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Sure they're cute, but is it time for a new pet?  Hopefully you are reading this article before you wandered into a pet store and were approached by the knowledgeable, teenage kennel tech who said in a chipper upbeat voice, "Hi! Welcome to Pet World.  Would you like to hold a puppy?!" 

Before you knew what was happening they handed you a 5 lb. fur ball with eyes like an innocent angel and teeth like a puppy!  A puppy who wants to eat shoes and furniture and food...lots and lots of food.

If you didn't go to the store to intentionally buy a pet, don't buy a pet

Don't purchase any living thing without making the purchase a deliberate one.  This means thinking carefully about why you want a pet.  This includes the cost and care associated with owning a pet and the kind of pet that would fit best with your family, now and the expected lifetime of the little critter.  

If you're new to pet ownership or very busy, start with a pet that is more self-sufficient like a hamster or fish. 

Before buying a pet

Find out all you can about the type of animal or breed for which you have an interest to make sure it fits with your lifestyle and household.

Research the best places to adopt or purchase your pet.  Be careful not to fall for the "too good to be true cutie" on the pet sites who just needs a good home.  Many times these are scams.  It is best to locate a pet locally and never send money to someone prior to receiving your pet.  

If you are buying from a store, be sure the store works with reputable breeders and that they disclose what is included in your cost prior to the purchase of your pet.  Many pet stores and breeders offer packages to include: initial shots, spay or neutering, deworming, etc.   Also, be cautious of any animal that costs more than a car.  While they are most likely a healthy pet, there are many pets looking for a home that are available at a more reasonable adoption fee or cost.  Pets are expensive and often we do not carry health insurance on our pets.  This means that if your pet develops an illness it will be good to know you have some money set aside for his/her care.

Research before you buy 

Expensive pet or adopted pet, just make sure you know the breed, any health conditions and how well the pet is socialized to ensure the safety of your family members and other pets.  Most pets that are full bred will come with registration papers.  This means the parents of the pet were recognized by the AKC or other kennel clubs (for dogs) as a registered breed.  This mean your puppy would be qualified to be registered as a full bred pet also.  Ask the breeder for details.  There are also designer breeds that mix two known breeds (e.g. A Maltese and Poodle designer breed dog is called a Maltipoo.)

Generally, you will want to consider the lifetime care of the pet.  As it gets older and your family grows closer with the pet you will want to make sure you have the time and money for it's care.  Most cats and dogs will live for 10-20 years.  Rabbits and hamsters less than 5 years.  Some birds will outlive us, some die in less than 5 years.

What should you buy or adopt?

Cats are nice and independent but can be a bit reclusive.  Dogs are loyal, but require walks and exercise and need to be house trained. Hamsters, rabbits and gerbils are cute, but not as interactive with their caregivers.  They do make a good first pet for kids who want to be pet owners but aren't quite ready for the responsibility of a cat or dog yet.  Snakes, well do your research, and DON'T just take the advice of the guy at Pet World.  Birds and fish are also pretty good for kids, but like a hamster, most don't live long, prepared for a pet burial and unhappy kiddo at some point sooner than later.

If you are considering a pet around the time of a recent separation, divorce or move then be extra cautious about the timing mixed with the stress of everything else in your life.  This doesn't mean a pet is a bad idea.  In fact, it may be a great new addition to your family when everyone needs a little more comfort during uncomfortable times.  But, this means to lay the law early with the kids about their pet responsibilities and know that still much will fall on you, like vet and grooming appointments, expenses, etc.   If your ex wants to share the costs and time with the new pet and it alters your decision on the initial cost, breed or otherwise when selecting the pet, then get his/her financial and caregiving responsibility agreement in writing to make sure there are no misunderstandings.

In summary, don't purchase on a whim.  Make sure you know what kind of pet fits with your family and schedule.  Determine the expected lifetime of the pet and ensure you are ready to make the time and financial commitment necessary.  Develop a care plan for all family members involved (even the kids could have a pet contract to make sure they remember what they agreed to do).  Purchase only from reputable breeders or adopt from a trusted organization.  Find a veterinarian that you like who is affordable and near your home. 

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