Tips for new pet owners

Living Well | Dr Kerry Bail | Posted on 17 March 2019

Get off to the best start with your new pet.

Before buying a pet, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into. When you consider that a dog’s average lifespan is about 10 to 13 years, and a cat’s 12 to 16 years, bringing a pet home is a major commitment of time, money and emotions. 

But if you’ve thought it through and are still sure a new pet is for you, here are some things you need to consider:

white cat spreading out on red cushion

What sort of pet?

Each type of animal has specific needs, so do a bit of homework on what would best fit your lifestyle. For instance, if you are often away you might opt for a reptile or fish. These don’t require as much looking after, and don’t tend to miss you when you’re not there. 

Where to get it

If you want a purebred, you’ll need to seek breeders. There are also rescue organisations for some breeds, if you want to adopt an older animal. Another option is adopting from a shelter. If you want a reptile, you need to check if a permit is required.

Where will your pet live? 

Inside, outside, or both? You need to ensure it has a safe environment. Check fences and gates, and consider a lock. Make sure gardening chemicals or poisons are locked away. Identify toxic plants, and make sure there is no access to compost. If your pet is allowed inside, it’s often a good idea to have no-go zones. This helps avoid separation anxiety as the pet learns to be alone for short periods. 

Where will your pet sleep? 

They will at least need a bed, and if it’s an outside dog a kennel as well. Crate training is wonderful for dogs. Once they learn the crate is their secure place, you can move it around and they will feel safe sleeping in any room, or even on holiday. Cats, on the other hand, will decide where they sleep. You can buy the most elaborate bed, but your cat will decide for itself if it’s appropriate.

What will they eat? 

It’s a good idea to find out what your pet has been eating before you bring it home, and use the same food for the first few days. Your vet can advise you on a good food to transition to.

Next steps

When you finally bring your pet home, book a visit with your vet as soon as possible. They can do a thorough exam and ensure everything is in tip-top condition. They can check the microchip number is correct (unfortunately, there are still some dogs and cats sold without chips). They can ensure vaccinations are scheduled and advise you on parasite control. Vets will discuss desexing and help you work out when to do this. 

Off to school

Many vet clinics also offer puppy kinder classes, which are very important for socialisation. Classes are also a fun way for new owners to learn some basic training and a great way to meet other locals. They also help with toilet training and understanding animal behaviour.

What about insurance?

This is something you should organise immediately. Most people’s pets are part of their family and if they become ill or injured it is very stressful. If your pet needs treatment, insurance takes some of the worry out of the equation and gives great peace of mind.

Veterinarian Dr Kerry Bail works out of Emerald Veterinary Clinic in Victoria and owns Great & Small Veterinary Services in Upper Beaconsfield.