By Ann Stacker, DVM

Choosing a Family Pet

A pet in the household can be very enjoyable and rewarding — and the many benefits for the owners are well-documented — but it does require thoughtful consideration and commitment.
When you think you are ready for a pet, choose one that fits into your family lifestyle and living space. Obviously, apartment living is not suitable for giant breed dogs; whereas, small dogs can fit in quite well. Cats are another good choice for small homes, as are “exotic” pets such as birds, fish, reptiles and “pocket pets” if you lack a yard or have allergies.
It’s also important to consider the level of care required for each type of pet and the age-appropriateness for the main caregiver. Most people have experience with cats and dogs but need to educate themselves if they decide on another species; be sure everyone knows what they are getting into. Your veterinarian can often provide information on exotic pets and let you know if they see them, as some do not.
Pet ownership is a responsibility that also requires a financial commitment: beyond providing the basics such as food, water and shelter, most pets have additional needs and will require some level of veterinary care throughout their lives to keep them healthy and to treat them when they are not well. Cats and dogs need wellness care including vaccinations, parasite prevention and spay or neuter surgery — as well as preventative dentistry and senior care as they age.
Typically, the more unusual the pet, the more unique are their requirements, including specialized medical care as may be necessary. Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice and hamsters need specific diets, bedding, cages and sometimes exercise equipment. Birds and reptiles may have even more specialized needs for diets, nutritional supplements, unique housing and possibly temperature control. With all pets, you should also consider their possible training, grooming, daycare or boarding needs. And, of course, almost all our furry and feathered friends need appropriate toys!
As a small animal veterinarian for nearly 40 years, I have seen every kind of creature, from tarantulas and tortoises to toy poodles and tabby cats. I have found that the most frequent and serious problems are with nutrition and husbandry (which means proper care, feeding, and generally providing a safe, suitable environment for the pet to thrive).
Finally, to make the right choice, you need to know about the pet’s unique characteristics by species and/or breed. Are they shy or people-oriented, “child-proof”, very active, noisy, messy, easily trained and socialized, how long will they live, how big will they get? Again, your veterinarian can provide helpful advice for your particular circumstance but the bottom line is, do your homework!
Whatever you decide pets can provide that “unconditional love” that we humans crave as well as enrich our lives in countless ways — and caring for them teaches responsibility and caring for all the natural world.
Dr. Ann Stacker co-owns Paso Petcare Veterinary Hospital, located next to the Post Office in Paso Robles.  For information call 805-238-1091 or visit