everyone in your household is ready for their new family member.

"Really it comes down to who’s in your family, and making sure everyone’s on board with having a pet because it needs to be a shared and consistent responsibility for everyone," she said.

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There will be unforeseen issues...

Remember you can't predict and plan for everything that happens to your pet and to you in your life. While we should consider things like future travel plans, relocations, health concerns, finances and training, there are extenuating circumstances that can throw a spanner in the works. 

"You can be the best pet owner in the world, and then all of sudden something happens and your pet develops a phobia, or becomes afraid of something you could not have predicted," Laura reminded.

If something like this happens, she suggests trying to identify the cause and consulting with an animal behaviour specialist to help your pet overcome their problem.

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