Taking the time up front to understand what it takes to care for an animal for the rest of his/her life is a critical step in becoming a pet parent. If more people truly understood the magnitude of the commitment needed to welcome an animal into their home, fewer animals would be returned to shelters.
To help prepare for a long and happy human/pet relationship, we’ve outlined a few things to consider before taking in future animal companions:
Budget: Initial investment: $200-400, depending on size; annual upkeep: $500-$1500.
Additional Costs to Consider:
Routine vet care: $100-$500 annually
Spay/Neuter: $50 -$250
Housing: Puppies need to be contained when no one is around. If an adult dog doesn’t have a crate, provide a soft bed in a warm, quiet spot. All dogs and puppies need plenty of exercise every day. We do not recommend leaving your dog outside for long periods of time unattended; however, if you must, be sure to provide a shady spot to relax and plenty of food and water.
Cleanup: Dogs need to be walked multiple times per day. In public spaces, humans must scoop the poop! Also, most dogs shed, so you’ll need a decent vacuum, or be ready to sweep on a regular basis. On the plus side: no more crumbs under the table.
Diet: Puppies normally eat several times a day; an adult dog usually eats once or twice a day. Foods vary widely from store-bought to homemade. Visit your vet soon after welcoming home your new dog to discuss food portion sizes and nutritional needs.
Kids: Most dogs love to play with children, though play should be supervised–even the most gentle pup can snap if a child is too rough or abrupt. And no matter how friendly, the dog should never be left alone with young children.
Life expectancy: Lifespan varies by breed. In general, the larger the dog, the shorter their natural lifespan. A Chihuahua can easily live for 15 years or more; a Great Dane may not live much beyond 8 years.
Budget: Initial investment: $150-$200; annual upkeep: $500-$1200.
Additional Costs to Consider:
Routine vet care: $50-$300 annually
Housing: Your home suits them just fine, provided there is an easily accessible litter box. Some cats appreciate having a crate or bed in a quiet corner.
Cleanup: Clean litter is vital to your cat’s health. Clean the litter box daily, and change the litter regularly. Thoroughly brushing your cat’s coat can reduce shedding and the amount of hair your kitty ingests—which can mean fewer hair balls.
Diet: Kittens eat three or four times a day. Adult cats eat one to three times a day. Have a vet recommend a food and a feeding routine. All cats should be encouraged to drink as much water as possible.
Kids: Cat personalities vary, but many cats enjoy socializing with children. Make sure play is always supervised.
Life expectancy: Cats can live up to 20 years or longer, especially if they stay indoors.
Budget: Initial investment: $200; annual upkeep: $700.
Housing: As a general rule, rabbits need a hutch or a cage that is at least four times larger than they are. If there’s a wire bottom, make sure it’s padded. Outside of the cage, rabbits enjoy mingling with humans and having supervised time to explore and play.
Cleanup: Keep a litterbox in one corner of the cage; instead of cat litter, use newspaper or hay. Clean litter daily. Clean the cage once a week.
Diet: Rabbits need hay or grass for digestion; they also eat commercial rabbit pellets and leafy greens. Rabbit chew toys, which are crucial for keeping their teeth healthy, can include household items such as cardboard paper towel holders or phone books. Their desire to chew can often get them into trouble, so you will need to “rabbit-proof” the house, looking out for the same things you would if you were “baby-proofing” the environment.
Kids: An adult should be the primary caregiver for a rabbit, but under supervision, kids and rabbits can have great fun together! Beware: If your child begs you to bring home a rabbit around Easter time, think long and hard before you make that commitment. Shelters across the country consistently report large increases in rabbit relinquishment in the weeks and months following Easter. In animal welfare circles, this phenomenon is referred to as “The Easter Dump.”
Life expectancy: Rabbits live 8-12 years.
Budget: Initial investment: $100; annual upkeep: $300.
Housing: A small cage outfitted with a wheel for exercise and other accessories for climbing and hiding is ideal. Watch out for plastic bowls or toys, as these small animals like to chew, and ingesting foreign materials can be dangerous. Keep bedding deep enough for burrowing.
Cleanup: Clean cage and replace bedding once a week.
Diet: Pre-packaged pellets are available at most pet stores, and will provide a balanced diet. Fresh fruits, veggies, and nuts make nice treats and can offer additional nutrition, but be sure to first check with your vet to determine which are best for your pet, as many foods can be harmful or even poisonous. Make sure to provide wood or cardboard for gnawing, which helps keeps teeth healthy.
Kids: Gerbils and hamsters are fun pets and love to play with older children who know to handle them with gentleness and care. On the other hand, hamsters are nocturnal, and (hopefully!) not on the same schedule most kids are. If the pet lives in the child’s room, it can be a bit noisy during the night when running on their exercise wheel or playing with toys. Frequent hand washing is recommended, and due to the slight risk of salmonella, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against gerbils as pets for children less than 5 years of age.
Life expectancy: Gerbils live 3-4 years; hamsters, depending on size, live 1-3 years.
Budget: Initial investment: $200-$300; annual upkeep: $450.
Housing: Provide a large cage for your ferret, with a litter pan in the corner. Make sure he or she also has plenty of supervised playtime outside of the cage. Because ferrets are active and curious, they require a committed human to supervise them when they’re out exploring.
Cleanup: Clean litter pan daily and thoroughly; clean the cage once a week. Regular baths can help reduce your ferret’s naturally strong odor. Spay/neuter will help decrease their scent, too.
Diet: Feed your ferret commercial ferret food or high-quality cat food, along with fresh fruits and veggies (sparingly, because ferrets are carnivores).
Kids: Some ferrets enjoy interacting with children, but make sure playtime is always supervised by an adult–many ferrets will bite when startled or handled improperly.
Life expectancy: Ferrets normally live 5-8 years.
Budget: Initial investment: $270+; annual upkeep: $200.
Housing: Provide your bird the largest cage available, and make sure it’s made of nontoxic material. Install perches at different levels, with one shielding the bird’s food and water. Line the cage with paper (preferably without ink). Depending on size, some birds like a dish of water for bathing. Keep the cage in a spot where people congregate so your bird may enjoy regular company—they are very social animals.
Cleanup: Change the paper lining every day, and clean the cage once a week.
Diet: Feed your bird commercial pellets, formulated for his or her species. Add treats of fresh veggies and fruits.
Kids: Budgies can be great pets for children. Some other species of birds, such as Canaries and Finches, aren’t as interactive, though they make lovely pets.
Life expectancy: Most birds normally live between 10-20 years, although there are some species like Macaws and Cockatoos who live well beyond 40, even into their 70s. In general: The larger the bird, the longer their life expectancy.
By Janice Brown, founder of TAILS