Guinea Pig

Buying A Pet For The First Time

Owning a pet is magnificently rewarding whatever your age, & is a great experience for younger members of the family who can learn about the responsibilities involved in caring for another living thing. However, there are some important considerations that must be made before owning a pet. The whole family needs to be ready to make changes so that the pet’s physical & emotional needs are catered for & parents must realise that they will often be left doing most of the work. There are also issues which need to be addressed such as the cost of looking after a pet, do you have the time & the space in which to keep a pet, does anyone in the family have allergies that may be exacerbated by a pet, is there somebody to look after it during the day if necessary, who will ultimately be responsible for it, will it get on with the children, are you prepared to clean up after it, what do you do with it when you go on holiday & are you prepared to love it & look after it for its entire life even though your circumstances may change? All these questions need to be answered first & this may even help you to choose the type of pet which will fit best into the lifestyle of your family.

Preparation is very important, firstly in choosing the type of pet you are going to get & secondly in making sure you have everything in place before you bring it home. When it comes to choosing the type of pet, some of the issues already raised should help the family to make a decision. Possibly the most important factor is the amount of time that you have free to spend on your pet & whether that matches the time & emotional commitment it needs for a happy & healthy life. All pets need feeding, cleaning, exercise, interaction & training, even if it is only training to be handled. The amount of time & energy spent on these things will differ according to the type of animal & may help you in making a decision about your ideal pet. Animals that are not confined to a cage or tank will often require more attention & more training, dogs especially because they should not be allowed out without supervision & along with cats, need to be taught the house rules.

Whichever pet you choose the principles are the same, start by doing some research into the pet you are thinking of buying so that you know how to look after it.

Where it will live – will it interact with the family all the time or will it live in a cage or tank. If it runs free in the house it will still need somewhere to sleep, preferably somewhere quiet & an area where it can be fed; if you are getting a puppy or kitten it will also need somewhere for toilet training. If your pet is going to live in a cage or tank you need to decide where it will be cited, how big it should be & what needs to go into it in terms of equipment.

What does it eat & how often does it need feeding – it may be as simple as buying food from the supermarket or pet shop or you may need speciality foods if you are keeping something more exotic. If you are buying your pet as a baby it will probably need different food & more frequent feeding than an adult & may require supplements for strong healthy growth. You also need to find out what you can give it as a reward when training or as a treat to vary its diet. Obesity is just as dangerous to pet health as it is for humans so make sure you know how much food it will need each day.

Cleaning up after your pet – animals that live in cages need cleaning out regularly & fresh food, water & bedding provided, fish need water & filter changes, cats need litter trays emptied & dog faeces need to be removed from the garden & public places – be responsible & make you & your pets life more comfortable by keeping its environment clean.

All pets need exercise but some will exercise themselves as long as they have the space. Hamsters will cheerfully run in their wheel or through tubes in their cage and rabbits & guinea pigs appreciate a larger enclosed space to run around in outside when the weather is nice. Cats will also keep active if they can get out through a cat flap – when they are not asleep; they sleep about twice as long as people do! Dogs demand more commitment because they need to be taken outside for exercise. Whether it is for hours of play in the garden or a long walk, they need to let off steam or they will do so in the house! Combine exercise with training to make learning an enjoyable experience for both owner & pet.

All pets are reliant upon their owner to look after their health, this includes maintaining a healthy diet & lifestyle, considering whether to neuter your pet & being able to tell when your pet is unwell. Regular checkups with a vet will keep vaccinations up to date & are useful for monitoring changes in weight or general condition & may provide an early warning for more serious health problems. However, for the remainder of the time it is up to the owner to recognise whether their pet is unwell & decide on a course of action. This sounds a bit daunting but the more time you spend with your pet the more obvious it will be if there is something wrong. Whilst you groom your pet or clean out its cage check for signs that all is not well such as poor coat condition, unusual behaviour, eating or drinking either too little or too much. It is a good idea when you get your pet that you also buy a general guide on looking after it. These often have details on the commonest complaints & illnesses, how to recognise them & how serious they are. If you have any doubts, get in touch with your vet immediately & they will give you advice or ask you to bring your pet in for a consultation.

The decision to become a pet owner needs careful thought & research but when you get your pet home for the first time you will be happy in the knowledge that there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises. Of course, there will always be surprises, but these should be happy ones - which is what owning a pet is all about!

Julie Parker
My interest in gardening & wildlife stemmed from childhood days spent working in the garden with my parents & reading books on anything from robins to giraffes. As time has moved on these influences have stayed with me inspiring the creation my own garden & leading to interests in fish keeping & the natural world around me. I still love to read & hope that the knowledge I gain will make topical reading through these articles.