10 Questions to Ask Before Adopting a Pet

Pet Adoption TipsAre you considering bringing a pet home to your family? Like children, pets require a commitment of time, money, and love. Unfortunately, though, many people are unprepared for just how much of a commitment pets can be, which may explain why so many end up in shelters. About five to seven million animals enter shelters nationwide each year, roughly half of which were relinquished by owners, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). To ensure you get the right pet for you, here are 10 questions to ask before adopting.

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1) What's the Pet's Average Life Span?

Life spans vary from animal to animal, which is why you need to do some research. Small dogs tend to live 14 to 19 years on average while bigger dogs could live 10 to 15 years, says Kristi Littrell, adoption manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. Meanwhile, cats can live 15 to 20 years, parrots 50 to 60 years, and hamsters only a few years. If you are older, you may want to consider adopting an older pet. If you have young children, you'll want to consider your kid's age and maturity level before committing to a smaller, more delicate animal.

2) How Much Time Do You Have?

Some animals demand an inordinate amount of time, which, depending on your lifestyle, may sway you to choose one type of pet over another. Fish don't need much affection, but their tanks may require heavy maintenance. Cats probably won't require as much time as dogs - particularly puppies, which need one-on-one time for house training and socialization. But if you adopt an older, housebroken dog that knows basic commands, the time commitment may not be as overwhelming, Littrell says.

3) How Much Space Do You Have?

Consider your living arrangements, as "the smaller the space you have, the more time you might have to invest in that pet, depending on what you adopt," Littrell says. If you live in an apartment, you'll spend more time taking a dog outside to use the bathroom and exercise versus if you lived in a house with a yard where you could just let the dog out.

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4) How Much Money Can You Spend?

After you factor in food, bedding, and health care, pet ownership can be expensive. That's why knowing a pet's average lifespan is important. The ASPCA estimates the cost of owning each of the following animals for one year: $1,843 for large dogs; $1,314 for small dogs; $1,055 for rabbits; $1,035 for cats; $705 for guinea pigs; and $270 for small birds. Note, though, that those are minimum estimates. Other expenses, including emergency vet bills, medications, and pet sitting, cannot always be anticipated. Most people associate aging pets with pricier bills, but that's not always the case. "This really varies, especially since set-up with saltwater tanks for fish or puppy training can be quite expensive," says Littrell, who encourages people to adopt senior animals. "Although they may need more vet care, they don't require as much time and training as a young animal."

5) How Often Are You Home?

Are you in the house most of the day or are you cooped up in an office? If you're typically home, you can probably choose any type of pet. Yet, if you're rarely there, a puppy may not be a good choice because it requires frequent bathroom breaks and shouldn't be left alone for long periods. Canines, even older ones, warrant extra planning if you're gone for long stretches at a time. You may need to look into dog sitters or doggy day camp. Similarly, parrots may also be challenging if you're not a homebody, because the birds demand lots of attention, Littrell says.

6) How Frequently Do You Travel?

Even jetsetters can adopt a pet, but your travel habits should influence the type of animal you choose since certain pets are more independent than others. For instance, cats, as long as they don't have special needs, can generally be left by themselves for a night or two, provided they have ample food, water, and access to the litter box. Dogs, on the other hand, will need to be fed, walked, and let out every few hours. However, dogs are easier to travel with than cats. If your travel plans aren't dog-friendly, then you'll need to find somebody to take care of your canine.

Related: 15 Tips for Traveling with Pets

7) How Active Are You?

Every animal requires exercise. Yet the type of pet you adopt will determine your activity level. Dogs require frequent bathroom breaks and daily walks, but older canines may not be able to walk as long as younger ones. If you don't have the ability or desire to be super active, consider adopting a cat, hamster, or goldfish.

8) What Type of Vet Care Is Available?

Proximity to a specialized pet clinic is less important if you're adopting a cat or dog because most veterinarians have experience with these animals. But if you're considering adopting a less traditional pet like a parrot or horse, make sure you have access to a veterinarian who can provide care for that animal, especially in an emergency.

9) Does Your Residence Restrict Certain Pets?

Some states and cities ban certain types, or even breeds, of pets. Residents in Miami-Dade County in Florida recently voted to retain the county's ban on owning pit bulls. To find out which states have breed-specific bans, particularly on dogs, visit dogsbite.org. If you rent, ask what types of pets, if any, your building allows. Many apartment buildings require an additional pet deposit or impose a weight limit on dogs. It's always a good idea to check with your local animal control before you adopt.

Related: How to Slash Pet-Care Costs

10) Are You Allergic?

"Many people don't realize they have an allergy to an animal until they bring it home," says Littrell. She adds that many animals are surrendered to shelters because of unforeseen allergies. Before you adopt, spend time with that type of animal, either at a shelter or a friend's house. If possible, foster the animal to see if your allergy worsens or can be managed by keeping it out of your room or off your bed. Fish and birds tend to trigger fewer allergies than dogs and cats. If you are concerned, your doctor can test you for allergies.

What are your other questions and concerns about pet care? Let me know in the comments!

- by Karen Asp

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