Pet Ownership in your First Place: Things to Consider


Whether you are striking out on your own or with a new family in tow, a pet can be a great way to complete your family and make that apartment feel more like a home.


What to consider when buying a pet?

From dogs to cats to rabbited, there are many different things to consider when getting a pet at home. However, the realities and responsibilities of owning a pet can be a source of friction, depending on your lease, your level of personal responsibility, and how many people are living with you. There are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you run out and adopt that furry, feathery, or scaly friend and bring it back to chez vous. Think about these questions before getting a pet and bringing a pet into your family home.


Question 1: Are you allowed to have a pet?

dog-catWhile most of us agree that animals are pretty fantastic companions, some rental properties do not allow pets of any kind. Others may allow only certain kinds of pets, such as no dogs or cats, but fish, small mammals, and birds are okay. You will have to get permission from your landlord most likely to have a pet when renting an apartment. Even if dogs and cats are allowed, there may be restrictions based on size and breed, especially for dogs. This information should be in your lease agreement, along with any special costs that may come along with bringing a pet into your new home. A typical pet fee for an apartment might be between $50-100 a month.


Additional Pet Costs in Apartments

These costs include a pet deposit, to take care of any extra cleaning that needs to be done when you move out (like fur-balls that you couldn’t get up with your pet hair vacuum); and extra rent per month for your pet. Whatever you do, don’t violate your lease by getting a pet that isn’t allowed. You’ll end up with a choice between your new family member and an eviction notice, and that’s never something you want to face. Make sure you can have a pet in your apartment by checking with your landlord first on any pet restrictions in your lease. The main thing is that you have to be allowed to have a cat by your apartment complex. Nothing is riskier than to try to hide an illegal cat–sooner or later someone will pay the price

Question 2: Are you financially stable enough to have a pet?

Pets are marginally less expensive than children, but the considerations are much the same. If you are skating by paycheck-to-paycheck and you barely make enough to feed yourself (or your family), you really can’t afford to add another mouth to the mix. The expenses that come with owning a pet go beyond just food and shelter, and many people don’t take that in to consideration. Depending on what type of pet you adopt, you’ll need toys, bedding, and special equipment like a pet hair vacuum, or a tank, or a cage, or a leash and collar. On top of that, there is the ever present possibility that your pet will get sick or injured, no matter how well you care for it. Below is there is more information about possible getting pet insurance to cover these types of bills in the future. That means vet bills and medication, in addition to the regular medications your pet might need to begin with. If you don’t have at least $1,000 in annual disposable income, it might be in your (and the animal’s) best interest to wait to adopt until you are more financially stable.

Common Costs of Having a Cat

Lets look at the common costs for having a cat. For a healthy cat that is already neutered and has its shots it should cost less than $1,000 a year in medical and food costs., but probably more than $500. Your repeat cat costs will be litter, food, treats, toys, flea medications, toothpaste (dental hygiene is important!), and occasional vet visits. Your one-time costs will be bowls, litter box, poop scooper, maybe a scratching post and/or cat tower (you can make one using wood and carpet), basic toys, collar, nametag, nail clippers, and toothbrush. Short haired cats will obviously be lower maintenance than long haired.

Below there is more information on getting pet insurance. Many experts are advocating pet insurance paid by the government to reduce the financial burden of soaring vet costs.


Question 3: Are you present enough to have a pet?

If you live on your own and you work 80-hour weeks, you may have the disposable income to take care of a pet, but not the time, depending on the type of pet you’re considering. Most animals that are kept as pets are social creatures. They need regular interaction and bonding time. If you want to adopt a dog, for instance, you will need to be present often enough to walk and play with the dog multiple times per day to keep it healthy and happy. A cat needs less maintenance, but it still requires regular social interaction to thrive, so you still need to be present. You’ll also need to be around to clean up after your pets so your living space doesn’t become unlivable. That means emptying litterboxes, washing food and water dishes, and vacuuming pet hair from your floors and upholstery. If you don’t have the time to take care of a more social pet, consider a reptile or a fish, as they don’t shed and they require less social interaction than mammals and birds.

Question 4: Do you have enough room for a pet?

A studio apartment and a German Shepherd aren’t a very good match. If there’s hardly room for the people who live in your apartment, a pet that requires lots of space and exercise to be healthy and happy is probably not going to love its new home. The area around your apartment is also important to take into account, as is your lifestyle. That German Shepherd might be happy in that tiny apartment if there’s a park nearby and you can walk to it daily, but if you can’t give your pet the activity it needs, consider something more containable.

