What You Need To Know About Getting A Pet

The upside of having a furry companion can be great but, if you’re considering getting a pet, there are certain things you need to consider – especially later in life. Here’s what the experts want you to know before you take the plunge…
What You Need To Know About Getting A Pet
iSTOCK/EVA BLANCO

DECIDE WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU – NOW & IN THE FUTURE

If you’re keen to get a pet, think carefully about which one will best suit your lifestyle. Different types of pets require different levels of care. For example, a dog needs regular exercise; birds and small animals like rabbits and guinea pigs have to be cleaned out regularly; and cats need little more than regular meals and affection. 
 
It’s also important to give some thought to the future: “It makes sense to plan for the future so you can cope with any unexpected expenses and know that your pet will be well cared for if your circumstances change,” explains the team at Age UK. “Many of us worry about what would happen to our much-loved pet if we had to spend time in hospital or needed to move into sheltered accommodation. Then there’s the worry that our pets might outlive us and end up without a home or, even worse, being put to sleep.”
 
The Cinnamon Trust is a national charity which seeks to keep pet owners and their pets together for as long as possible,” adds the Age UK team. “A national network of volunteers can help when any issues arise with day-to-day care and can arrange for your pet to be fostered if you become ill or have to spend time in hospital. The Trust can also arrange long-term care so that you know that your pet will be looked after in the event of your death.”

UNDERSTAND THE HEALTH BENEFITS

Aside from the joy of having a cat or a dog, studies show that pets can have a beneficial effect on our health and wellbeing. “A study at Cambridge University found that owning a pet can improve our general health in less than a month, with pet owners reporting fewer minor ailments such as headaches, coughs and colds,” agrees the Age UK team. “According to the Pet Health Council, simply stroking a pet or watching fish swim can help us to relax, thus reducing our heart rate and lowering blood pressure. Other studies indicate that owning a pet can reduce cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart attack – and one US study found that people who do suffer a heart attack have a better chance of survival if they have a pet.”
 
“Not only that, pets can help to lift depression, as well as reducing loneliness and isolation,” adds the Age UK team. “This is true for some pets more than others. For example, walking a dog not only helps to keep us fit but also gives us more opportunity to meet new people while we’re out and about. Also, many of us feel safer when we’re walking, or sharing our home, with a pet.”

BE AWARE OF THE LONG-TERM COST

While the cost will depend on the individual pet, the PDSA says that, on average, you can expect a dog to cost around £6,500-£17,000 over its lifetime: up to £12k on small dogs; up to £13k on medium dogs; and up to £17k on large dog breeds. Cats tend to land in the region of £17,000 too, while even a simple pet like a rabbit can cost up to £9,000 once vet bills are factored in. Therefore, it’s important to assess your finances – especially if you’re no longer working or receiving a regular income – to see whether your lifestyle will accommodate an ongoing expense like this.  

CHECK THE INSURANCE

“Although pet insurance won’t cover the cost of routine check-ups, vaccinations or dental treatments, it will save you a great deal of expense if your pet becomes ill or has an accident,” explain the team from Age UK. “Price comparison websites will help you to find a policy that suits your needs, or you can ask your vet for advice. You can pay annually or monthly, with basic cover costing from around £5 per month. On top of this, expect to pay £50-£100 for a typical visit to the vet for booster vaccinations, along with flea and worming treatments – you’ll need to do this at least once a year. If you receive Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit, you may be able to qualify for PDSA-funded veterinary treatment, so check the PDSA's website for more information on eligibility.”

It makes sense to plan for the future so you can cope with any unexpected expenses and know that your pet will be well cared for if your circumstances change.

Interested? Here’s some helpful advice for moving ahead with buying a pet…

SELECT THE BREED

Before you head out to your nearest breeder or rescue centre, consider what breed of pet will best suit your everyday lifestyle and needs. As Adem Fehmi, a dog behaviourist and trainer, explains: “You might be wanting a pet to take life at a steadier pace with you, perhaps joining you for a snuggle on the sofa, or maybe to fit into a family home with plenty of grandchildren. What do you require? This is the question you must have in the forefront of your mind.” Lucy’s Law has recently come into force, too, which means anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must now buy direct from a breeder or consider adopting from a rescue centre.

FIND THE RIGHT BREEDER 

Once you’ve decided which breed is right for you, try to find a reputable breeder or rescue centre by doing some research – and find one which is hopefully Kennel Club certified. As Dr Jessica May from FirstVet says: “The breeder should be happy to provide you with details of their vets so you can check on the health of their offspring. They should also be happy to show you any paperwork, including Kennel Club certificates, vaccination information, health tests or screening scheme certificates.”
 
As a general guide, Adem recommends the following as good indicators of a reputable breeder:
 
1. Questions Should Be Welcomed & You’ll Be Asked Some Too
“A good breeder should want their offspring to go to the best homes possible. This does not necessarily mean who will love them the most, but instead who will be most able to fulfil the pet’s needs and provide them with the correct environment, mental stimulation, physical stimulation and experiences. Polite interrogation should be welcomed and should be viewed as a positive thing.”
 
2. You Should Be Shown All Relevant Paperwork 
“You should expect to see any relevant paperwork and pictures if the pet is not available for viewing. For pedigree and some cross-bred litters, you should expect to see the breed history of both the bitch and the sire. It is also useful to observe the bitch (and the sire too if available). This gives you a good indication of whether a puppy or kitten from this litter is likely to grow into the pet you would like to be part of your family. Other useful observations are those of any pets the breeder has previously bred and homed. If possible, speaking to the owners of these pets will also help you to make your decision as to whether this is the right choice for you.”
 
