First-time pet owner’s guide

Grand Forks HeraldDecember 2, 2013 

20090408 Pet auditions

MCT — Chris Ware

Two experts share some advice for first-time pet owners and break down the basics of pet care.

Unexpected costs. New time commitments. Added responsibilities. Buying a pet is a big decision that shouldn’t be made without prior consideration.

From the monthly costs of food and pet supplies to the time it takes to train a dog, becoming a first-time pet owner can have a big impact on one’s life. Therefore, many factors should be considered before taking the first step.

Veterinarian Carol Hagen, owner of Petcetera Animal Clinic in Grand Forks, N.D., and Fiona Korst, assistant store manager of the Grand Forks Petco, share some advice for first-time pet owners and break down the basics of pet care.

FIND A PET THAT FITS YOUR LIFESTYLE

“I think the best kind of pet owner is the type that does research and figures out what kind of (pet) is going to work for them,” Korst said.

Hagen added, “I’d consider how much time you have to spend with the pet.”

If someone is away from their home 18-plus hours a day, a pet isn’t the smartest decision, she said.

Different types of pets also work better for different lifestyles. For instance, a family with young children may want to avoid hyper, snappy dogs that might bite.

“(They) may want to get something that’s maybe a little more durable, not a 4-pound Chihuahua that can break easily,” Hagen said.

Many websites offer dog-matching quizzes to help potential pet owners determine which breed will best suit their personalities and lifestyles. The quizzes ask questions such as “how much time will you be able to devote to exercising with your dog,” “what size is your yard” and “what age children do you have in the home?”

Once someone decides what type of pet they want, Hagen and Korst stressed that they need to understand that it’s a big commitment.

“You have to realize that you have to take it for shots, you have to get it spayed or neutered…” Korst said. “I think the commitment is the biggest thing.”

COST, SUPPLIES

Potential pet owners also should consider the costs of pet supplies, both initial and recurring costs.

Korst said the cost of starting supplies for a small breed dog is about $250 to $300. She said large breed dog supplies are about $100 more.

Those price estimates include about 15 different items from food to chew toys, to the kennel, to the collar and leash. Korst said if necessary, some of the items can be purchased a week or two after having the dog.

“You basically are going to need food, food and water dishes, (and you) definitely want to have a brush,” Korst said.

The same goes for nail clippers. Korst said dog owners should get their puppies used to being brushed and having their nails clipped right from the start, otherwise it can be a nightmare later on.

Another item to think about is puppy stain remover.

“Everybody’s puppy is going to have an accident in the house, so you need a really good stain and odor remover,” she said.

Teething rings are another item that may seem unnecessary, but Korst said, “You want teething rings, unless you want to be the chew toy. When puppies are teething, their teeth are like little needles.”

With all of those items, the bill can become expensive, but owners can save a little money by skipping the puppy mat and using an old blanket for the kennel instead.

“You just want something that’s easy to wash,” Korst said, stressing again that every puppy will have accidents.

For those who are considering a kitten rather than a puppy, costs are significantly less, with starting supplies running about $100 to $150.

VACCINATIONS

Along with basic supplies, pets also will need vaccinations and checkups, which can add quite a bit to the bill.

“The first year is usually the most expensive because you have a series of three vaccinations typically,” Hagen said. “And you’ve got the office call with each of those exams.”

When someone buys a new puppy or kitten, they should bring it to the veterinarian as soon as possible to get its first checkup and vaccinations.

Hagen said the ideal time is when the animal is about 6 to 8 weeks old. During the first visit, the pet will receive a checkup and vaccinations, which run about $50 for both cats and dogs.

At the time of the first visit, Hagen said she gives the pet owner a starter packet with recommendations for the timing of each additional vaccine, as well as spaying and neutering information.

“We'll give them information on vaccinations, de-wormings, heartworm testings, spaying and neutering. And for cats, declawing,” Hagen said.

She recommends getting the pet vaccinated at 8 weeks, 12 weeks and 16 weeks.

“Basically, we vaccinate from the time they’re 6 to 8 weeks of age, until they turn at least 16 weeks of age,” she said. “At 16 weeks, if they’ve had (vaccinations) every three or four weeks, then they should be done with vaccinations for the year.”

The main vaccination is a DA2PP, which protects against common canine illnesses and infections. An additional vaccine is recommended to protect against Bordetella, or kennel cough, if the dog will be interacting with others. The final vaccine protects against rabies and is required periodically - depending upon your jurisdiction. (It’s every two years in the city of Grand Forks.)

The series of three vaccinations costs about $170.

On top of that, Hagen recommends spaying or neutering after the six-month mark.

“They should have all their adult teeth by then, and for puppies, especially small breed puppies, a lot of them will retain baby teeth,” she said. “If they retain baby teeth, we extract them while they’re under anesthesia.”

For cat owners, declawing is also something to consider. Hagen said her clinic doesn’t recommend or advise against declawing. While declawing can cause some immediate pain for the animal, she said she’d rather have a cat declawed than see it put down.

“Most cats tolerate it pretty well,” she said.

SOCIALIZATION

Aside from the costs involved with owning a pet, it is also a big time commitment.

“They take a lot more exercise and (work) than some people are prepared to give,” Hagen said. Quoting a fellow veterinarian, she added, “A tired dog is a good dog.”

“They get into a lot less trouble if you actively spend time training them and exercising them.”

Korst added dogs should be walked every day, even when it’s cold outside. She said people often bring their pets into Petco to walk them around, which also helps with socialization.

“Socialization is huge,” she said. “You don’t want to have an animal that could potentially bite people because they’ve never been in contact with other people before.”

Dogs can be socialized by taking them to dog parks, obedience classes, pet stores and even just inviting other people over to interact with them.

Dogs that aren’t socialized might be more timid and have more chances of fear and aggression, Hagen said.

Whether one decides to get a cat or a dog, they should do some research and be prepared for the added responsibility, costs and time commitments.

“The biggest thing they need to realize is that it’s a lifelong pet,” Korst said. “They’re not disposable when they’re not so cute anymore. You can’t just get rid of them. It’s a commitment.”

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ONLINE DOG-MATCHING QUIZZES:

http://dogtime.com/matchup

http://animal.discovery.com/

STARTER SUPPLIES FOR PUPPIES

Food: $15 to $50.

Food and water dishes: $8 each.

Brush: $11.

Nail clippers: $10.

Leash: $15.

Collar: $13.

Shampoo: $13.

Crate or kennel: $70 to $100.

Teething rings: $7.

Toy: $10.

Treats: $7.

Pet stain remover: $14.

Pet pad or bed: $20.

The above price estimates were provided by PetCo; prices may vary at other pet supply retailers.

TIMELINE OF VETERINARIAN VISITS

8 weeks: First check up and vaccinations, about $50.

12 weeks: Second set of vaccinations, about $50.

16 weeks: Rabies vaccination, if required every two years, about $70.

4 months: Spaying and neutering, $100 to $400.

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