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Why owning a pet is a big decision

Every year, dogs, cats and other animals are surrendered to the care of shelters or rescue organisations. Understanding the reasons why pets are surrendered can help you plan for the long-term commitment of owning a pet. Australian research found that most owners who surrendered their dogs (86%) did so for human-related reasons such as a change in circumstances (moving, travelling, changes in the household dynamic or a new baby), accommodation (landlord issues, property being unsuitable, yard too small or owner going into care), owner health (illness, death or allergies) or financial problems (being unable to afford the dog’s care or vet treatment).

Of course, unexpected things happen, and if you’re unable to care for a pet, the doors of shelters like the RSPCA are always open to help them. But if you are thinking of getting a pet, the following questions can guide you through the process to help you decide whether the time is right for you to bring a pet into your home, which kind of pet would be best suited to your family and what resources are available to help support you in caring for them in the short and long term.

Do you have the time to care for the pet you are considering?

All pets need care that meets their physical and mental needs, so it is important you learn about the requirements of the species and breed you are considering. These can include feeding, grooming, bathing, cleaning and maintaining their living area, exercise, play, training, regular visits to the vet and generally interacting with them. Your veterinarian can help advise you as well as provide a guide of what to expect at different stages of a pet’s life. For example, puppies and kittens will need a lot of extra time and dedication in the first few months to be toilet trained and socialised, and some breeds of dogs have higher exercise requirements while others are more likely to have health problems. Will you or someone else in the household have time to provide the care your pet needs given your family’s lifestyle and priorities? This may include caring for young children or elderly parents or working long hours at home or away. If you go on holidays, you will need to find care for your pet which could be with a reliable friend or house sitter to mind your pet at home or in a reputable boarding facility.

Will the pet you are considering be compatible with your children and other pets?

Children must be supervised around pets for their own safety and the safety of the animal. If you have children at home (or are thinking about having children) this will be a major consideration when deciding on a new pet. For example, dogs or cats who are comfortable around children are the best choice, regardless of their size, so whether you adopt from a shelter or buy from a reputable breeder, it’s crucial to discuss the pet’s suitability for a family with children. Children will also need to be taught how to interact safely with pets. Another consideration is how a new pet will get on with other pets in the house. If you adopt from a shelter, the staff can advise you how a potential pet may respond to other animals, including whether a dog is likely to be cat friendly. When bringing home a pet for the first time, introductions to existing pets must be managed gradually, with dogs being introduced on neutral territory and constant supervision when cats are in the presence of a new dog, with opportunities for all animals to retreat somewhere they feel safe.

Is your accommodation suitable?

Wherever you live, your home will need to meet your pet’s requirements for space and mental stimulation. Pets must be safely contained to prevent them from escaping and potentially being injured. For dogs, this means suitable fencing they cannot get through or dig under. The ideal space for keeping cats contained is an outdoor cat run with specialised fencing that prevents them from leaving the property or a cat-proofed balcony. Pets must also be protected from common household dangers such as rodent poisons and insecticides, medications, dangerous foods and toxic plants. If you are renting you will need to check if pets are allowed, and be sure to check the laws for your state if it is a strata-title property.

Do you know how to care for your particular pet?

To learn about how to care for the pet you are considering, you should speak to the adoption organisation, breeder or veterinarian who can also advise on any potential breed-related health concerns.

Without sufficient mental stimulation, exercise and positive interaction with you, and your family, animals can experience poor welfare and potentially display problem behaviour. Learning about the behavioural, exercise and training needs of your pet will help them adjust to their new home with you. For young dogs, puppy pre-school is a good way to start. The RSPCA has plenty of resources – for example, the Knowledgebase, Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide (which includes advice on caring for your new puppy) and Safe and Happy Cats, which outlines how to keep your cat safely contained at home and meet their needs.

Are you able to afford the cost of caring for your pet?

The cost of pet ownership can change over time, so it is important to budget for the different requirements of each stage of your pet’s life. Initial expenses can include microchipping, desexing, council registration, vaccinations, food, training, bedding, and toys, while ongoing expenses include grooming, holiday care, regular veterinary check-ups, and treatment for any health problems, including accidental injuries. Veterinary costs for the care for your pet will be ongoing, and sometimes unexpected. Having pet insurance may be one way to help cover the costs of eligible vet bills due to accidental injury or illness, however exclusions will apply to any cover such as no cover being provided due to any pre-existing conditions.

Are you able to care for the pet for the rest of their life?

Caring for an animal is a long-term commitment. According to the RSPCA, some dogs and cats can live up to 20 years depending on the breed and living conditions. Certain species of birds kept as pets, such as some cockatoos, can live until the age of 80! It is always in a pet’s interests for us to plan for their care in case they outlive us.

The RSPCA has many resources available if you do encounter any challenges when caring for your companion animal. Consider pet insurance as one way to help give you peace of mind knowing you can provide your pet with the care they need when they need it most. With RSPCA Pet Insurance, you are also supporting other animals in need with a portion of first-year premiums going towards the great work of the RSPCA.