by Cat the Petstreet vet.
When most people consider getting a new pet, their thoughts turn to a cute bundle of fluff; a baby to join the family and grow up as part of it. Certainly a puppy or kitten will provide hours of entertainment but they can also be a lot of hard work. Just like a human baby they don’t come fully house trained and many won’t sleep through the night for some time! Many people underestimate the amount of attention and time a young animal needs and so they are not ideal for everyone. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a pet, with rescue centres over-flowing with ready trained and healthy adult animals, you could just find your perfect companion!
The first problem when you want a new, young animal is where to get one from. There are loads of ways people advertise new litters; from the websites of the Kennel Club and GCCF (General Council of Cat Fancy) to the local bargain pages. It can be difficult, especially if this is a first pet, to know how to find a reputable breeder who will have produced the pups or kittens responsibly, ensured they are as healthy as possible and looked after both their physical and mental well-being. Sadly, many young animals are bred by those in it only for the money, the worst examples being the puppy farms, who make big efforts to hide themselves and who can catch even knowledgeable pet owners out. This is an advantage of the rescue centres, many of whom will have litters of pups as well as adult animals, you know by homing an animal from them you are not supporting poor breeding practices and that they will have properly cared for in their early life.
Young animals, although lots of fun, can be very hard work to look after, particularly puppies. In the early stages they can’t be left alone for long periods, which can be challenging for those who work. Few also sleep through the night straight away, which can be tiring to say the least! It can also take some time for them to establish good toilet training habits and this means not only do you have to be vigilant and consistent for the training itself, you also have to be prepared to clean up the regular messes which will be left behind! You can’t be too houseproud at all with a young animal, not only do you get ‘presents’ on the carpet, some are prolific chewers and, particularly with the kittens, very adventurous in where they will explore. Mantlepieces, curtains and even wall paper hold no barriers for the sharp claws and climbing skills of a young cat. Also, don’t forget the garden, most pups have a natural instinct to dig, so often you have to wave goodbye to the years new seedlings and cope with various holes in the flowerbeds for some time!
Young pups also need training in general, ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ do not always come naturally (!) and, given the boundless levels of energy most young dogs have, they also need plenty of exercise, at least an hour a day, every day. Most adult dogs will come with all this training already in place and, especially if you chose an older one, don’t need nearly as much exercise as younger dogs to keep them happy. The best rescue centres will work with their residents to find out how much they know, they will also assess them for their suitability in different homes, for example how well they get on with children or other pets, and ensure they don’t have any significant behavioural issues. Some also have a support team for once you have re-homed the dog, who will help with any problems that may arise. They also tend to be careful about which dogs go with which people, meaning they will help you find a pet who will be best suited to your home and lifestyle. Adult, rescue pets are particularly great for older people, who benefit greatly from the companionship an animal brings but who may not be able to cope with one requiring lots of exercise or care.
Kittens are usually less intensive as new pets than puppies. Cats tend to be easily litter trained, most kittens having been taught good habits by their mother well before they leave her. They can provide hours of entertainment as they zoom around the house, provided you don’t mind the odd ornament being knocked off the side. They do, however, have very sharp baby claws and teeth, not a problem for young people and adults but they can cause a lot of damage to the delicate skin of older people, the same applies to puppies. If you do want a kitten, you should be talking to your local rescue centres anyway, they will always have unwanted litters, especially in the Spring time and will be able to give great advice on the care of a young cat.
And what about rabbits? They are now the third most popular pet in the UK but they are also one of the most likely to be dumped, a fact few people are aware of. There aren’t many rescue centres for rabbits and those that do exist are always bursting at the seams. Rabbits can make great pets but they do need to be well socialised and handled, and if they are neutered they tend to be much calmer. The best rabbit rescues will make sure this is done and many will work with the rabbits to ensure they are happy with human contact. Also, all rabbits are cute, so you won’t be missing out on the ‘arrr’ factor even if you get a grown up one!
Another advantage of choosing an adult animal from a rescue centre is that, from the best ones, they tend to come to your neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, de-flead, de-wormed and with any health problems having been assessed and treated. They are not an unknown quantity like a younger pet. Although most centres will charge for their animals, these actions can represent a significant saving. Some, if you take on a cat or dog with an on-going health issue, will continue to pay for their care.
Deciding to get a new pet is an exciting time and most people want a young animal, which is perfectly understandable. Although they do require a lot of input, puppies and kittens are fabulous to have around and, if brought up well, can be proper members of the family for many years. However, do consider a rescue pet before you start phoning local breeders. Adult animals can make loyal, faithful companions, come to you with someone else having done all the hard work in training them and you have the knowledge that you have done something to reduce the huge population of unwanted pets in the UK. And, even if you do have your heart set on a young animal, do think of rescue centres first, they will often have litters needing new homes. So, want to feel good about yourself and get a great new pet into the bargain? Go on, give a dog a home!