Choosing the Right Pet

So you’ve decided to add someone special to your family, a dog or a cat. But as you begin to get ready for your new friend you begin to wonder – what should I be looking for when I start the hunt for the right pet?

The first decision you have to make is whether you wish to go to an animal shelter, a private owner, or a pet shop to obtain your dog or cat. There are a variety of pros and cons for each one.

An animal shelter is a good place to find abandoned dogs and cats of any age and of almost every type you can imagine. If you are an older person seeking a mature pet this may be the place for you to start your search. In addition to giving an animal a new home and saving his/her life your support will encourage the shelter to continue their efforts in helping the local animal population.

But if you’ve got your heart set on a purebred dog or cat, a shelter probably isn’t the way to go. The majority of animals are usually mixed breed and very few abandoned or lost animals come with pedigrees. As well, what you see is what you get in the literal sense with animal shelters. One week they may be overloaded with kittens, older dogs the next. You may have to make multiple trips if you don’t see the right pet for you on the first visit or be prepared to take your potential new friend home right then and there.

Lastly, the medical condition of animals in shelters is always an unknown. While all dogs and cats are checked out by a veterinarian upon arrival, the past injuries and history are usually a blank slate. Aside from major medical conditions you have no way of knowing the pet’s previous history, which could lead to problems in the future with undiagnosed pre-existing conditions.

A private owner usually can supply a full medical history from top to bottom, as well as pedigree papers if you wish to obtain a purebred cat or do. But the cost can be prohibitive, with many private owners running “puppy mills” or raising vast amounts of puppies or kittens with the sole purpose of selling them either to families or to pet stores. Even with the proper paperwork you can find yourself stranded with a dog or cat that may have a dire medical condition that comes as a result of interbreeding or genetic deviations. Always ask for references from previous clients and don’t be afraid to follow those up with a phone call. Better that you discover any problems now before you end up with a deathly ill dog or cat that will cost you both financially and emotionally.

But an animal coming from a private home can also be a blessing for those who are forced into offering up their beloved family pet for adoption. They can see and judge whom their friend will go with and be secure in the knowledge that they’ve done all they can for their cat or dog.

A pet store is usually the first and only stop for many families seeking a new pet. The medical history of these animals is usually well documented, as well as the opportunity to purchase either a purebred animal or one of mixed breed, since most pet stores stock both types in order to appeal to a larger audience. But there are concerns you should be aware of before you set foot in the store.

Many pet stores purchase their stock from the same “puppy mills” that we discussed earlier, and have the same potential problems with inbreeding. This is not to say that all pet stores do, but the discerning consumer will ask from whence the animals are being bought and check out the source.

You will have a larger choice than the average shelter and fewer turnovers, since the price in a pet store is usually much more than at the shelter. But most pets are not neutered or spayed, while almost all animals that are up for adoption at a shelter are automatically spayed or neutered in order to curtail the growing pet population.

So you’ve spotted your new best friend either at the shelter or at a friend’s home or behind the fence at a pet store – now what?

First, don’t be afraid to ask if you can hold the kitten or puppy and handle him/her as much as possible. Check their eyes and nose for any discharge that may reveal a health problem. Check the ears for any buildup of debris and make sure the animal is reacting to your sounds from both ears. Place the animal down and let him/her walk to you, keeping an eye out for any difficulty that may indicate hip problems or leg/foot problems. Look at the teeth and see if the mouth is healthy, with no bleeding sores or missing teeth. Lift the pet up and down, feeling for any suspicious lumps or protrusions in or on the skin. The animal should be sleek but not underfed. Lastly, make sure to receive a full medical history including any innoculations that have been given or that are due in the near future.

Upon receiving your dog or cat immediately proceed to your neighborhood vet for another checkup and registeration. Your veterinarian should be able to verify your previous physical checks and start a permanent file on your friend that includes the previous history at the store or shelter or private home. You can then take your new family member home knowing that you’ve done all you can to guarantee a long and happy friendship.

Choosing a new pet can be a daunting experience for even an experienced pet owner, but with a little preparation and knowing what to look for you can be sure to find that dog or cat that’s right for you and your family.

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