How much room does a cat need in an apartment?

Cats can be happy even in very small apartments. It’s not so much about the square footage as making sure they have space to meet their needs. This doesn’t have to be a lot, the main things are:

  • a quiet, private place for a litter box
  • their food and water far from the litter box
  • places to climb (cat trees), maybe look out the window

More vertical space can actually be a better metric than pure square footage for a cat. Go vertical. The higher up the better. If you can accept a cat walking on your furniture, what to you is a simple accident of end table next to chair next to dresser or desk is for a cat some pretty exciting terrain. Add a tall cat tree to that and a tall (30″ or more) sisal-covered scratching post, plus one of those slanted cardboard scratchers (Alpine), a way for the cat to sit safely in a window (you’ll have to be sure that the screen is very sturdily in place, and the cat will be well pleased. Some people install whole cat walkways on their walls of shelves at varying heights.

You should have an assortment of nice beds or cushions here and there (on these various levels) because cats like to use one bed awhile, move on to another in a few weeks. The thing they love most of all is to be perched up high somewhere where they can observe you a lot.


Question 5: Are you responsible enough to have a pet?

Pet ownership is not a short-term commitment, or at least it shouldn’t be. Pets are thinking, feeling creatures and they rely on you for their care. If you don’t plan on being around for the animals whole life, don’t adopt it. Puppies only stay puppies for a short time, but adult dogs still need you to take care of them and pick up after them. You need to be willing to vacuum dog hair from the couch and the carpet for years to come, and if you aren’t, you probably aren’t ready for that kind of responsibility. There are circumstances that can force you to need to give up a pet, of course, but the intention should be to be the animal’s “forever human.” Otherwise, what’s the point?


Question 6: Will you be living with other people?

If you have a roommate or a family, the decision to get a pet isn’t yours alone. Cleaning up after and caring for an animal is a big commitment, and one that takes a lot of effort and time. If you need to go out of town, you need to discuss whether or not your roommate will be willing to take on that burden in your absence. You will need to decide together beforehand if the pet will be allowed on the furniture, where it will sleep, and if there are rooms that are off limits. Even if the pet in question will be exclusively your responsibility, other factors need to be considered. Allergies, for example, are a big concern as dog and cat dander are among the most common allergens. The point is, when you are sharing a living space with other people, the decision to bring any kind of animal permanently into that space is one that everyone must agree to.


Are you ready to get a Dog or Cat?

Once you’ve answered all of these questions and you know that you can and are ready to take care of a pet, head down to your local shelter. Pet shops might be full of cute little kittens and puppies, but thousands of pets in shelters need your love and attention so much more. Please adopt from your local shelter or a rescue instead of buying that puppy in the window. You won’t regret it.

Choosing the family dog should include input from all family members with the cooler-headed, more experienced family members’ opinions carrying a bit more weight. The family dog should not be a gift from one family member to all the others


Question 7: Are you going to get pet insurance?

Generally, it is a great idea to get insurance. If your cat had an accident and you have to take it to an emergency hospital the expense can be enormous which puts extra pressure on you when making decisions. It is so nice to just walk in and be able to say ‘do what you need to, I have pet insurance’! It takes that worry away. As with all insurance, you are taking a chance but I would say you will likely use a portion of it at some point in the cats life. You would be surprised how many cats I see come in with broken legs! Without pet insurance it costs hundreds to thousands to fix. Not to mention the high jumper of diabetic and thyroid issue cats that require meds for the rest of their life!


Pet Ownership: Pet Insurance for Puppies

The reason I recommend new puppy owners get insurance is because dogs tend to have WAY more accidents (inexplicably). Young cats have emergencies too that can get expensive, however it is less likely. If you know you won’t have the cash to do treatment if something comes up, pet insurance is a great thing and may save your cats life. However if you have some savings set aside for an veterinary emergency you are just as well off.

Most wellness expenses are not covered under pet insurance although some plans do include them. When you go to sign up there is usually a break down for what is covered and how much $ they will pay per illness. I do think getting pet insurance is a very responsible choice.

There is value in pet insurance, but rather for long-term pets for whom you build a medical history through your vet (company will require it from a vet vice you) that can be presented when you file a claim.

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