3. The Breeder Should Demonstrate Their Knowledge 
“This doesn’t just mean what the puppy or kitten looks like or typically behaves like. Instead, the breeder should also be able to talk you through the history and the bloodline descendants registered on any paperwork. The breeder should also offer their thoughts on whether a pet from the litter is right for you and, if so, which one would best suit you. Their choice should be based on solid reasoning as to its temperament and personality traits.”
 
4. You Should Be Able To Visit The Pets On Multiple Occasions
“They should be willing to spend time with you and allow you to spend time with your new pet. While you are visiting, they might also allow you to carry out activities that will help you to create a seamless transition from their establishment to your home. This might be as simple as allowing you to introduce a blanket with your scent on it or allowing you to introduce the pet to your car, so they become familiar with the environment before travelling.”
 
5. A Contract Of Sale & Receipt Should Be Commonplace
“As with any important purchase in life, you should expect to receive a contract of sale. This should outline both the breeder’s responsibilities as well as your own. Pets aren’t often cheap and they shouldn’t be. Raising a pet correctly can cost a lot of money, not to mention take a lot of time. As with any other big purchase, you should expect a receipt.”

UNDERSTAND VIRUSES & VACCINATIONS

Contrary to popular belief, it’s no longer the case that new pets receive all their vaccinations or are completely wormed by the time you pick them up. “We recommend all puppies are given an initial course of vaccination injections, starting at around eight weeks of age,” says Dr Jessica. “The vaccines must be given two to four weeks apart and should be followed by an annual booster. These are needed to boost the body’s immune response, as the level of protection naturally declines over time. Certain vaccinations, such as Leptospirosis, are repeated each year, whereas the parvovirus vaccine booster is repeated every three years.”
 
As Dr Jessica explains, some of the following diseases are treatable, however some can be fatal, which is why it is important to vaccinate against them. The following three vaccinations are given together in one injection as part of a normal vaccination protocol and will help protect a puppy against:
 
Parvovirus: “This is a viral infection that causes painful and severe diarrhoea and vomiting leading to dehydration, with over 90% of untreated cases proving fatal. It is a highly contagious virus that mostly affects puppies, although adult dogs can be infected too.”
 
Distemper: “A viral infection that has symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, respiratory and neurological disease, which can also be fatal.
 
Canine Hepatitis: “This disease can cause severe damage to the liver and kidneys. It can be fatal, however it is now rare due to vaccination.”
 
An additional vaccination is also administered at the same time:
 
Leptospirosis (the canine equivalent of Weil’s Disease): “This is a bacterial infection that can cause liver and kidney failure. It can be caught from interaction with water that has been exposed to rat’s urine e.g. in puddles, canals and ponds.”

It’s important to assess your finances – especially if you’re no longer working or receiving a regular income – to see whether your lifestyle will accommodate an ongoing expense like this.

GET TO GRIPS WITH WORMING

Because puppies are curious, they are often at high risk of contracting several parasites such as roundworms, tapeworms and lungworms – all of which can be picked up in a number of ways: from other infected animals; from their mother if she is infected while pregnant; eating worm eggs contained in faeces, urine or grass. Dr Jessica explains below:
 
Roundworms: “These are the most common worms in puppies, but they can also infect humans. They cause varying illnesses from mild abdominal pain to blindness and can occasionally cause death.
 
Tapeworms: “These are less common than roundworms, but the risk is increased if the puppies have fleas or have been fed a raw diet. The main way that puppies get a tapeworm infection is by eating fleas that are carrying tapeworm eggs. However, tapeworm eggs can also be found in raw meat. It causes hydatid disease in humans, which is serious and difficult to treat, so regular treatment for tapeworms is recommended.
 
Lungworm: “This is a life-threatening disease caused by angiostrongylus vasorum. Vets are now seeing significantly more cases of the disease than in past years. It is passed on by dogs accidentally eating slugs or snails - for example when a slug or snail is sitting on a bone or a favourite toy. As yet, it is unclear why there has been an increase, but the worm is known to favour warmer temperatures.”

DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH

While there are some basic rules which make a good breeder, Adem says it’s important not to expect too much. “Don’t expect the breeder to have got that far in terms of house training – it’s difficult to train an entire litter of puppies or kittens. That said, a well-run litter will at least have some sort of pattern going.” It’s therefore important to factor in how much time you can dedicate to training a pet of your own. If, for example, you regularly volunteer elsewhere or are heavily involved with grandchildren, a pet might take up too much time.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS…

“Getting a pet always needs careful thought,” warns Adem. “You might find yourself distracted during a critical stage of the pup’s development and find there are issues around separation anxiety or a lack of exercise if you’re not able to fulfil those requirements. If you notice any medical issues, get advice from a vet first and foremost. Otherwise, issues around aggression, fear or anxiety could be a job for a behaviouralist.” 
 
By law, it’s also important to remember a puppy must be microchipped by a vet, or trained technician, before they are eight weeks old, adds Dr Jessica. “The chip provides your puppy with a unique personal identification number, which will help return them to you, if they ever go astray. You will need to share your details with an authorised national database and it’s important to keep these details up to date. As well as a microchip, dogs should wear a collar with their owner’s name and address on it when they are outside the house.”
 
Adem Fehmi is the owner and founder of Dog-ease. He has also worked with Crufts, as well as organisations like the Kennel Club and RSPCA. Dr Jessica May is one of the UK’s leading vets at FirstVet.

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