Do You Have Time for a Pet?

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Before you adopt or acquire a pet is the best time to reflect on how much time you can devote to a pet. Too often people get pets because they are cute, or because a friend has recommended a certain breed, or maybe because they just want to be a good Samaritan and save a shelter pet’s life. But if you’re too busy to give them the attention they need, you’re not doing them a favor.

Make sure to choose the type of pet that is right for you and your situation.

Time allotted for a pet can vary dramatically; goldfish, for example, need relatively little time and effort (but remember that no pet is maintenance-free). A large dog, on the other hand, will require plenty of exercise and attention to keep from being bored. Lonely pets, especially dogs, can be very destructive.

One nice thing about cats is that they don’t need as much attention as dogs. You won’t have to walk them on a leash—usually indoor cats are fine with the workout they get simply from playing or using a scratching post. Outside cats typically limit their exercise to honing their hunting skills. Cats can be kept in apartments much easier and tolerate being alone longer than dogs. That is not to say they don’t need human interaction, but they usually don’t exhibit destructive behavior as often as dogs that are left alone too long.

Because they are pack animals, dogs are more social and depend on interaction with others. Without it, they can become self destructive—for example, by licking themselves excessively they can cause a skin infection known as a “hot spot” which may develop into a “lick granuloma.” However, in most cases the destruction is focused on the pet’s environment: your house and yard. Dogs (and even some cats) can become territorial and aggressive when isolated for too long, damaging furniture and walls by clawing and chewing. Dogs may dig and bark excessively in the house and yard. Some breeds tend to bark more than others, just as some breeds will naturally dig more than others.

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Certain breeds of dogs need more exercise (and some require strenuous exercise every day) to avoid becoming bored and destructive. Retrievers, setters, terriers and herding dogs, for instance, need lots of exercise or a “job” that keeps them busy. Toy breeds, giant breeds and others may require less exercise, but will still need social interaction with other dogs or humans daily.

Be fair to your pet and yourself by asking, before you adopt, about the amount of time and attention they will need. You should strongly consider owning two pets so they have companionship and can entertain one another if you are often gone from the house more than a few hours every day.

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