Note: A companion animal is an animal that provides companionship to humans, also known as a pet.
For many Australians a companion animal is an important part of the family. While having an animal as part of your family can be extremely rewarding, it is important to remember that caring for an animal is also a huge responsibility. You will be committed to providing for all the requirements of your animal – food, exercise, housing, grooming and veterinary care. Before acquiring any new companion animal, it is absolutely essential to thoroughly research the care the animal will need to ensure you have the capacity to meet the physiological, behavioural and social needs of the animal.
RSPCA Australia recommends that you take the time to research the species or breed/crossbreed you are adopting/purchasing well before bringing them home, so that you are positive your choice of companion animal will be appropriate for your lifestyle and you are well prepared for their arrival.
Adding a companion animal to your family should never be an impulsive decision. RSPCA shelters receive thousands of unwanted and abandoned animals each year and these may be the result of an ill-considered decision. Before you make the decision to become to bring an animal into your family, ask yourself the following questions:
Am I prepared to care for the animal for their whole life?
The average lifespan of dogs and cats is around 12 years, with some dogs and cats living until 15 or even 20 years of age, so it’s a long-term commitment. While puppies and kittens are irresistibly adorable, you will need to be prepared to provide for an adult animal too and, in the case of some dogs, a much larger animal with considerable exercise requirements and a sizeable appetite.
Can I afford a pet?
There are many costs involved with having a companion animal. Upfront costs for cats and dogs include vaccination, microchipping and desexing, although animal adopted from shelters will already be vaccinated, microchipped and desexed. In addition, you will need to be prepared to pay for ongoing costs associated with food, worming, annual health checks, vet bills, training, care when you are away, toys and bedding, and more for the life of your animal. If an emergency or accident occurs, you will also need to ensure you can pay for any emergency veterinary treatment required.
The costs associated with your companion animal will vary depending on the type of animal and breed you choose. Remember that animals can be an expensive addition to the family. For example, dogs with exaggerated features (such as brachycephalic breeds like pugs and bulldogs) usually require specialised veterinary care to help them to be more comfortable and to improve their quality of life; this can be expensive.
Do I understand how to care for a pet?
When you are considering adding a companion animal to your family, it is your responsibility, to thoroughly research the basic requirements of your chosen animal. You should do this before considering adopting/purchasing your animal and prior to bringing them home so that you are well informed about the species-specific needs of your companion animal and so you’re ready to take good care of them. You could look for a comprehensive book about your chosen species and other information about your chosen breed/crossbreed.
If you are considering adoption, talk to the relevant adoption organisation and ask for information or if you are purchasing from a breeder, ask the breeder for more information such as what health problems the breed can have, breed-specific requirements and how much space and exercise is needed for the breed. See our online interactive RSPCA Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide and the attached RSPCA Smart Kitten and Cat Buyer’s guide for more valuable information on caring for your animal.
Animals with exaggerated features (for example, brachycephalic or flat faced dogs and cats) are at risk of health problems such as difficulty breathing and eye problems; these may require specialised veterinary care to help the animal to be more comfortable and to improve their quality of life. These companion animals may also need ongoing extra daily care from their owners in addition to general care needs. It is very hard to predict the level of care which may be required when purchasing an animal with exaggerated features. Potential owners who have busy lifestyles or limited income should carefully consider their capacity to provide adequate care should this be required. Please see the links at the end of this article for more information.
Do I have time to care for a pet?
Caring for a companion animal takes a considerable amount of time each and every day. Exercise, socialisation, grooming, feeding, reward-based training, play time and providing company and attention are all critical parts of having an animal in your family. Some animals will require more of your time than others but each will require daily care so you need to be sure you have time available each day. Puppies and kittens are a particularly large time investment.
Do I live in suitable accommodation with adequate space for a pet?
First carefully consider if you can provide suitable accommodation for your animal both now and well into the future. Are you allowed to keep animals at your current residence? Your home size and/or garden size are factors in determining whether it is feasible for you to keep types of animals. If you’re thinking about getting a dog – do you have a yard? Is it secure? If you don’t have a yard, where will your dog be housed when you’re not at home? If your dog will be inside, where will they go to the toilet? Can you get home to let the dog outside every few hours?
If you rent your property, has your landlord given you written permission to have a dog or other animal? What will happen if you have to move?
Will a pet fit into my lifestyle and priorities?
Working hours, a busy social life and taking regular trips away are all factors that need to be carefully considered before adding a companion animal to your family. Companion animals thrive on human company and will always depend on you. You must be sure that your lifestyle will accommodate them. Before you adopt or purchase an animal consider their specific requirements. Are you prepared to walk your dog every day? Are you home often enough to keep your cat or dog company and give them attention? Do you have time to give your puppy or kitten the basic reward-based training it needs? Who will care for your animal when you are away from home?
It is also important to think about future planning for your companion animal if something happens to you. Make future plans that will ensure that your companion animal is looked after if you pass away or can no longer look after them due to ill health or moving into a care home where animals cannot join you.