Choosing a Pet

Selecting a Pet for the family

I am not usually asked about selecting a pet, but many times people make mistakes at the beginning that they regret for a long time. Seriously thinking about your home situation is important in making a decision.

The first consideration is where do you live? Do you live in an apartment or a house? Do you live on some land? Do you live on the 3rd floor? Large breed dogs or active breeds (e.g. Jack Russell Terriers) are generally not suited for apartment life. If you live several floors up remember that as your large dog gets older, it may be difficult for them to get up stairs.


Are you a cat person or a dog person? (Or are you a goldfish person?)


Cats are fairly self sufficient, so if you go away for weekends you can just leave food and water for them. Dogs obviously need more direct attention. Are you prepared to walk your dog  2 – 3 times per day regardless of the weather? Do you have a friend that can watch your pets when you go away?

Does anyone in the house have allergies? Some pets are less antigenic than others, but be sure to consider this factor if allergies or asthma run in the family. Does hair around the house drive you crazy? Some dog breeds shed very little. The problem with these dogs is that they need to be groomed much more frequently. Consider the expense of grooming when planning to own one of these breeds. Long haired cats need frequent brushing or combing.

Time is a major factor in owning a dog or cat. Social time is very important for both dogs and cats. As much as possible they need a job to do. This is especially important with active dogs. If they don’t get enough exercise and activity they may be destructive in the house. Many dog breeds were bred to do certain jobs, and they get frustrated if they are not doing what they were bred to do. Herding breeds like Border Collies are a perfect example. These dogs are very intelligent, but they do not do well in a sedentary environment.  Give them a herd of sheep and they are very happy.

What age pet are you considering? Shelters and rescue groups often have older animals up for adoption. These older pets can work out well if you are not up to a puppy or kitten. It is always best to have them have a veterinary exam before you take an older pet home. Some of these animals have major medical problems that you may not be willing to take on (e.g. severe dental disease). Many times humane organizations under estimate a pet’s age to give them a better chance of adoption.  There are several groups that transport stray dogs from the south where kill shelters are more common. Be aware that these dogs often have intestinal parasites and heartworm. Rescuing a dog or cat can be a wonderful experience.

Do you want a puppy or kitten? Ready for the work? I think we all forget how much work there is with puppies. The big advantage of adopting a young animal is that you help form its personality. Any behavior issues can be attended to promptly when they are young. I strongly encourage puppy training classes to my clients because as a trainer once told me “we all get the dog we deserve.”


One last consideration is whether you want a pure breed pet. The advantage is that you have a good idea of the animals physical and mental characteristics when you buy them. I chose a Labrador retriever because the personality of the breed is perfect for therapy dog work. If you are interested in a pure breed, it is important to do some homework on the breeds characteristics. It is also important to find a good breeder. There are certainly many wonderful breeders, who only want to improve the breed they work with.  It is also very true that there are “puppy mills” that sell dogs to pet stores that are unhealthy and poor examples of their breed. When we see these pups, many have parasites and respiratory infections. A good number of them develop pneumonia. The latest fad with the puppy mills is to breed designer dogs. These are mix breed dogs that have cute names and cost a lot of money. I would discourage you from buying from a pet store.

One last thought. When you get a new pet, get it checked by your veterinarian. Bring any records you may have so a health plan can be designed for your animal. Consider how you will pay for health costs as time goes on. I wrote a blog about veterinary fees that has more information on this subject.


Most pets become an integral part of our families. Enjoy your pet – none of them live as long as we would wish.


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