Responsible Pet Ownership

The relationships we build with our animal friends are profound. Pets enrich our lives. They give us reason to exercise, to clean up, to go outside and make new friends. They are our companions — and while the friendship of a pet is a gift you will treasure, it is one that comes with a lot of responsibility.

But don’t be daunted! One great thing about pets is that they are as diverse and unique as we are. Your living situation may not be perfect for everyone, but it is very likely perfect for someone.

Selecting a Pet

If you haven’t yet decided what pet is right for you, it can help to assess your current situation. Everyone’s life is different, so you’re likely to find that some pets are better fits for your life than others. Selecting a pet that meets your needs — and whose needs you, yourself, can meet — is the best way to ensure your friendship gets off to a strong start.

Lifestyle

Start by thinking about the impact an animal will have on your lifestyle. Do you work late? Do you work from home? Do you have a family member or roommate you can count on to help with pet care? Do you have children who could learn from some supervised pet care responsibilities? If you already have another pet, consider how they’ll interact. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to make sure a new pet will get along with the other animals — and people — in your home before you commit to adopting or purchasing.

Space

Some pets need more space than others. Larger dogs, for example, need plenty of room to stretch their legs and to get sufficient amounts of exercise. Consider how your current and future living arrangements will be able to accommodate your pets. Access to dog parks and other green spaces can make a huge difference to larger pets — especially if you can commit to regular visits.

If you live in a smaller space, a smaller pet may be a better fit. Fish, hamsters, and many types of birds can live comfortably and happily in smaller homes. For freshwater fish, a good guideline is that every inch of fish requires one gallon of water. Saltwater fish generally need two gallons of water per inch of fish. Birds have more diverse space needs — myBird has some great information on birds’ needs as well as a quiz to help you find the best bird for your lifestyle — whatever bird you choose, be sure to find out how much space it needs before committing.

Schedule

Finding a pet that fits into your space is one thing, but don’t forget that you should find one that fits into your schedule as well.

Many pets can get anxious if left alone for long periods of time, especially if they’re new. If you know you are likely to be away from home for long periods of time, you may want to try to find a family member or neighbor who can check in on your pet while you’re out. Some animals thrive with very little human attention while others can be very demanding; make sure you find a pet whose attention needs are compatible with your schedule.

If full-time care of a pet seems like it might not work with your schedule, you may want to consider volunteering for a foster program. Fostering can allow you to enjoy many of the benefits of animal companionship while allowing you to schedule your responsibilities more easily.

Expenses

The costs associated with your pet’s maintenance needs should be taken into consideration as well. Pet food, kitty litter, cage liners, water treatment supplies, and other essential care items are expenses you’ll have to consider for the entirety of your buddy’s life. If your income is unstable, you may want to consider investing in an animal that’s easier — and cheaper — to care for.

Dedication

Getting a pet is a commitment that lasts a lifetime. That could be a few years for smaller animals like hamsters and guppies to up to 75 years for some birds! Knowing the life expectancy of your pet is a good first step for deciding whether you are able to commit to them. Once you know how long they are likely to live, you should then determine whether or not you are willing to commit to them for the long haul. This includes taking potential life changes into consideration as well.

Local Laws

Finally, you should check out your local statutes on the animal you’re considering. Some species are invasive, and may be illegal to import or possess. Other laws — such as leash laws — may influence how you and your pet behave in public. The last thing you want is to put your new friend at risk by not obeying local laws, so make sure you understand — and comply with — them before adopting.

Caring For Your Pet

Looking after your pet is a big responsibility, but it shouldn’t be a burden. If you’ve done your homework, you should have a good sense for the level and type of care your pet needs to remain a happy and healthy member of your family for years to come.

Here are a few basic care tips to keep in mind with your pet.

Veterinary Care

Regular veterinary visits are essential for your pet’s health. Early in your pets life, be sure to take them in to receive their vaccinations and for basic preventative care.

Even seasoned pets should be taken to the veterinarian regularly. Not only do regular check-ups give you peace of mind when your pet is healthy, they can also detect minor health issues before they have a chance to become major ones. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say, and this adage applies to pets just as much as it does to humans. Taking care of small health concerns early on can save both you and your pet a lot of pain and grief later on.

Attention & Enrichment

Just like humans, pets need stimulation and interaction to stay at their happiest. Unlike us, however, pets can’t just pick up a good book or the latest copy of Call of Duty to stay entertained. Pets rely on us to give them enrichment, so it’s important to keep them mentally and physically engaged. Enrichment in the form of toys and exercise can help to keep your pet from feeling bored.

Training and praise for good behavior can go a long way toward keeping your pet stimulated too. Most pets want to please their human companions. Setting clear expectations for your pet and then rewarding them for good behavior not only helps to keep your pet out of trouble, it also makes them feel better too!

Diet & Nutrition

No matter what kind of pet you have, it needs access to quality water and food. Every pet is different and what’s right for one animal may not be a good fit for another. Make sure you are providing your pet with food that meets its unique nutritional needs.

While food is essential to your pet’s health and well-being, it is just as important to ensure that you are giving it the right amount of food and at the appropriate intervals. Overfeeding your pet or feeding it the wrong types of food can result in numerous health problems.

Identification

All pets should be equipped with some kind of identification tag to help them be reunited with you should they ever get lost. Identification tags should contain up-to-date contact information and should be attached to a collar or harness worn by your pet at all times.

In addition to wearable identification, dogs and cats should be microchipped as well. Microchipping provides an additional safeguard for you and your pet in the event that they lose their tags. Just be sure to keep the contact information associated with the microchip up to date.

Looking for more tips for responsible pet ownership?

Check out the Better Cities for Pets Happy Pet Handbook.

View the Handbook

Mars Petcare's Better Cities for Pets™ program features a comprehensive set of materials and resources designed to help you develop practical strategies for improving the pet-friendliness of your community.

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