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With Christmas around the corner, some people have getting a furry friend on the top of their wish list. But there are a lot of responsibilities that come with owning a pet.

How do you know if a pet is right for you and your family? Veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Greenstein shares all the considerations you need to make before you make the commitment.

Should you give pets as gifts?

A furry friend as a gift is a very romantic idea, but the receiver must be prepared. What you don’t want to see is people being surprised; having no idea that this animal was coming. If a person has demonstrated a long-term desire to have an animal, they’ve got the means, the time and the animal fits their lifestyle, then it can be fine. Pets are a commitment and they’re for life! Not just for the holidays. Remember, the goal for all animals is to find their forever home.

Are you ready for a pet?

  • Lifestyle Compatibility: Many of us work long hours or travel, may already have a pet and families with kids who are rushing to ballet and soccer. Be honest about whether you can realistically and easily set aside time for daily walks, training classes, feedings, budget extra time for unexpected accidents or vet appointments.
  • Family Situation: Everyone has to be on board! If your partner has allergies or your kids aren’t comfortable around animals or ready to help with chores, or if you’re expecting a baby or thinking of moving, you may want to wait. Many parents end up taking sole care of a pet purchased originally for their children.
  • Pet-proofed Home: If you live in a building, are pets even allowed inside? If in a home, is your place pet-proofed and do you have enough space? And have realistic expectations: If your new cat uses your silk curtains as a scratching post or your new puppy thinks your designer heels are chew toys, how will you deal with it?
  • Ideal Breed: Has your family thoroughly researched breed characteristics, lifestyle, exercise requirements? This is very important.
  • Financial Commitment: In addition to routine vet visits, if your pet gets sick or injured, can your budget tolerate the unexpected expense? Are you prepared for the cost, time, and frustrations of housebreaking and training? Some people also need to factor in the costs of a dog walker or pet insurance.

What is the cost of owning a pet?

According to the Canadian Animal Health Institute, over the last decade, the population of dogs and cats in Canada has steadily risen — increasing by about 10 per cent. About 41 per cent of Canadian households have a least one dog, and 37 per cent own at least one cat.
In the first year of ownership, the annual cost of a puppy in Canada in 2017 was $3,699. The single largest expense involved wasn’t actually vet care or training classes, but was a close tie between health insurance ($830) and food-related expenses ($802). The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) pegs the annual cost of a puppy in the first year at approximately $2,900. The annual cost for a kitten is about $1,900.

Which dog breed is right for you?

There are exceptions – good and bad – to every generality. Pets are a product of their personalities, training, and experiences and there is wide variation within each breed and even within each litter. When considering a breed, take into account size, energy, exercise and grooming requirements, temperament/friendliness, and ease of training. Less energetic dogs often can be more patient and gentle with little ones. Many small or teacup dogs make lovely pets but can be fragile and nervous around strangers and curious toddlers.

Almost all of the American Kennel Club’s recommended dog breeds for children are medium-sized or larger. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers advises that dogs in home with kids be at least 25 to 30 lbs to be sturdy enough for play but not too large or rambunctious to knock over toddlers.

Popular dog breeds for kids include: Golden Retriever & Labrador Retriever – both loyal, outgoing & energetic; Newfoundland – “Nanny Dogs”, sweet temperament, patient; and the Standard Poodle – intelligent, friendly, and easy to train.

Popular dog breeds for small spaces: Great Danes are really big dogs, but don’t need a lot of activity and do very well in small spaces. Other breeds to consider are a English bulldog – lazy, sedentary, friendly or a Dachshund – small, tenacious, a little stubborn.

What if you have pet allergies?

Let’s clear up a common misconception: there is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic dog or cat. People can be allergic to dander (aka ‘pet pollen’ – dried skin flakes) and proteins found in the skin, urine, and saliva of pets. Dogs that produce less dander often are thought of as less allergenic, and are often breeds with a continual hair cycle like Bichons and Poodles and a favourite of the Obamas, the Portuguese Water Dog.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies and why cat saliva plays such a huge role here, regardless of hair length. Other factors like frequency of pet bathing and home cleaning (laundry, vacuuming, use of air filters) also play a role.

What’s the best starter pet?

There’s no question owning a dog or a cat is a commitment in almost every sense of the word. But for families who want to test the waters, a fish is beloved starter pet for a reason! Beta fish are pretty and entertaining for even the smallest children to appreciate and they are extremely low maintenance – they live alone (by necessity) in relatively volumes of non-filtered water and are easy to feed.

Reptiles have traditionally been a popular choice, but in recent decades have been strongly discouraged for children, due to the Salmonella risk.

Small mammals like gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits are NOT interchangeable and are not equally suitable pets for children. Rabbits are amazing pets, but can be high maintenance and fragile. They can bite and are surprisingly easy to injure – if held improperly, they can fracture their legs or pelvis!

What about older dogs?

Despite the old adage, it’s actually never too late to teach an old dog new tricks! Dogs, like us, are the product of nature versus nurture, and some breeds are inherently easier to train than others. Older dogs may have the challenge of ‘unlearning’ old habits or behaviours to replace them with new ones using positive reinforcement. But older dogs have a longer attention span, relatively more patience, and maturity compared to puppies, which might make training them easier!

Older cats can also be trained, which is important to remember for those of us who are looking to adopt mature cats from shelters. Teaching an older cat not to scratch or pee outside the box may be harder than teaching her a simple trick, but very few cats are beyond training.

ADOPTION INFORMATION:

If you’re interested in adopting Toopi and/or Binoo or want to see all of the animals currently available for adoption, visit the Ontario SPCA website.