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pet guide for a new owner

Choosing to share your life with a pet is one of the most important decisions you can make. Notice I said, “sharing your life” rather than just “get.” All pets depend on their owners to care for them, but many pets will also rely on you for companionship—or languish without it. In return, a pet can greatly enhance your quality of life. So, choose the type of pet that fits your lifestyle, budget, and personality.

Since childhood, I’ve shared my life with half a dozen cats, a rabbit, a variety of birds, and a multitude of fish, from outdoor koi to tropical fish less than an inch in length to over a foot long. As a veterinary assistant, I also gained a lot of experience working with all sorts of dogs. For this article, I also asked the Idaho Humane Society for additional tips on keeping your pet healthy and happy.


pet guide - embracing the wild in your dog

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If you want a pet who will shower you with unconditional love, get a dog. Remember that because dogs are descended from wolves, they are natural pack animals and highly social. Your dog will see you as its leader and give you and your family (its pack) unconditional loyalty. But it’s a two-way street. You’ll need to make time to show your dog affection every day or it will feel lonely. But by paying attention and responding to your dog’s moods, you can form a deep relationship with your dog. As you get to know each other and your dog learns what you expect from it, you’ll soon see why they call dogs “man’s best friend.”

pet guide - the wolf in the parlor

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Dog Tips From the Humane Society

pet guide - dog leash

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Remember, never leave a dog in a hot car. Temperatures can become lethal within minutes. And don’t leave your dog outside to bark. A barking dog is an unhappy or angry dog, and it’s rude to your neighbors. When you leave the house, if you don’t take your dog with you, leave it inside. You’ll need to pay for a license, vaccinations, food, toys, and a leash for daily walks. Always clean up after your dog!

pet guide - how to pick the perfect dog

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Be sure to choose an appropriate breed for your lifestyle. Purebred puppies often cost more than $1,000, so why not visit your local shelter and consider adopting instead? You’ll save money and perhaps save a life. Bringing a dog into your home is a lifestyle commitment not unlike having a child, so be sure you’re prepared to take on this responsibility. If you do make the leap, you’ll soon fall in love with your new best friend!

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pet guide - himalayan cats

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Cats, like most of their wild ancestors, are much more independent than dogs. As such, they won’t demand as much of your time. If you want an especially affectionate cat, there’s a tendency for long-haired cats to be more cuddly, especially Himalayans and Ragdolls. Dote on your longhaired kitten and you may end up with a cat whose personality is close to that of a dog. I’ve found neutered male cats to be generally more sociable than female cats, though there are exceptions of course.

pet guide - ragdoll cats as pets

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Cat Tips From the Humane Society

Please, the Humane Society cannot stress this enough: Keep your cat strictly indoors! First, your cat will live longer. Indoor cats can reach the ripe old age of 17 years or older, whereas outdoor cats live an average of just two to five years! A fenced-in backyard won’t hold a cat like it will hold a dog.

pet guide - cat scratching post

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Outdoor cats are subject to being run over by cars, bitten by other cats or dogs, killed by coyotes, poisoned, abused by other people, contracting feline leukemia and other diseases, or just getting lost. Plus, all cats, even the most well-fed, will stalk and hunt once they get outside. It’s their nature. Cats kill billions of birds and other animals in the U.S. every year. It’s a serious problem. Plus, they dig up your neighbor’s yard and bring fleas or mites into your home.

Keep your indoor cat happy by giving it plenty of kind, loving, attention, toys to play with, a scratching post, clean litter box, and fun places to hide (cats love cardboard boxes).

pet guide - litter box

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Spay or Neuter Your Pet

The world is awash in unwanted, stray dogs and cats that lead miserable lives. The Humane Society urges owners to spay or neuter their dogs and cats for happier, healthier pets. Female dogs and cats go into heat: cats yowl and attract males to your windows, while female dogs will bleed in the house and become a magnet for male dogs when outside, often ending up pregnant.

Male cats grow up to be much more “huggable” if they’re neutered, and they won’t spray and smell up your house. Pets that have been sterilized at an early age tend to live longer — an average of one to three years for dogs and three to five years for cats.

Thinking About Adopting?

The ASPCA had developed a research-based program called Meet Your Match™, designed to help you find the right cat or dog for your lifestyle. If you visit a shelter that participates in this program, you can fill out a simple five-minute survey intended to measure your expectations in a pet and determine what type of cat or dog would be the best fit in your home environment and lifestyle. This program has been shown to increase adoptions and decrease returns.

Even if your local shelter doesn’t use this program, talk to the staff about your preferences. Many shelter staff members get to know the animals in their care, and can give you insights into their particular personalities. Take the time to watch and play with the pet you’re thinking about adopting. If you do make the leap, you’ll soon fall in love with your new best friend!

Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.


Crista Worthy writes about aviation, travel, wildlife, and more from her home in Idaho.

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