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Make sure your pet choice doesn't come back to bite you

A pet can be a wonderful and welcomed family addition. But if you're not careful, it also could be a costly mistake.

Sure, the cuddly quotient is important in choosing a dog or cat, but it shouldn't dominate your decision. Picking a pet is a serious and tricky business that could have financial as well as emotional costs for many years to come.

Here are some considerations that will ensure you and your new best furry friend truly belong together.

Look at your lifestyle
You loved the Great Dane you had growing up on the farm and you want your kids to have that same joyful experience. But you now live in midtown Manhattan. Even if your landlord will let you bring home a big dog, he might require a hefty deposit. And be honest: Will the animal really be happy in that cramped walk-up while you're at work?

You say you own your home on a big lot, so pooch size is not a problem. Are you sure? If you live in a community governed by a homeowner association, your neighbors might have a say in picking your pet. Some set pet weight limits or have rules about outdoor housing for the animal. Be sure to check those HOA bylaws.

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It's not just space you have to consider. A Siberian Husky might not be as happy in Florida, Arizona or South Texas as he would be living in Minnesota. What if the pooch you prefer is a rather vocal breed? Can you (and, once again, your neighbors) deal with a noisy dog?

Then there's age: yours, your children's and the animal's. Are you equipped to handle the needs of a rambunctious puppy? Your youngsters might be able to match the young dog's energy level, but make sure they're not too young to safely play with an exuberant animal, especially if it's a larger breed.

The basics of breed
Do you want a purebred or is a mutt OK? If you want a specific breed, do the research to make sure the desired breed is really a good fit, both with your lifestyle and your budget. This generally is more of an issue when it comes to dogs, but cat breeds have different temperaments and prices, too.

You can find a wealth of pet data on the Internet. The American Kennel Club's Web site has descriptions of registered purebreds, as well as links to breed-specific associations and clubs. Many groups have e-mail lists where you can exchange information about your preferred dog.

Here are some questions the AKC recommends you ask before deciding on a breed or a particular puppy:

  • How big will the dog get?
  • How old will he be before he acts like an adult?
  • How protective will the dog be?
  • Will he get along with other animals?
  • How long can he be left alone at home?
  • How much exercise does he need?

A couple of other AKC-suggested considerations also could directly affect your pocketbook.

The first is the breed's grooming requirements. Can you take care of the occasional trim yourself, or will your pet's coat require regular, and possibly costly, trips to a canine cosmetologist? Even if you don't need professional grooming services, any special shampoos, combs and other treatments that you'll have to buy to properly take care of your new dog could be costly -- for years to come.

A more important and potentially expensive question is whether the particular dog or breed has any health problems. Veterinarian bills can add up just as quickly as those from your family doctor, and pet owners generally are willing to pay -- sometimes a lot -- to keep the furriest family member healthy. If you haven't purchased a pet medical insurance policy, then your dog's doctor bills will come out of your pocket.

These considerations aren't restricted to canines. Ailurophiles can check out the Cat Fanciers' Association's online database for breed specifics and general feline information. Breed-specific groups also abound for cat lovers. Just type your breed of choice into an Internet search engine and watch the pages appear on your PC screen.


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-- Posted: Nov. 25, 2003
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See Also
Financial tips for pet owners
11 dogs that could raise your insurance costs
Adopt your own retired animal athlete
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